Wednesday, April 25, 2018

WRTA: 30 (Union Station Hub - West Boylston Walmart via Grove Street and West Boylston Street)

We're going to the West Boylston Walmart on the 30. Fun stuff.

Nice wrap!
We headed out onto Foster Street from the Central Hub, then we turned onto Major Taylor Boulevard. There were lots of office buildings with parking lots along here, and they continued as we darted onto Grove Street for a brief independent section. After going by a repurposed factory, we passed some other industrial buildings, a field, and a cemetery.

A few offices.
We turned onto Gold Star Boulevard, joining the 31 and running past more industrial buildings and some suburban businesses. Curving under I-190, we passed the Greendale Mall and the street became West Boylston Street. It came along a train track with a huge freight train parked on it, while the other side of the road had retail and houses on the side streets.

Some houses going up a hill.
Once the track got sufficiently far from the street, industrial businesses occupied both sides of the street. We passed the monstrous Quinsigamond Community College up on its hill. The 31 left us on Mountain Street East, so finally, it was just us on West Boylston Street. It was still a lot of suburban businesses, but they were interspersed with short residential sections.

It's gettin' woodsy out here!
The street became State Road when we entered West Boylston, running past an interchange with I-190. It was still all businesses along here, with residential neighborhoods down side streets. Finally, we pulled into the West Boylston Walmart, the route's final stop. From here, we took the bus back a ways, and it's worth noting that it does an extra deviation into Wachusett Plaza coming back.

Have fun going back to Worcester!
WRTA Route: 30 (Union Station Hub - West Boylston Walmart via Grove Street and West Boylston Street)

Ridership: The 30 gets great ridership, averaging 929 people per weekday, 438 per Saturday, and 196 per Sunday. My trip only got ten passengers, but these numbers are great, so it was probably a fluke.

Pros: This is a direct trip running straight up West Boylston Street, and it comes at a great half-hourly headway on weekdays. That drops to every hour on weekends, but I think it makes sense. It's also worth noting that the route terminates at Showcase Cinemas on Saturday nights to cover for the 14.

Cons: Dang, this thing is really redundant with the 31! About a third of the route is with the 31, and a large portion of the 30's Worcester section runs with other routes, too. Also, does this thing have RIPTA-length layovers on weekdays? The schedule says nothing about interlining, which would mean that buses get 20 minutes of layover at the Central Hub! It's not a huge deal, but it might be an efficiency problem.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Walmaht! Price Choppah! Woostah!

Final Verdict: 6/10
As far as serving the passengers goes, the 30 does a great job. When it comes to overall efficiency, though, that's where the score drops. The route spends a ton of time with the 31, it doesn't have any substantial independent sections until the northern third of the route, and buses may be laying over for long periods of time. I'll discuss this more in the next post, but perhaps a cost-saving solution would be to combine it with the 14...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

GUEST POST: GATRA: South Bellingham Commuter Shuttle

Of all the guest posts I would've thought to receive, the GATRA South Bellingham Commuter Shuttle was very low on that list! Let's see what Jules has to say about this rare commuter route, run by everyone's favorite RTA, GATRA!

This is the ugly duckling route of GATRA’s so-called Northwest division that supposedly covers so much more ground than the North Bellingham Commuter Shuttle. It runs two pairs of trips a day to and from the Forge Park/495 Commuter Rail stop on the edge of Franklin. And if the name didn’t make it obvious, those trips are peak hours only.

So, take a look at how the route’s supposed to go. This bore no resemblance to the outbound trip I took… and that may be a good thing.

I hopped on the 5:50ish bus — I’m sorry, Dial-a-Ride minibus operated by the Bellingham Council on Aging — which had two other passengers, from the train station’s parking lot. By the time we left, we were well and truly stuck in the exodus jam with my fellow former riders and it took about 5 minutes to turn onto West Central Street or Route 140. But instead of turning right as we were supposed to, we hung a left for a short jog whiffing past a commercial subdivision, then hit a right onto Grove Street.

Woods.
From there, we were trimming across woods, business parks, woods, a spare house or two, woods, the Franklin State Forest (woods) and woods. The street eventually ended, thank goodness, but a left onto Washington Street didn’t reveal much beyond houses and more, though less impressive woodsiness. Let me make it clear: we went through a bunch of woods.

At some point, we crossed the Bellingham line and the road was now Pulaski Boulevard. Not that it mattered much to us because we whipped left onto the first major intersection we could with Lake Street. St. Johns Cemetery crept in between some of the houses I saw, but I really got to see more of it as we pulled a right onto Wrentham Road. We went over what I remember to be a culvert for Bungay Brook before we actually crossed a small bridge for the Peters River that fed it. It was around here that one passenger got off — not far off from the terminus and, yet, not on the intended service path.

