426 (Central Square-Haymarket via Cliftondale…and friends!)

If you’ve ever been to Haymarket, you may know quite well the huge walled shelter with a “North Shore Buses” sign on top facing the inner busway, away from the ruckus known as the 111. A weekday-only visitor, they have their audience of people commuting in with some people headed for points north who are bound for Lynn or Salem and don’t want to pay high Commuter Rail fares. I’d be willing to bet that there have been scores of tourists or locals who wondered “What goes on on those routes?”

Currently, I live in a corner of Saugus that’s a teeny bit isolated from transit. The closest route to my house, the 426, is one of “those routes” whisking people between Lynn, Saugus, and Revere to Haymarket during the week and to Wonderland (as the 426W) on weekends and major holidays. Heading inbound from Central Square-Lynn station, it goes around Lynn Common and makes its way into the Austin Square neighborhood before crossing into Saugus and working its way through the heart of Saugus’s eastern half including Cliftondale Square and Linden Square on the Revere/Malden line. After the rotary where Squire Road/MA 60 meets US 1, it has a FAST express run into Boston via the Tobin Bridge where buses can reach the speed limit easily. The express run alone is worth the $2.80 as if this being the “quickest way” to Boston wasn’t enough. Along the way, the 426 is coordinated most of the time to transfer with the 430 at Cliftondale Square and with the 108 and 429 at Linden Square, however that isn’t all.

The 426 is a route that suffers from whatever the bus version of multiple personality disorder is. What is described above is the “base” service that runs weekdays, but there are THREE variants of the routes that run and some other odd mediocrities. Pay attention, there may be a quiz after this:

  • Route 426W provides weekend service to Wonderland instead of Haymarket and also has three inbound (but no outbound) trips in AM rush plus a late-night inbound trip. If the Doomsday cuts are to pass, the 426W would become base service.
  • Route 426/439 are three interlined PM rush trips that continue on from Lynn to Nahant. During these times.
  • Route 426/455 is a combination of the 426 and 455 to Salem that has a few runs in PM rush and also provides weekday evening service via the Callahan and Sumner tunnels.

On top of this, there is some unnecessary complicating in exactly where the buses terminate. Central Square, the Commuter Rail Busway (Central Square plus a loop), and the Lynn MBTA Garage are all listed in the schedule and the weekday 426W has a different stop than the weekend 426W. Any newcomer to the area could find this confusing; I know I did and nearly once paid for it by missing a commuter rail train and another time by having to go from one end of Wonderland to the other.

My own experiences on this route vary based on time of day (but what route doesn’t!). Go on this bus during or near rush hour dressed up and it’ll be easy to blend in given the number of people who use the 426 to head to work. Do the same during midday when ridership is more local and you may stick out like a sore thumb. My first ever ride on the 426 was exactly this, complete with the confusion of where it’d end and the fact that I learned the hard way that you can’t get CharlieCard fare you loaded online activated on a bus. North Shore buses are worth the ride if you can get to one!

Line: 426 (Haymarket-Central Square via Cliftondale) Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Rush hour ridership runs the gamut of all demographic groups with each run having bunches of regulars; on the 426/439 runs it’s similar to being a “Commuter Club” among the Nahant commuters and the regular 426 runs have their run of regulars as my regular rides to and from work have the same 10-15 people on both. Also during these times the number of people getting off on the local portion of the route is very small. Middays and weekends are another story as there’s decent local ridership.

Pros: As the base 426, it links many areas in northern Revere, southern Malden, and Saugus to downtown. As the 426W, at least it’ll get you to Wonderland. The fast ride on Route 1 is more than worth the fare and even the Wonderland runs go through too many rotaries. Though I haven’t (yet) ridden the 439 portion, I know the ride out to Nahant is very scenic.

Cons: If the MBTA could afford it, midday service could be beefed up a little outside hourly. Trying to fill time due to missing a bus is never fun even in a walkable city like Boston. Adding in some extra service for locals, either with 426W’s alternating with 426’s or with a 108/426 combo from Malden Center, would help stimulate ridership on the “local” portions.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Kane’s Donuts. If you haven’t been there already, go! Especially if you like huge donuts, unique varieties (Peanut Butter & Jelly, Maple Bacon, and more!) and coffee rolls the size of your head.

If donuts aren’t your calling, I recommend Spuds on the Lynn-Saugus line. Very good seafood and offbeat dishes that I swear came up in a chef’s dream such as Buffalo Chicken Alfredo. If not that, too many sub/roast beef shops along the route; I recommend Mike’s Place for sentimental reasons. Just don’t play 20 Questions when ordering there.

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Malden Center

One of my favorite elements of transit planning is the concept of the multi-modal suburban hub, that rarity that ties in buses, commuter rail, and heavy rail together. For two years, I lived a short walk from exactly with Silver Spring on the Washington Metro. What’s better than seeing how transit and development influence and enhance each other? The best MBTA example of this is Malden Center and frankly this is starting to grow on me.

Malden Center and I were introduced at a time when I was, shall I say, seeking work. A quick 35 minute ride via the 430 from a place near my home, Malden Center was the route to take when $2.80 to Haymarket wouldn’t do. Take away the dated brutalism of the Haymarket-North stations and Malden Center is like Silver Spring and the Oak Park and Harlem stations on Chicago’s L and Metra. All three parallel a rail line with commuter service (most Haverhill Line trains stop here) and are interchange stations for both. Like Silver Spring, Malden Center is also a major bus transfer hub especially for points north with buses reaching destinations as north as Reading.

