119 (Northgate – Beachmont)

In my last post, I visited Beachmont and found a hidden gem of a neighborhood. Besides marking one more station off my list, I decided in going there that it’d give me a great reason to ride the 119, what with the ability to make a connection with my home route(s) near its opposite end. Little did I know that this route was as much of a hidden gem as one of its terminals.

The 119 begins in earnest right outside Beachmont’s entrance, at a stop which unwittingly says “Beachmont” which may be confusing to outsiders as it refers more to the neighborhood to the east as it does the station along the Blue Line. Heading along Winthrop Avenue, it goes into the Beachmont neighborhood which is made mostly of single family houses, relatively unspectacular by most accounts. That is until the end of Winthrop Avenue in which the 119 meets a very picturesque view of the water, wrapping around from Winthrop to Revere Beach. The view might rival the 439 on its approach to Nahant though it’s closeness doesn’t have the fear of the SL2’s stretch paralleling the waterfront.

From there, the 119 works its way in a loop around Beachmont until returning to Bennington Street where briefly parallels the Blue Line as it decends to the surface before turning back on Winthrop Avenue, ducking under the tracks again. After passing the Suffolk Downs stables, the rear entrance to Suffolk Downs plaza, and an abandoned Shaw’s, it works its way through more residental areas before reaching Revere Center for a brief stretch down Broadway. After that, more of the fun begins, as the 119 goes through several neighborhoods as it winds northward and westward, the most prominent being the Cooledge Housing community. While on this stretch, some turns and roads being a tight fit for a 40′ bus; though not as out there as some of the more rural routes in the Commonwealth such as the FRTA and BRTA out west, it’s still out there by MBTA standards.

Eventually, the 119 works its way onto Malden Street and to Linden Square and having some reason to go the Stop & Shop there, I press the button to get off. I then pass thinking that the 119 will make a right onto Squire Road/MA 60. This is false as it does a quick loop around Linden Square, briefly entering and exiting Malden in the process and as anyone who’s navigated that area knows, it gets jammed quickly and it took us a good five minutes to get to the “main stop for said Stop & Shop (and Showcase Cinemas across the street). I then got off knowing that the 119 only makes a couple more stops until the currently-in-transition Northgate Shopping Center. Though there isn’t much that would get me there anytime soon outside of the view and maybe one of those roast beef sandwiches, the 119 is a route worth riding.

Route: 119 (Northgate-Beachmont)
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: About six of us boarded for the Beachmont loop, replacing six who got off and a few that stayed on.. Those who missed the bus walked either up to Bennington Street or down Winthrop Avenue to board the bus and by the time we passed the abandoned Shaw’s, we had a good load of around 20, topping off at 30 by Revere Center. Blue Line passengers were heading home, those who got on en route were headed to either Linden or Northgate. 12 people remained when I got off while a couple got on.

Pros: The Beachmont loop is one of the more underrated scenic stretches on the MBTA. It’s also an important cross-Revere link that links West Revere and Beachmont to Revere Center and it’s fairly well patronized.

Cons: Poor midday and night service (70 minute headways with one bus), no weekend night service, and a late Sunday start are downsides. Even if the loop is omitted during those hours, it’d be something for those going across Revere.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Neither has a website, but Beachmont Roast Beef and Toretta’s bakery seem from my limited interaction with both legit, old-school places with great food.

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Beachmont

Let’s be honest: Life’s gotten a bit too busy and strained to devote energy and finances to finding places to go and stuff to ride as of late. I could rant about the Boston job market being a tough nut to crack, or I can actually provide relevant content. The latter always wins out, so today we’ll be taking a trip to Revere’s southeastern parts, namely Beachmont.

Beachmont is the southernmost of Revere’s three Blue Line stations, not that far from the Boston line. As one of a handful of remaining elevate stations, the character of the neighborhood can be summed up from a view on the train; look east and you see a couple of liquor stores, an Italian bakery reflecting the area’s past, and a Mexican restaurant reflecting some elements of its present…and a lot of houses in the distance. Look west and you see some roofs, the northern boundary of Suffolk Downs and its stables, and an abandoned Shaw’s which closed a few years back. Par for the course for the area. Descend to street level and on the surface, it’s much of the same. One of said roofs is a roast beef restaurant and wedged between the other side of the station facing the intersection of Winthrop Avenue and Bennington Street is the requisite Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the ones closer to the station proper. Near the station is a parking lot which serves as a bit of a concession for the limited parking down the street at Suffolk Downs or the lack of parking at Revere Beach. Otherwise, to the east residential, to the west, horses. However, Beachmont has one other attraction: Itself.