The bus made a final chicken wing approach with a right on Paine and an immediate left to meet with a more commercial stretch of Pulaski. We traveled a couple more minutes before we parked at Hilltop Farms — a ho-hum convenience store. I and the remaining passenger de-boarded, with said passenger walking into a nearby pool & spa supplier. He looked like he ran the place. As for me, I crossed the border into Rhode Island and got a bus to Providence.

"Give us a w-...actually, save your wave, you won't be able to catch this bus.

GATRA Route: South Bellingham Commuter Shuttle

Ridership: The GATRA blue book from 2015 aggregates ridership for the 10 total weekday runs of both North and South shuttles and calls it 19. And as it had proposed daily service on the North Shuttle, I think it’s safe to presume that my trip got 2 passengers (minus me) and the other trip didn't get much more.

Pros: The inbound trips time with the 6:35am and 7:50am Forge Park trains while the outbound trips meet up with the 4:43pm and 5:45pm departures from South Station. At least GATRA’s labelling and intent for this service is clear.

Cons: I’m on the fence about this whole jazz improv routing. Commuter shuttles are held very much to a different standard than a typical fixed route and Grove Street was undeniably going to be faster than South Main Street. If drivers followed the actual route map on morning trips and then did request stops coming out of Forge Park, this would actually be a fair execution of the service — for my part, the driver asked me where I was going and I told him Hilltop.

But then I’d have to wonder if the driver or drivers know that the same clientele come in and out of South Bellingham and, if that’s the case, just serve them directly on the AM runs instead of sticking to their discipline? That would preclude growth of the service, not that it’s apparently prone to much growth in the first place.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Woonsocket, Rhode Island. That is about the only thing worth a lick and it’s about a 15-minute walk away. Okay, maybe The Beef Barn for its steak sandwiches.

Final Verdict: 2/10
Free tip to GATRA: talk to RIPTA and see if either or both of you can work out a route from Woonsocket up to Forge Park. That would be better than having this thing drag up your subsidy average, serve a whole bunch more people from the northern reaches of Rhody and a long stretch of Bellingham that includes a few commercial patches as well as the high school.

Perhaps we can try and have this thing make sense, eh?

It would help people to know that this is a GATRA bus stop if it weren't hidden behind a giant crosswalk sign...

Monday, April 23, 2018

WRTA: 26 (Union Station Hub - Great Brook Valley via Lincoln Street)

It's time for the 23's cousin route, the 26! We'll be covering a lot of familiar territory in this review, but we start off at a unique section: Great Brook Valley.

The bus at Great Brook Valley.
The route technically starts at the Great Brook Valley Pool, but Sam and I were a little dubious of that as a starting point, so we waited at the next stop, inside the Great Brook Valley apartment development. We boarded the bus on Tacoma Street, running down through the development. Next, we turned onto Boylston Street, which had houses and businesses on one side and industrial buildings on the other.

Lots of apartments.
We went around a rotary onto Lincoln Street, running past industrial buildings that turned into suburban businesses with parking lots. At the Lincoln Mall, we were joined by the 23, and thus the independent section was over. The suburban businesses continued until a huge office building before we went under I-290.

Hey, I took a picture of this exact same sign on the 23!
There were houses along Lincoln Street until we reached Brittan Square, where we were joined by the 14 and we passed businesses and a hospital. It felt much more urban, even when the square ended, with dense apartments and some retail along the road. Going under I-290 again, we merged onto Major Taylor Boulevard, taking us past tall office buildings with parking lots. Finally, it was a left on Foster Street, and it was a straight shot to the Central Hub.

Wow, a rare sunny picture at the Central Hub!
WRTA Route: 26 (Union Station Hub - Great Brook Valley via Lincoln Street)

Ridership: The 26 gets amazing ridership - in fact, it's the second-busiest WRTA route on weekdays, and the busiest on weekends! The bus gets 1,117 people per weekday, 738 per Saturday, and 283 per Sunday. My morning Saturday trip got a full 20 people going inbound, which is great!

Pros: Like the 23, the 26 provides direct service down Lincoln Street, serving slightly different places at the end of the route. We know from before that both routes run every half hour on weekday to provide 15-minute service along Lincoln Street, but the 26 actually goes every half hour on Saturdays, too!

