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.

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A Case of Line Bias

The last two months have been pure heck because of the home stretch of grad school. With papers and projects eating up my time, I haven’t had much time to ride new routes or visit new stations. But after what happened yesterday, I feel compelled to post.

For an early birthday present, my wife got me tickets to yesterday’s Sox/Yankees game in which the Sox won for the first time in my six visits there. Usually from my front door to Fenway on the weekend takes about 50-60 minutes if driving to a station (Wonderland or Wellington). Here’s what happened:

2:10pm: Leave home to drive to Wonderland, about a 10 minute or so trip.
2:20pm: Arrive at Wonderland to see that my grad school-fried brain somehow didn’t check the weekend advisories to see that the Blue Line was being bustituted north of Airport this weekend. Options are to take said shuttle bus or drive to Wellington.
2:25pm: We choose the latter and run into traffic on Route 16.
2:45pm: Arrive Wellington. By the time we get to the platform, a train is approaching.
3:00pm: Arrive North Station to catch a C across the platform. A small crowd already formed.
3:10pm: Upstairs four trains went through but only one comes downstairs to head outbound, that being an E.
3:15pm: A C finally shows up. 2 Type 8’s, the lead car having total door failure. A crowd that could’ve easily have had standee loads in a 3-car train rams into one car as they try to find the problem.
3:23pm (or so): C finally leaves North Station after uncoupling the problematic front car.
3:45pm: Get off at Kenmore and deal with the pregame swarm of fans.
4:00pm: Finally get into Fenway after enduring a bag line and wondering how Stop Handgun Violence can call certain people out without violating libel laws. Miss the top of the first because we were starving/thirsty but we did get to boo A-Rod. Hard.

Thankfully it was a good game and the trip home took an hour and change from ballpak seat to car seat even considering the Kenmore Krush. However, it shows there is line bias very much alive at the MBTA.

While the Blue Line was bustituted, the Red Line’s shuttle for the Longfellow Bridge work was postponed for the weekend. I know Camberville/the northwest suburbs/the Route 2/3 corriors lack the stigma some have on Revere/the North Shore/the Route 1(A) corridors but it’s the same weekend with the same pair of baseball games and the same UFC event at the Garden. Why should one line be exempt but another shouldn’t?

At the same time, for a line that is supposed to have weekend headways of 10 minutes, the C’s failure to show for as long as it did was unacceptable. I could find no clue of there being some sort of delays or congestion heading towards North Station so everyone was in the dark especially as trains came in regularly upstairs. I know money is a concern but how hard could it be to run a few ballpark specials from Lechmere to Kenmore or even fully out to Cleveland Circle before Sox games? As for the problematic car, I hope this was an isolated incident though it came at the worst possible time.

Yesterday was a day in which the MBTA looked like WMATA. You’re too good to be like WMATA, T.

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.

Photo Post!

I’m doing some late Spring cleaning which means two things here at (T)he Adventure

1: Some side improvements coming sooner than later (and branching out from reviews!)

2: I purged an old memory card, which means a bonus photo post for all of you!

Enjoy!

Commuter Rail platform at Malden Center.

Dudley Square, forlornly waiting for a train that’ll never come.

Bus 0440 lays over at Saugus Center on the 430.

1975 vintage sign on the unused side of Sullivan Square’s outbound platform.

One day I took the 99…

The 76 waits at Alewife to start its run out to Hanscom. Oddly this is on the list of routes I’d love to ride.

Alewife

To start this review, here’s a little logic problem to kick things off:

  • You have tickets to a weeknight Red Sox game
  • Your significant works northwest of Boston
  • You don’t want to deal with rush hour traffic or near-usurious Fenway parking rates
  • What do you do?

If the answer to this isn’t Alewife, I and tons of people in the Northwest suburbs would love to hear it.

I had been up to Alewife once before as a part of a ultimate ride and hadn’t gotten beyond the bus bay which on a rainy Sunday was deserted as only one route (the 350 to Burlington Mall) runs. This time on a nice day during rush hour, it was a lot busier to the part of being welcoming. Between commuters heading home and fellow Red Sox fans heading out, it was busy and the throngs of riders made the massive size of the station seem warranted. And Alewife is massive as under one roof it also includes direct access to all four levels of its huge parking garage, retail including the requisite Dunkin’ Donuts and newsstand, and the aforementioned busway. Away from the tracks, the atrium of the station has a huge skylight that bathes the otherwise underground station in natural light. The existence of Alewife also helped turn an area that was previously an industrial district of North Cambridge into one of the first successful transit-oriented mixed-use developments. It even has the largest bicycle facility in the MBTA system with a cage holding 500 bikes. Sprinkle in a good amount of public art and it’s a great combination, however…

At the same time, while there I wonder what could’ve been. Had the Arlington of the 1970s had not fought extending the Red Line past Alewife – putting a terminal in Lexington, Bedford, or Burlington – would Alewife be this massive or be more like its Northwest Extension sisters? What if the Route 2 expressway had been built straight to Boston and ending it at Alewife wasn’t an option? What if the former Lexington Branch of the Boston & Maine hadn’t been neglected and never stopped running? And more recently, what if Alewife had less office buildings and more residences? Would Alewife exist as it is – or at all – if even one little thing happened differently?