Of the relatively recent rehab jobs on the Blue Line, pending what happens at Orient Heights, Beachmont was the best job. From the usage of the “history” tiles depicting a BRB&L locomotive, an 0500, and an 0600 which are also present at Revere Beach, to the roominess of the lobby relative to its usage, to the fact there are two countdown displays instead of one so the next four trains entering the station can be displayed, the MBTA seemed to take extra care of Beachmont. While there are exploding tiles outside, the fact some tiles were never laid and persons wrote in the concrete is a nice, local touch. It may not have the glassy “suburban picnic pavilion” canopies that Orient Heights is getting and it hasn’t been turned into Alewife Jr. as Wonderland has, but Beachmont is still a station worth visiting even if it is for itself.

Station: Beachmont 
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Heavily locals in the neighborhoods to the east and those parking in the lot. Some Suffolk Downs workers may find this to be an easier way to get to work, especially those whom work in the stables. A little further lies the back entrance into the Suffolk Downs big box complex (Target/Stop & Shop) for this is a quicker/cheaper/more frequent way of access for many though a bit of a hike. There is one bus that stops here, the 119 which loops through the Beachmont neighborhood and works its way across town to Linden Square and Northgate Shopping Center.

Pros: Elevated stations have a certain charm and it’s a shame Boston has hated them so much. While a lot of the decor repeats itself in nearby stations, the fact it’s elevated makes it extra special, especially the sounds from above at street level. Head into Beachmont and you’ll find a nice, picturesque neighborhood of which this station is a great perk. However…

Cons: Neighborhood stations often have a downside of being heavily local to the point of there being no “there” there. Some of what Beachmont goes through repeats itself with the Wollastons and Savin Hills of the system as well as some of the lesser-used Green Line surface stops and that sometimes makes finding pluses a stretch. That said…

Nearby and Noteworthy: That “Italian Bakery” mentioned earlier is Toretta’s, a long-established establishment with really good pastries and ice cream. One of those “roofs” visible from the train is Beachmont Roast Beef, a typical North Shore roast beef and sub joint with good food for cheap with slightly-outdated decor and the sort of place one should go if seeking roast beef (as opposed to the overrated Kelly’s) Both of these are worth the trip!

459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)

As I mentioned in my rant about MBTA line bias, my entire summer has been an overworked, underemployed blur in which I entered a heavy rut which distilled my riding to about six different routes/modes. I needed a ride to get me out of the rut of academic writing about stuff like economic embargoes (and stuff that matters like counseling to help families of children with disabilities and illnesses adapt to their new lives). Our proverbial slumpbuster in this case, a route I might not think about otherwise, is the 459, a route semi-unique among the North Shore routes which should be a model of sorts.

The 459 is one of two express routes stretching from Salem Depot into Boston, this one of the most part paralleling the 455 from its origin to Bell Circle in Revere going around Salem’s east side via Lafayette Street and Loring Avenue past the Salem State University campus into Swampscott. After reaching Vinnin Square, the heart of Swampscott’s business district, it transitions onto Essex Street which becomes Union Street in Lynn. Meeting the nuculus of North Shore routes at Central Square, it goes around Lynn Common and eventually passes by West Lynn garage. It is shortly after this I join in.

My ride began at the sole stop the 459 (and 450[W]/455) have in Saugus, the stop located at the corner of Western Turnpike/MA 107 and Ballard Street. Heading towards Lynn, it’s a typical stop but heading towards Revere/Boston riders get an old makeshift cinderblock shelter which a reader referred to as a “rape hut”. I know the nature of that area is very industrial and at that point MA 107 is a divided four-lane road but no shelter would’ve been better than that monstrosity because even on a bright sunny day it looks foreboding. Luckily a bus came right as I arrived, about 2/3 full which is par for the course for midday express runs from the North Shore.