Cons: Unfortunately, that drops to every 65 minutes on Sundays. Why it can't be every 60, I don't know - it's given more time than on Saturdays, which doesn't make much sense. Also, there are a few weird service patterns here: on weekdays, there's a timepoint for the "Great Brook Valley Community Center," but no trips actually serve it; also, there are a few trips that only go to Great Brook Valley without running all the way to the pool, which just seems...weird. I mean, they're less than a minute apart! Why does this route even serve the pool in the first place? And actually, why is it given five minutes to get from the pool to Great Brook Valley when that's way too much time? Finally, like I said on the 23, the coordination between these routes needs to be a lot more obvious.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Basically the same stuff as the 23. Maybe the pool is fun in the summer!

Final Verdict: 7/10
I think this is a better route than the 23 because it comes more frequently on Saturdays and it has fewer timepoint issues. However, the coordination between these two routes needs to be better. Well, here's something radical: what if we combine them? I can't get the map to work properly for some reason (the timepoints move to the wrong places), but a link to it is here if you're interested. Meanwhile, here's the schedule (full version here):



Basically, I combined the two routes into a loop-like service, with buses serving one leg in one direction and the other leg in the other direction. There are two ways of going about this: one is to have every bus operate in the same direction every trip, and the other is to alternate between trips. I decided to do the latter option, just so that neither route gets preferential treatment. Passengers could stay on the bus to go around to their destination, although the layover time at The Fairways makes it inefficient to do - maybe all the layover could be at the Central Hub so people can ride through.

Anyway, the biggest asset to this schedule is that it offers consistent frequency with the same number of buses. That means we get 15-minute service on weekdays, 20-minute service on Saturdays, and half-hour service on Sundays.  That is so much better than the current weekend schedule where the buses just leave whenever they want! And the only increase in costs is on Sundays, where I increased the operating hours for both buses to create half-hourly service all day - if need be, it could be dropped to every hour for the first and last few trips.

This schedule highlights a general problem with the WRTA: they're not operating their buses as efficiently as they could be. They're facing huge budget cuts from the state government right now, and that's awful, but it bothers me that they have some very easy fixes that can be made for no extra cost that would boost ridership. Think about how many more people would ride if they knew there was a bus every fifteen minutes on weekdays and every twenty minutes on Saturdays! This is something the authority could implement with the exact same amount of resources. The fact that they're not taking advantage of corridors like this is baffling.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chelsea, Bellingham Square, Box District, Eastern Avenue, and Airport

Well, we established yesterday that the SL3 as a route isn't as great as it might've seemed to be. Are the stations any better? Let's take a gauntlet-style look at all of them!

The inbound platform at Chelsea.
We begin with Chelsea, and we'll use this one to describe what you get with every stop. There's a modern shelter, bike racks, an emergency blue light, some maps, a wastebasket, and some benches. Most stations have a form of countdown clock (or at least, signs that tell you how frequently buses are coming, but I assume they'll be countdown clocks eventually), but Chelsea doesn't have any yet.

And the...uh...outbound platform.
So instead of using the money to, say, install controlled signals at the intersections with side streets, we instead get an outbound platform that's identical to the inbound one. Where no one is allowed to wait. Alright, sure, that makes lots of sense. By the way, although every SL3 station has buttons that release heat into the waiting area (very cool), one of the two heaters was completely broken on the inbound side, while they both worked perfectly on the outbound side! Well, glad that worked out the way it did! I'm sure the 0 people waiting for an outbound bus will benefit greatly from this.

Okay, THIS is cool.
Chelsea does have an advantage over the other stations because it has bathrooms. Well, it will...they were being worked on at the time, but I'm sure they'll be really nice when they open! As a final note, this station is right next to Market Basket, but there are no pedestrian markings across the parking lot to get there. At least a crosswalk would've been much appreciated, especially since there is signage from the Market Basket bus stop to the Silver Line station.

The second-ever trip on the line beginning its journey to Boston.
Station: Chelsea
Ridership: It'll be hard to judge ridership for these, but this was the busiest station I saw throughout the day. That doesn't mean much, though - most of the people from here are probably just out to ride the route to the end.
Pros: The default station for the SL3 is great. I like the shelters, and there are plenty of amenities provided beneath them. Chelsea has the added bonus of bathrooms as well!
Cons: Do we really need the big fancy shelter on the outbound side? I have no idea how much these things costed, but I doubt it was low enough to justify building a completely unnecessary one! Also, better pedestrian markings to Market Basket would be very helpful - right now, it's just a free-for-all.
Nearby and Noteworthy: The Mystic Mall, of course! Honestly, why the heck is this station called "Chelsea"? It makes a lot more sense to name it after the mall - it's not like the Red Line stops are Harvard, Porter, Davis, Cambridge. So yeah, the Mystic Mall.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Chelsea has the basic structure that all the other stations have, but it's points off for the useless outbound shelter, the lack of markings to Market Basket and the rest of the mall, and the ridiculous name. That being said...bathrooms are nice!