If you were to exit the station, you would see a backdrop of assorted office buildings – right near the station are both all town government offices and a Social Security office – and the typical assortment of businesses that cater to that crowd. Walk even one block away, however, and it is a different story. Downtown Malden is quite diverse, not just in terms of people but in terms of what is near the station. High rise apartment buildings are located right near streets of single family homes. Independent restaurants serving pizza and roast beef exist side-by-side with chains such as Boston Market. The sizable Chinese community adds a ton of interesting flavor ranging from several restaurants selling (often authentic) Chinese food to Chinese bakeries to the only Super 88 supermarket outside of Boston. Also, anyone walking around can discover easily that there’s a massive glut of hair places, a possible byproduct of Empire Beauty School being located just west of the station. This glut produces some places that can give a good hairdo for surprisingly cheap as I learned getting my best haircut in years for a mere $10.

All this combined surprisingly makes Malden Center the most used MBTA subway station outside of Boston or Cambridge with more ridership than all but one terminal station (and more than double of that of Oak Grove). And yet with all this some still think it’s a bit of a work in progess. Even if a Silver Spring-level revitalization happened, I think Malden would keep its charm and as much as a Whole Foods or a Panera Bread would be nice, Malden is good already.

Malden Center’s commuter rail platform, all by it’s lonesome.

Station: Malden Center. Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: An even mix between transferring bus passengers and locals on the subway side with a decent amount of bus-to-bus transfers to boot. The Commuter Rail side is sparsely used outside peak hours with most people commuters to Malden (or points south) transferring from the end of the Haverhill line. When I took it at the end of AM Rush, I was the only one boarding with only a few people exiting.

Pros: An interchange station covering three modes with a vibrant but not-upscale downtown. Given how my other examples are or have tried to go upscale, this is a rarity and a breath of fresh air. The full-length high platform on the Commuter Rail – a relic from the attempted extension of the Orange Line to Reading – is a nice plus.

Cons: The fact that 1970’s architecture has not aged that well. This will be a common theme when Sullivan Square, Wellington, and Oak Grove get their day. And the Braintree Branch too.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Besides cheap haircuts and a Chinese supermarket, the Stop & Shop down the street is one of the few supermarkets in Massachusetts that is able to stock beer, wine, and liquor. The liquor in a supermarket concept is still novel and foreign for me and I’ll spare my commentary about why more could sell it and not hurt the neighborhood packie.

430 – Saugus Center-Malden Center via Square One Mall

Right now, over fifty MBTA bus routes are facing possible extinction in the face of the pending “doomsday” cuts of service cuts and fare increases. A good chunk of these routes connect suburbs to subway stations and if eliminated would cut people, businesses, and attractions from the MBTA system. Being a current resident of Saugus (who stands to lose 3 of its 4 routes), I’ve decided that the first bus route to be reviewed will be one that’s at risk. Today, I’ll take a little ride on the 430.

The 430 connects Saugus Center to Malden Center mainly via local roads with some stretches on Routes 1 and 99. Along the way, it hits the Cliftondale Square neighborhood of Saugus, Square One Mall, and the Granada Highlands neighborhood of Malden. Though the route’s ridership north of Square One Mall can be a bit spotty, no doubt to doing a figure-8 through the heart of Saugus, ridership is more often than not strong even with a somewhat scant level of service. To understand what eliminating this route will mean, grab your CharlieCard and meet me at the rotary in Saugus Circle and let’s look at what will get lost.

  • Saugus Center itself would lose all bus service as the only other route (the rush-hour only 428) that serves it is also facing elimination. The nearest bus route of any sort is the 426 1 ¼ miles east on Lincoln Street.
  • Two stops into the route is the Saugus Iron Works historical site. Though the number of people using the 430 to get there is probably microscopic, cutting the route would cut some access to the site no matter how little it may be.
  • With the pending elimination of the 429 to Northgate Shopping Center and Lynn, Square One Mall would lose all MBTA service. As with any shopping mall, a fair amount of mall workers and customers would be shut out with transit cuts especially in the former category with workers unable to reach their jobs.
  • Besides Square One, other large businesses along the route such as the Stop & Shop near Square One and the Lowe’s right after the 1/99 split would also be effected.

The cuts don’t just stop at the Saugus line. The three routes that run alongside the 430 from Linden Square to Malden Center, the 106, 108 and 411, are also on the chopping block. Save for those near Malden Center and those near Cliftondale Square and Granada Highlands, all riders on this route would lose all MBTA service with no alternatives.

Think of all this and what may be seen as three anonymous numbers has a lot more worth then it may seem. Places like Saugus and similar town/route combos – Walpole and the 34E, Bedford with the 62 and 76, et. Al – should not take it on the chin and fade into transit oblivion. The 430 deserves its chance to shine.

Route: 430 (Saugus Center-Malden Center via Square One Mall)      Rating (1-10): 6

Ridership: Between Saugus Center and Square One, light as the loops really extend travel time; the trip between two by car is around 5 minutes, the 430 is triple that. The route picks up steam past Square One heading into Malden and by the end of the route the bus had standees. One caveat: my ride was during the mid-morning after rush hour ended but before Square One opened.

Pros: It links a good sized mall and adjacent retail district and some residential areas with choice riders to the Orange Line. More routes like this should exist on the North Shore especially with the “Express to Haymarket weekdays, Wonderland weekends” mentality on the North Shore.

Cons: The loops through Saugus. The loop around the Iron Works sees very little use outside of rush hour and eliminating it would have not that much of an effect on ridership. Though with a bit more purpose, the diversion to Cliftondale does add a few minutes though there is some attempt to coordinate transfers between the 430 and the 426.

(Also) Nearby and Noteworthy: Kowloon. If you’re from Greater Boston, this place probably doesn’t need explanation. For those that aren’t, imagine a Chinese place that serves all sorts of Asian food, is a good remnant of tiki culture, and has a banquet hall/comedy club attached. If you can, try the Crab Rangoon and Saugus Wings. You can thank me (and my wife) later!