Leaving that bleak shelter, the 459 eventually follows MA 107 to its end at Brown Circle, then MA 60 to its end at Bell Circle where it uses the center bypass lane to get on MA 1A and the route becomes dominated by a big box complex, Suffolk Downs, and a lot of services geared towards persons headed to/from Logan Airport largely that of the offsite parking nature. This sets the tone for one of two main discharge points for the 459, Logan’s Terminal C where about half the bus got off. After going through the Ted Williams Tunnel and a few stops on the Waterfront, the 459 ends with a stop near South Station and a couple of street stops before its end at Federal and Franklin streets alongside most of the 500-series express buses bound for points west and the limited rush hour service of the 448/449 from Marblehead which parallel the 459 from Bell Circle on south. The rest of the bus used either the South Station stop or the Downtown Crossing terminus.

With headways on average of every 70 minutes or so from AM rush to PM rush (a measure so that resources are limited) and a run time of around that length, on paper the 459 would seem to be like a throwaway to toss a bone for the North Shore crowd to get to Logan and to have an alternative to Haymarket. In fact, the route has a lot of potential, if not for itself for the whole 400-series as a whole.

  • Even with the North Shore express network pared down, there is a “Haymarket or Bust” mindset which puts one transfer point among others. The 459 shows a market for a North Shore to South Station connection, what harm would running the 426/450 down Atlantic Ave to terminate at the Dorchester Ave/Summer Street stand the 459 uses? With the Waterfront booming, this cuts a four-seat ride to two seats.
  • Running some 426/450 peak runs via the Ted Williams Tunnel could work as a relief valve for their regular crossings.
  • Soon enough the whole North Shore network is going to get semi-isolated on the weekends when Government Center closes to be rebuilt making the Blue Line an eunuch connecting to only one other line. Weekend 459 service would be a good alternate especially given how it hits all the key spots in the heart of Boston (then again, so would running the 426W to Malden or Wellington instead of Wonderland).

The 459 is a nice little route and some lessons could be learned from it, problem is does anyone want to learn those lessons especially as the North Shore enters a state of transit flux.

Route: 459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: As in the local portion headways are coordinated with the 459, there probably is a healthy amount of ridership between Salem/Lynn and points in-between. By the time I got on, there was a crowd which was 95% bound for Logan or Downtown with Brown Circle the other destination. As with any North Shore route, a good socioeconomic mix too and the Logan crowd was an even split between travelers and workers.

Pros: It’s a North Shore route that doesn’t go to Haymarket! It’s one of the few non-Silver Line routes that serves Logan. What else is there?

Cons: Outside of the 426 and 450, the North Shore express routes are a bit of an afterthought and though this isn’t as bad as thrice-daily 428 or the once-daily 434, this could use a little more service. How it could be divided especially since other routes could use service to its terminus would be a big problem.

 Nearby and Noteworthy: Heading inbound, there’s one of the few standard format “Entering Boston” signs and leading into Logan you can actually see the top of Airport station (which at 9 already needs some new top windows). Not much else in terms of stuff and I need some reason to give the 455 a ride someday.

428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)

(Before I start: This review sat as a spare for months – the original ride was last December. Why trot it out now? Happy Birthday @BostonUrbEx who grew up near the 428 and challenged me for months to ride).

Living in Saugus and working in Burlington, my (wife and I’s) current commute involves lots of avoiding traffic on Route 128 by trying to get on as late into the route as possible. Our back way through Saugus and Wakefield involves driving past the 428 during its limited service, seeing buses of commuters varying in fullness heading to or from Haymarket.

The 428 is a variant of the 426 which runs three round trips a day heading inbound in the morning and outbound at night which runs alongside the 426 on Lynn St. Revere/Lincoln Ave. Saugus from roughly Lawrence Street in Revere to Winter Street in Saugus. In fact, years ago the 428’s runs were numbered 426 even though the two diverge pretty far from each other with the 428 ending at Wakefield High School contrary to the outbound terminal being still named “Oaklandvale” for the western Saugus neighborhood. To get the idea of this route, come along with me for the ride and brave the scads of high schoolers at Wakefield High.