The outbound platform at Bellingham Square.
Because of space, Bellingham Square is a staggered station. The outbound side is closest to Arlington Street, as well as the Chelsea Commuter Rail station, and it has the classic arrangement: shelter, benches, heat, maps, etc. Can I ask once again: why was this shelter built? The number of people going outbound from here is likely a very small one - certainly not enough to necessitate this shelter!

The future ramp.
Currently, there's no way of getting from this station to Washington Street, but that's being amended by a new ramp that's being built. I wish the ramp had been open by the first day, but, uh, I guess not. Oh well, eventually it'll be nice to have!

Buddy, I think your sign is wrong...
Station: Bellingham Square
Ridership: This will probably end up being the busiest station, since it's the one closest to dense Bellingham Square. Also, in absence of a Wonderland Commuter Rail station, this is now the best way for Newburyport/Rockport Line customers to get to the airport!
Pros: It has all your typical amenities. Once the ramp opens, it'll be great to have two separate entrances from here.
Cons: Again, we really don't need that outbound shelter, and the money to build it could've been spent elsewhere. Not having the ramp done on the first day is kind of a bummer, and it's also really annoying that they don't show this station's connection to the Chelsea Commuter Rail station on the subway map.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Bellingham Square, of course! Lots of businesses down there, and some bus connections, as well.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Yeah, I dunno, I'm feeling another 6 with this one. The outbound shelter is once again unnecessary, and it's pretty bad that the ramp couldn't be completed by the first day. We'll call it a 7 once that ramp opens, and also, can we please have a transfer blob between this station and the Commuter Rail station? It happens with every other Commuter Rail transfer.

Coming 'round the bend!
Broadway marks the beginning of the SL3's multi-use path, and that takes us down a long hill to Box District Station! I wish there was a proper T logo at the entrance at Broadway and not just a tiny sign with an arrow saying "Silver Line," but I guess it works. As we go down the path, we find the station's bike racks at its entrance.

Well, this one is nice!
This station looks a little different from the others, since its two shelters are connected. It looks awesome, but other than that, everything else is the same. We've still got the benches, the wastebaskets, the heat, the maps, and everything else.

Spying on a bus leaving the station.
Station: Box District
Ridership: I'm not sure what it'll be like for this one. There are some TOD apartments right nearby, and plenty more dense housing to the south. To the north, it's industrial, so I doubt too many people will come from there.
Pros: The station is pretty unique aesthetically - I like the big canopy. Other than that, everything here is the same, which is good as far as amenities goes.
Cons: I'll bet this canopy was expensive to build, and once again, we really don't need that outbound shelter...they could've saved a lot of moneyyyyyyyyyy...
Nearby and Noteworthy: Mostly just apartments. There isn't too much to visit from this one.
Final Verdict: 7/10
This is the best one so far. The canopy does look really cool, and as we get further down the line, the outbound shelters get at least a little more useful.

This looks familiar!
Our final stop on the busway is Eastern Ave, and this one has the same design as Chelsea and Bellingham. We've got the two shelters, the heat, and everything else that I don't have to repeat for the fourth time. This station also has a turnaround loop that they seem to use to short-turn buses if the service is bunching. Seems like a good idea, based on how it seems to be running...

Okay, better not go into the restricted area...although I've done it before.
The Massport 77 turns around here as well, and its stop is right next to the station. There's a sign saying not to go in there because it's an employees-only area, so we'll discuss it from afar. There isn't much outside, but a waiting room inside the Chelsea Employee Garage provides all the amenities anyone would ever need. It's probably nicer to wait at than the Silver Line station! Unfortunately, it seems that the hyper-frequent 77 often blocks the Silver Line, which is BAD.

The dreaded drawbridge looms...
Station: Eastern Avenue
Ridership: Well...we've got parking lots to the immediate north and west. There's an industrial area to the south. Water to the east. Yeah, probably not too high.
Pros: Basically the fact that it's got the same amenities, and that's about it.
Cons: So, the 77s seem like they're, uh, kind of a problem here! Ideally they would wait in the turnaround loop, but it seems like they, uh, don't do that. I guess they now a Paul Revere employee stationed there to direct the buses, but it seems like bad station design if someone has to be stationed to do that! Also, annoyingly, the multi-use path curves around to the street without actually serving the station, forcing people to walk around to get to it. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's strange that that decision was made when building it.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Like I said, it doesn't seem like much is around here! I mean, there's...an airport hotel?
Final Verdict: 5/10
Yeah, this one isn't great. It has the problem with the 77s, it has the weird path, and it doesn't even seem to be serving much. I'm sure people are willing to walk here from the apartments you eventually get to going west, but just looking at a map, it seems like more would've been served if the station had been placed further northwest. Finally, this is the station everyone is going to hate, because it's the one where buses have to wait if the drawbridge is up!

