MBTA What If: North Shore instead of South Shore?

Earlier this week, I was in and around Quincy Center and found a nice neighborhood with a mixture of residences and businesses (and vibrant businesses at that), tree lined streets, and a very pleasant vibe to the area which stretches up Hancock Street (and to a lesser degree Newport Avenue) towards Wollaston and North Quincy. This growth is in no part thanks to the Red Line having been extended through Quincy in the 1970s even as Quincy Center itself is showing its age.

In contrast, a similar distance away on the opposite shore is Lynn, a city sans rapid transit which is far more threadbare and worn and lacks the vibrancy and charm Quincy Center has curated. Though some of this is from classic reputation, it makes me wonder something.

What if the MBTA in its earliest years put its energies towards the former BRB&L mainline and extended the Blue Line to Lynn in the 1970s while letting the old Old Colony mainline through Quincy lay fallow. Would Quincy have turned out as good as it has with ferries and express buses up I-93 instead of the Red Line? Do Lynn’s fortunes change with the Blue Line instead of overpriced-for-the-distance commuter rail and express buses?

It’s something to seriously think about.

Quincy Adams

Today, I took a trip down to Quincy Adams. I did it solely for the sake of the ride a good month-plus after I last rode for riding’s sake. Let’s just say nobody is really missing much.

Systems built over the last four decades or so always have a station or several built largely for the purpose of a park and ride crowd; the Red Line has two, this and Alewife. For that role, Quincy Adams performs well with easy access to Route 3 and I-93 for those heading from a swath of points south going from Rhode Island to Cape Cod. While the aforementioned Alewife has seen new development rise around it in the midst of existing development, Quincy Adams hasn’t just avoided it, it willingly cut off its own legs.

There’s a pedestrian bridge to areas east of Quincy Adams that has been locked for about 25 years, the consequence of reactive thinking and illegal parking. Never has the MBTA evaluated unlocking it for the benefit of residents whom have to drive or walk over a mile out of their way to access a station they can see. While there are some areas within walking distance to the west, accessing anything on foot with a huge interchange nearby is always a bit of a risk not to mention that said interchange cuts some areas off. Though the nature of that area is heavily residental, imagine if for example pedestrian access to Melrose from Oak Grove was cut off.

As for Quincy Adams itself, the station seems like an rough draft, open-air hybrid of Alewife and Davis on the other end of the line. The mezzanine and garages seem like a shrunken down version of Alewife with less retail and less overall traffic in with constrained foot traffic and only one bus feeding into the station. the platform itself is Davis in draft mode right down to the diagonal signs/benches in the middle of the platform thought without the artwork that Davis is known for, instead with a hole in the center begging to be filled. To some degree, filling them would help a little as it would give something to write home about here.

Station: Quincy Adams
Rating (1-10): 3

Ridership: This is a big park-and-ride and little else. There are some residences and businesses to the west which drive nominal traffic. The one true bus* that utilizes Quincy Adams, the 238, is a connector that serve South Shore Plaza, western Braintree, Randolph, and Avon as well as Quincy Center and this brings in some riderhip not wanting to pay high Commuter Rail prices.

Pros: If you’re along the I-95, Route 1, and Route 3 corridors, this station is a godsend as it has ample parking spaces and is relatively clean and very well-kept.

Cons: The locked gate to Independence Avenue and the general lack of bus access into the station. The 238 has a lower rate of service as it should and the just from my limited exposure to the station it seems like it was built for the park and ride and little else.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a BJ’s and a Home Depot within walking distance. There literally is nothing else of note. That says a ton.

* There is one outbound-only run of the 210 that runs after-hours mainly for the purpose of getting closed station employees to Caddigan Yard in Braintree and little else.

Wollaston

One day off not too long ago, I had a weird hankering to ride the Braintree Branch. The long, long, LONG nonstop stretch between JFK and North Quincy has always been so out of place to the point of being captivating especially given that it passes by Savin Hill and that an infill station somewhere halfway between would do wonders. Also oddly captivating is the state of Wollaston being the last wheelchair-inaccessible station on the Red Line so I found it worthy of a visit.

Like the rest of the Braintree Branch, Wollaston is a good example of 1970s brutalism which comes off a prototype of a lot of the transit construction after it ranging from the Haymarket North extension of the Orange Line, WMATA, MARTA, and the matching Metros in Baltimore and Miami. Its inaccessibility comes in part due to a design flaw in which access to the very shallow and often flood-prone station lobby is via stairs and that finding an easy ADA-compliant solution may not be that easy. From the lobby you have two options on where to go.

Turn left and end up on Hancock Street/MA 3A where the neighborhoods of Wollaston and Norfolk Downs have some small shops, residences, the campus of Eastern Nazarene University, and a little ways away Wollaston Beach. Turn right and you end up at the traffic mess known as Newport Avenue. On the day I went, I chose the latter because I was hungry and since the beloved Clam Box on the beach wasn’t open, my choices for food were the Wendy’s on Newport or the hot food section of the Hannaford on Hancock. I chose the former on the basis of Coke Freestyle alone to be greeted with a machine which had 80% of its flavors including all diet soda out. The trip was more vindicated when someone’s abandoned pass was found on the sidewalk which I found to be the only solace of this trip and if you lost a pass there around January 11th, I’ll gladly pay your $18 back.

I should go back on a Summer weekend day as the atmosphere would be a lot different than on warm yet overcast January day. Next time I am exploring in the other direction though.

Station: Wollaston
Rating (1-10): 6

Ridership: Heavily concentrated of those living or working in the immediate area around the station including those affiliated with Eastern Nazarene and with some beachgoers in the Summer months. This may be the least spectacular of Quincy’s quartet of stations without offices, a bus hub and a nice downtown, or a huge park-and-ride, but it serves a purpose quite well.

Pros: Elevated stations are always fun especially considering it’s the only one on the Braintree Branch and the area around the station isn’t all that bad.

Cons: Flooding, wheelchair inaccessibility, lack of pedestrian access over the tracks. Given this was designed and largely constructed in the 1960s, I wonder what people were on in designing Wollaston.

Nearby and Noteworthy: From the date of this review, only 20 days until The Clam Box opens on Wollaston Beach and this year they’re opening an ice cream shop next-door. Also, for those wanting coffee that isn’t orange and purple or involves a green mermaid, Quincy’s Coffee Break Cafe has one of their three locations right outside the station with such oddball flavors as German Chocolate Cake and Whoopie Pie.

Across the tracks from said Hannaford on the Newport Ave side is Stop & Shop’s flagship location which is quite large, has beer and wine, and is often a testing ground for new concepts and ideas in the chain.