Starting at Wakefield High with a terminal stop on the right side of the street, the 428 snakes through the school’s parking lot before heading down Farm Street. Though it gives parts of Wakefield an alternative to the Haverhill Line and 136/137 to Orange Line, there are only a couple of stops in Wakefield and often a bus running ahead of schedule will layover at the former Oaklandvale terminal right across the Wakefield/Saugus line. The scenery in this area is very not New England with erratic sidewalks but very wide shoulders which sort’ve fill the gap and still allow for stops to go in. Farm Street switches to Main Street and a bit into Saugus the surroundings turn more normal, the stops more regular, and the ridership more regular. From personal observations, by the time the 428 reaches Lynn Fells Parkway there can be a little as 10 riders to as much as 25 on any given day depending on run. Save for a couple of strip malls at that intersection, the 428 passes through solely residential areas.

After crossing Route 1, the 428 ends up taking Main Street to its end at the Saugus Center rotary where it then goes down Central Street for a brief period (paralleling the 430) until turning onto Winter Street where it passes by a cemetery and more houses until meeting Lincoln Ave. A little down the street from this was when I boarded. Last inbound run of the day, five people besides me already on. Nobody else boarded on the joint portion as the 428’s runs are smushed between a 426 and the inbound-only 426W runs. As opposed to said 426 which often has a full seated load and 426W which is usually ¾ full, the 428 in contrast was downright serene. Outside of Cliftondale Square and the Quarrystone apartments which straddle the Revere/Malden line, nobody else got on.

Right after the Quarrystone complex, the 428 does its second major diversion to serve the Granada Highlands complex in Malden which has four different stops shared with the 411 running to Malden Center and Wonderland. At these four stops, the 428 gained six other passengers while seven more passed it by. Though this may have been a byproduct of it being the last run of the day which is a close call for anyone needing to be at work by 9:00, it made me wonder about if the 428’s biggest problem may actually be its schedule. Coming out of Lawrence Street, the 428 rejoins the 426 for the rest of its route heading into Boston. The outbound route has some differences, namely the 428 staying on Route 1 until the Lynn Street exit and in turn not serving Linden Square as it does inbound.

The very limited service nature of the 428 means that it often is a target of service cuts and its limited daily ridership almost guarantees itself a place on any Doomsday cuts list though I think the route needs some TLC to help it improve greatly. Readjusting the times so most ridership isn’t funneled into one run would help a ton for a quick fix while another may be to refocus the routes. I propose three alternatives, both of which would break up the 428 as currently is.

  • Proposal 1: Extend the outbound terminal to Wakefield Station via North Ave/Nahant Rd. Take Route 1 from Main Street to Lynn Street, then serve Granada Highlands, then to current route. 2-3 426 runs a day could be detoured via Winter, Central, and Hamilton Streets to serve Saugus Center.
  • Proposal 2: The current 428 transitions terminates at Square One Mall and runs via Saugus Center. The Saugus-Wakefield service is turned into a new route running from Wakefield Station to Square One to Melrose to Malden Station with instant transfers during rush hour. This would allow for off-peak service on the Wakefield-Saugus portion.
  • Proposal 3: Proposal 1 sans Granada Highlands service with no stops between Haymarket and Square One.

Someday I’ll do a series on how to fix the mess of bus service in Saugus/Wakefield/Melrose. Someday.

Route: 428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Regular and dedicated, most of the time. Given the alternatives of an often arduous trip via the 430 or park-and-riding it from Wakefield or Melrose Highlands, this route has a core who don’t want to deal with higher MBCR fares, potential parking shortages at Wakefield, or a bizarre parking situation period in Melrose.

Pros: It’s the main transit link for most of north/western Saugus and it provides a one-seat ride to Boston otherwise unavailable. That and at least it isn’t like the 170 or the 434 which have “blink-and-you-miss-it” qualities.

Cons: Three round trips a day isn’t enough which might hinder ridership. Putting even a couple of midday runs and another rush hour round-trip would stimulate ridership a ton and this a route which is good enough to be turned into something great.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Suggesting anything along the 428-exclusive portion is going to be rough given that one would either need to find the 429/430 to get home or call a cab to Oak Grove. That said, the only J. Pace and Son outside of Boston is along the 428-only portion and comes with a small diner attached and soon a banquet hall in the back. Otherwise, Fatfingers inside a strip mall at Lynn Fells Parkway. That extension into Wakefield looks mighty good about now…

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.