Oh...uh...hmm...
Alright, it would appear that Airport Station didn't get any kind of modernization. So...we've still got poles with paint peeling, rusting benches that have been here for years, and maps that don't even say that the SL3 exists. Our one indication that a bus stops here is the smallest berth signs ever that hang from the roof of the shelter.

One word for this is...problematic.
Station: Airport
Ridership: This is gonna be a huge station for outbound ridership. The fastest way to get to the city using the SL3 is definitely Blue Line to Airport, then getting the bus from there.
Pros: The free transfer to the Blue Line works even with CharlieTickets. Too bad none of the SL3 stations have fare machines, though - no one will actually be able to get one.
Cons: ACCORDING TO THE MAPS, THE SL3 IS NOT A THING. I THINK THAT'S ALL THAT NEEDS TO BE SAID HERE. Also, the busway really could use a modernization...
Nearby and Noteworthy: The airport! Yay! But there's also an awesome neighborhood on the other side of the station.
Final Verdict: 3/10
I mean...yeah, at least the busway is functional, with plenty of benches to sit at. As for everything else, this one is no good. Come on, they've been updating maps all over the system, but they couldn't bother here? Geez!
UPDATE 4/24/18: The maps at Airport have now been upgraded to show the SL3's existence! I guess that's enough to raise the score to...I dunno, a 4? It's still not great...

Alright, so that's the state of the stations. It seems like a common theme between them is that they were rather overbuilt, with far too elaborate outbound platforms. As for the actual service, how is it doing?


Okay! Good luck tomorrow morning, SL3! You'll need it!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

SL3 (Chelsea Station - South Station via Airport Station)

I sprinted out of my house at 4:17 AM. I arrived at the empty main street...no cars going in either direction. Well, Sam said to wait at an inbound bus stop, so I headed over to the closest one. No cars coming. *BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*!!!!! A vehicle was coming the other way. I dashed across the street, jumped in with Sam, Jordan, and Uillia, and we drove away at full speed, "This Is How We Do It" blasting through the radio. It was time to ride the first SL3.

We pulled into the South Station parking lot and headed down to the bus terminal. The Commuter Rail station was still closed...maybe the subway entrances were open? Tried one...didn't work. Tried another...nope. A third? Nuh-uh. They were all closed. The time was 4:55, and the first trip was scheduled to leave at 5:02. "If we miss this thing, I'm gonna be so pissed," Jordan remarked.

Finally, someone came out to open the doors to the Commuter Rail station. We ran in and went down to the Silver Line platforms, where a surprisingly small amount of people was waiting. At 5:01 AM, bus 1102 entered the station, and all eleven of us boarded the first trip of the T's first new line in over a decade. So much fanfare!

HERE IT COMES!!!!
I regret to say that this first trip was not the one I reviewed. We took it up to Chelsea (and gave a round of applause when it arrived), but then we went back and reviewed all the stations - that post will be tomorrow. After that, we got a bus back to Chelsea (we had to wait for the stupid drawbridge to come down, and I will definitely be ranting about that later) and now...let us review the journey back to South Station!

The busy crowd inside the bus. Hi, Jordan!
Our bus boarding at Chelsea!
So we began at Market Bask...er, Chelsea Station, where we boarded the bus after its tight loop. This portion of the busway ran right next to the Commuter Rail tracks, while on the other side, there were some office buildings with big parking lots. After going under Route 1, we arrived at our next stop, Bellingham Square, where you can also transfer to the Commuter Rail Chelsea Station...although that's not shown on any of the maps. Shucks.

A wide road just east of Chelsea Station.
There wasn't all that much to see after Bellingham Square (although a signalized "single-track" section under a bridge worked perfectly) until we reached Box District, which had some TOD apartments next to it. We were away from the Commuter Rail now, and we were running past industrial buildings on one side and dense houses and apartments on the other. The big Chelsea Employee Lot meant that we had arrived at Eastern Ave Station, which is also used by 77s to turn around (they also short-turn some SL3s here if they're bunching).