MBTA Butterfly Effect aside, Alewife does its job as a hub for the northwest suburbs well. With direct highway access, bus access including express bus service to New York and more, it does its job well. It even has cows!

Station: Alewife. Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: A good assortment of people driving in from the Route 2 corridor, local bus commuters, and tons of bikers utilizing the nearby trail network. There are also some reverse peak commuters – the MBTA 351 to the office parks of Burlington and Bedford and the 128 Business Council’s shuttles to Waltham – serve the station during rush hour.

Pros: Tons of space, natural light, a functional design, lots of public art, plus one of the earliest TOD successes. Toss in some mult-imodal connections and you have a great combination, however there’s one big problem…

Cons: The problem of weekend bus service, as mentioned only one route on Sundays with the joined 62/76 to Lexington and Bedford running on Saturdays; had the proposed Doomsday cuts had gone through Alewife would’ve had no bus service at all. Also, the dated early 80’s brutalism in some regards hasn’t aged well though it’s in far better shape than many of its peers in systems such as the Washington Metro.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Alewife is a hub of trails with the Fitchburg Cutoff Path to Belmont, the Alewife Linear Park that runs on top of the Red Line to Davis Square and the Minuteman Bikeway which replaced the aforementioned Lexington Branch. There are also nearby two parks in Russell Field and the Alewife Brook Reservation. The weather’s nice, get out there and ride or hike!

If food and burning some money are more your style, the flagship location of Summer Shack is right outside the station on Alewife Brook Parkway.

Porter Square

When I lived in and around Washington, DC, I spent more than my fair share of time using Rosslyn, the western split of the Blue and Orange Lines and the first station in Virginia for both lines. For a heavily standardized system such as the Washington Metro, it is somewhat unique with its stacked platforms and escalators emptying onto the inbound platform. Obviously, someone in the MBTA was inspired by Rosslyn when they planned Porter Square station on the Red Line.

Rosslyn was a familiar stop during my time in DC – it was the home station of my now-wife for two years – so the first thing I thought of when I first set foot in Porter was “This feels like Rosslyn in an alternate universe.” The stations have similar depths, were built in similar ways, and have the same basic setup with the inbound platform stacked atop the outbound with the long escalator to the mezzinene emptying out onto the inbound platform. Even the station vaults look very similar to the ones that WMATA transitioned to by Porter’s 1984 opening (though Rosslyn has the original “waffle” vaults). Put someone who is familiar with Washington in Porter and they’ll feel like they ended up in some parallel universe.

 I passed through Porter a few times in the past but actually visiting the station while doing some mundane errands I discovered that Porter is more “Rosslyn 2.0” on the inside and “Rosslyn if People Gave a Darn” on the outside. In terms of design, Porter adds some features that both make it more pleasant and a lot more functional than its kindred spirit right outside the Nation’s Capital and the first one is the infamous staircase that runs parallel to the escalators; the longest staircase in Massachusetts in fact. Having walked up and down broken escalators at Rosslyn too many times, it looks a lot more hospitable for those who dare go up and it works as a backup for those that dare use it. The art installations throughout the station ranging from the hand sculptures between the escalators and the iconic bird sculpture outside make the surroundings a lot more pleasant than the darkness down south. Add in the general fact that MBTA stations are better lit and (debatably) better designed than their WMATA brethren and it’s a good combination.

Go outside into Porter Square and the differences become more stark. Exiting Porter Station, you’ll find yourself surrounded by restaurants, bars, and a shopping center that is quite pedestrian friendly and there are a good amount of residences within viable walking distance. In fact, it was said shopping center and an engagement elsewhere in Cambridge that brought me there. Outside special events such as the Marine Corps Marathon, Rosslyn is dead nights and weekends and even during the workday it’s heavily rush-hour oriented. The list of connections at Porter also are plenty including the 77(A) trolleybus short-turns and the Fitchburg Line of the Commuter Rail that runs above the tunnel.

For a local viewpoint of Porter’s prototype on the Potomac, the review of it on Metro-Venture is worth the read.

Station: Porter Square. Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: In terms of early rush hour when I visited, lots of commuters either heading home to North Cambridge/Somerville, transferring to the Fitchburg Line, or reverse commuters coming from points north getting off. For a non-key station, it was quite busy.

 Pros: It’s functional, relatively modern (by MBTA standards), multi-modal, and it’s spurred growth in the areas surrounding the station. This is what transit is supposed to do and it does it well.

 Cons: Porter Falls. The ever-expanding waterfall just north of the station – a byproduct of aging materials from building deep underground – is a key reason why it and all stations north are in the midst of weekend closures at the time of this writing. The starkness of the Commuter Rail platform is also a bit of a minus.