Some apartments running up a hill.
From Eastern Ave, the bus traversed an intersection to get onto Chelsea Street in mixed traffic. We went over the dreaded drawbridge, and on the other side of the Chelsea River, we were in East Boston. Oh boy, talk about industrial. We didn't have to deal with the area's huge vats for too long, though, as we turned onto the Martin A Coughlin Bypass Road, running in a cut underneath the neighborhood.

Alright, a view!
We popped up onto the eloquently-named Service Road, and this led us next to I-90 and the Blue Line tracks, with various industrial airport buildings on the other side. After serving the Airport Blue Line station in its busway, we ran down Transportation Way, which had I-90 to the north and a park to the south. We did some curves and passed the Rental Car Center, then it was a left onto the highway ramp into the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Here we go!
From here, it's just like the SL1 you know and love(?). Coming out of the tunnel in the Seaport District, we did everyone's favorite "Congress Street opposite Seaport Hotel" stop, then it was the ol' looparound to Silver Line Way. The wires came up perfectly, but we had no such luck at D Street, where the light (as usual) took about 80 years to change. From there, it was down through the overbuilt World Trade Center and Courthouse Stations, and on to South!

We got out at Courthouse so we could get a picture still signed as SL3. See ya!
Route: SL3 (Chelsea Station - South Station via Airport Station)

Ridership: Well, if you thought 11 people on the first trip was bad, try 1-2 people on every other trip this morning! Granted, it was a Saturday morning at a time when nobody wants to be up - I rode the route later in the day, and it was much busier. Ridership today was definitely more of the "seeing the line" type of folk, but hopefully people start to use it as a service come the work week.

Pros: Once you get past Eastern Ave, this thing is pretty good. The busway is somewhat fast, the stations are generally nice (more on those tomorrow), and the route is useful, running through the urban core of Chelsea. It's a one-seat ride to the Seaport District and to Downtown, plus this makes the trip from Chelsea to the airport much easier. There's a free transfer from the SL3 to the Blue Line at Airport Station (as long as you don't pay with cash), and that will likely be the fastest way of getting into the city using this route. Buses come often: service is every 10 minutes at rush hour, every 12 minutes on Saturdays, and every 15 minutes middays, nights, and Sundays. Finally, the multi-use path that runs along the busway from Box District to Eastern Ave is a nice touch, although it could be longer.

Cons: Okay, I hope I don't get killed for this, but...this route is problematic.
  • First, no discussion about the SL3 is complete without comparing it to the 111, and that's what a lot of these cons come from. In terms of raw frequency from Bellingham Square, the 111 beats the SL3 by a long shot, running every 3-5 minutes at rush hour, every 10 minutes or less middays, nights, and Saturdays, and every 12 minutes or less on Sundays. The SL3 can't even hold a candle to those kinds of headways. Plus, the 111 serves the square directly.
  • Whereas the 111 goes straight over the Tobin Bridge, the SL3 has to contend with the drawbridge over the Chelsea River. We arrived as it was on its way down, and we still had to wait five minutes! There's some complicated diversion the route has to do if it gets there just as it's going up, and I'm sure it saves no time at all. If the drawbridge goes up during the rush, there will be bunching. And sure, the Tobin Bridge gets snarled up during rush hour...but so does the Ted Williams Tunnel! So the SL3 has two chokepoints to deal with, while the 111 only has one.
  • I'm not going to make any conclusions about speed (I hope to stage a race soon), but I think it can be reasonably assumed that the 111 is generally, on average, about as fast as the SL3 is to the city. Even if that's not the case, the SL3 is a rapid transit fare. This means that in many cases, people are spending more money for a relatively equal service.
  • Speaking of fares, it's annoying that this brand-new BRT route has front-door only boarding. Maybe they're waiting for AFC 2.0, but still! When I rode the route midday, there were a ton of people at Chelsea, and it took way longer to board as a result.
  • The complete lack of transit signal priority along the route is insane. Buses have to wait at the Eastern Ave light, and at numerous stop signs at level crossings with side streets. What they should've done with the latter is put traffic lights for cars up that default to green, and just turn red when a bus is coming. A BRT service shouldn't have to stop for cars! Also, there's the D Street light, but that's a problem with every Silver Line route.
  • I'm not sure if this is a first-day problem or what, but the interaction with the 77s at Eastern Ave is awful. I was on a bus that got stuck behind a 77 that was boarding, and I've heard reports that this has been happening all throughout the day. This is not good. Along with the drawbridge, although to a lesser extent, this could be a huge cause of bunching.
  • Also, if the route bunches, there's no place to lay over in Chelsea, so that bunch is sticking around all the way back to South Station! Maybe even beyond South Station, since having only two layover spots in the tunnel with three routes is tough to work with...

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are lots of businesses in Bellingham Square, and some more over at the Mystic Mall (next to Chelsea Station). Sorry, I have no idea what kinds of places are worth going to, but I'm sure those who are more knowledgeable than me will comment!

Final Verdict: 4/10
Yeah, I was feeling a 6 when I finished my ride on this thing, and it only seems worse the more I think about it. Honestly, I think the money used to build this would have been much better spent creating improvements to the 111 and making it a BRT-like service. Imagine how amazing that route would be if it had bus lanes on the Tobin Bridge! But we're stuck with the SL3, and sure, that's not an awful thing - this is a fine route for what it is, and it might be faster than the 111 at rush hour if you transfer at Airport. This just isn't the golden rapid transit line that will solve all of Chelsea's transportation problems. Far from it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
How the heck was I able to present at TransportationCamp after getting up at 4 in the morning? Who knows, but I had an awesome time! Thanks to everyone for coming and being a fantastic audience. We had a really interesting discussion about RTA planning, and it made me so happy to see the issue getting some attention!

Friday, April 20, 2018

WRTA: 23 (Union Station Hub - East Mountain Street via Lincoln Street)

There's a 23 leaving from the Hub in 9 minutes? Alright, let's do the 23.

Excellent.
We headed up Foster Street, then we turned onto Major Taylor Boulevard. This was a wide road that passed a lot of office buildings with big parking lots, as well as the DCU convention center. We eventually merged onto Lincoln Street, which went under I-290. The tall buildings ended immediately; now we were passing dense houses and some businesses.

All of the side streets were steep hills!
There was some retail along the street as we reached Brittan Square. After a hospital, Lincoln Street curved to a northeast trajectory, and it was residential until we once again went under I-290. There was a huge office building on the other side, then Lincoln Street was lined with suburban businesses. One of them was the Lincoln Mall, and luckily, we didn't have to deviate!

Not the Lincoln Mall, but apparently Kohl's!
We turned onto Country Club Boulevard, a wide street with an equally wide median. It took us through the Lincoln Village Apartments, a mixture of smaller apartments and big buildings. The road ended at the Worcester Art Magnet School (where the route terminates on its snow route), where we turned onto Saint Nicholas Ave. It became lined with houses as it went up a hill.

What a view these folks must have!
We turned onto Clark Street, which went down a steep hill - my ears popped! There were houses, apartment developments, and even a few office buildings along here, and it continued as we turned onto Mountain Street East. Coming up along a golf course, we reached our terminus, the aptly-named Fairways Apartments.

Heading back to Worcester.
WRTA Route: 23 (Union Station Hub - East Mountain Street via Lincoln Street)

Ridership: The 23 gets great ridership for WRTA, receiving 726 passengers per weekday, 257 per Saturday, and 137 per Sunday. My Saturday trip was interesting in that more than half of the 8 passengers (we were going outbound in the morning, so low ridership was expected) got on at local points past the hub. I love seeing routes that get local ridership like that!

Pros: The 23 is very direct, and it serves a dense corridor frequently; service is every half hour weekdays and every hour on weekends. On weekdays, it's even better, since the route is coordinated to run every 15 minutes with the 26 on Lincoln Street - they run together all the way until the Lincoln Mall.

Cons: WRTA...you're running 15 minute service on a corridor. ADVERTISE IT! Don't you think more people are likely to ride the bus if they know that the 23 and the 26 combine to create service that frequent on weekdays? There's no indication of this on either of their schedules! Other problems include the wacky Saturday service that's technically every hour, but it shifts around by five minutes all throughout the day (4:30, 5:25, 6:30, 7:20, etc.), as well as the route's strange service patterns. It can terminate in a few different places throughout the day: most of the time, it's at the Fairways, but three evening trips terminate at an office building on Century Drive (which is so close to the route that the workers there could walk to the closest stop in a few minutes), the second-to-last outbound trip on weekdays ends at the Great Brook Valley Community Center, and the last weekday and two last Sunday outbound trips end at Lincoln Plaza. This is displayed horribly on the route's map, too - service to Century Drive is displayed as a dotted line, which makes sense, but the Great Brook Valley routing is displayed exactly the same as the rest of the route. It looks like a deviation, but it's actually just one outbound trip on weeknights!

Nearby and Noteworthy: The route ends in a wasteland of forest and housing developments, so...no, not really.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 23 annoys me to no end, but it's overall a good route. It runs frequently, it serves a major corridor, and it gets a lot of people. But boy, talk about cons! I don't want to repeat everything I mentioned above, but the most important change that can be made to the 23 is better advertising for the coordination with the 26. I'll discuss this more in the next review (which is of the 26), but it's absolutely insane that the WRTA doesn't push this, or at least give some indication of its existence!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Wow, it didn't occur to me until just now to advertise this on the blog: come see me speak at TransportationCamp! I'm doing a presentation about the RTAs (of course), and there'll be a ton of other awesome sessions there. There are still tickets available, so get them while you can!

Also, the SL3 opens tomorrow, and somehow I'm gonna pack a review of that into the same day as the presentation. Boy oh boy, tomorrow is gonna be quite a day!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Logan Airport Shuttle: 99 (Back Bay Logan Express)

Yeah, this is technically a Logan Express, but they refer to it as the 99 on certain countdown clocks, so we're calling it a Logan Airport Shuttle. No, I'm not going to do the other Logan Express routes. Okay, let's go!

Boarding at Hynes.
The route starts at a drop-off area at the Hynes Convention Center, so that's where Nathan and I went to pick it up. I did a service change of this route back when it was free for CharlieCard users, but that has since changed. Now, the cost is $3.00 for people with CharlieCards and $7.50 for people without them...credit/debit card only. Yes, the driver literally takes out a handheld reader that he uses to swipe passengers' cards (and you get a weird little paper ticket). They already use specific buses to run this route - how hard would it be to put a farebox that also accepts cash on them???

Nice!
From Hynes, we headed down Boylston Street, passing businesses, apartments, and the Prudential Center. We came into Copley Square, making a stop along the square next to the Boston Public Library, the John Hancock Tower, Trinity Church, and lots and lots of businesses. From there, we looped around onto Saint James Ave via Clarendon Street and made another stop on the south side of the square.

Interesting reviewing a route around here again!
It was straight onto I-90 West from there, which was running in its tunnel through the Back Bay. We surfaced at the Hynes Convention Center, and there were tons of buildings flanking the highway. Passing Fenway Park and Yawkey Station, we went through the BU campus and went onto a bridge alongside Storrow Drive and the Charles River.

Time to turn around...
Now, of course, Logan Airport is east of Copley Square, but we were going west. It was time for that classic part of the route where it turns around and comes straight back the other way! Unfortunately, this is the fastest way to go, even though it feels super inefficient. So, we went all the way back to the Back Bay tunnel and came out on the other side.

Hmm...not the straightest photo ever taken...
We were only out for a little bit before going underground again through the Fort Point Channel. The highway went under the Seaport District and then straight through Boston Harbor to get to the airport. Coming out at the airport, we looped around onto the departures level road and pulled into Terminal A to drop our one passenger off. Unfortunately, we had to serve Terminal B because of the road structure of the airport, but the driver knew Nathan and I were going to E - he had asked us when we got on. This meant we could skip C, and it was straight on to E.

A bus going back into the city.
Logan Airport Shuttle Route: 99 (Back Bay Logan Express)

Ridership: Well, just one other person going to the airport. However, I've seen this bus plenty busy at other times - it never gets more than about a full-seated load, but for an airport shuttle, that's pretty good.

Pros: This is the fastest public transportation connection from the airport to the Back Bay area, and since it's nonstop, it's probably just as fast as a cab. It's much cheaper, though - $7.50 for non-CharlieCard users sounds expensive, but when you think about what a cab would cost, it's great! I also like how the outbound route only serves the terminals where the passengers want to go, and the route runs at a clean 20-minute headway.

Cons: Credit/debit card only? That's such a pain, come on! It wouldn't be hard to put fareboxes specifically into the buses with the Back Bay Logan Express paint scheme to allow travelers to pay with cash as well. Also, it's strange that the route the bus takes is up to interpretation: it mostly travels the roundabout I-90 way, but sometimes it uses local streets to get to I-93 in the South End, then it goes back up to the Ted Williams Tunnel. It's not a huge deal, but it would be nice if the alternative route got an announcement like the normal one does (it explains how the bus will go down I-90 and turn around).

Nearby and Noteworthy: Copley Square is awesome! Did you know that? I'm sure you didn't - Copley Square is really a little-known Boston secret that no one knows about.

Final Verdict: 7/10
If you're going from Logan to the Back Bay, this is the way to go. It's fast, it's nonstop, it's frequent, and it's pretty cheap. Just make sure you have a credit or debit card, because otherwise too bad, you can't get on. Seriously, Massport...FAREBOXES!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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