Tuesday, October 02, 2012

North Bank Bridge: As Costly and Semi-Useless as the Rest of the Big Dig

[This rant, originally published on 2012/10/02 was finally edited on 2014/06/01 to reflect my latest feelings about the bridge. I fully acknowledge both my original ranting and raving as well as my latest feelings. -TM]

Welcome back!

Long-story-short, I crossed the North Point Bridge for the first time yesterday. For those of you who haven't much time to spare, my short review is:

The Negative:

  • Hard Not the easiest to get to on either side (Boston or Cambridge)
  • Hard Not the easiest to orient oneself once on the opposite side
  • Not very overly popular because of both of the above
  • Benefits Cambridge (North Point) much more than it does Boston (Charlestown)
The Positive:
  • Simple and effective engineering and architecture for $8 million pricetag
  • Great train views
  • Great panoramic view (clockwise) of Somerville, Charlestown, the North End, the West End and Cambridge

If that's all the time you have, that about sums it up. The rest of this rant will, as usual focus on the negative with a sprinkling of the positive since, just like public transit in this State, any pro-walking/pro-cycling progress is better than none even if it costs way more than it should've and benefits far fewer than other projects coul've.

It's definitely not a secret that I have nothing but absolute disdain for everything that was, is and will be the Big Dig. And it wasn't like I didn't have enough material before crossing the North Bank Bridge to go on--heck, I could write for days about the Silver Line alone. So when I did finally cross the Bridge, the latest piece of the Big Dig for me to bare witness, I (unfortunately, I guess) came to the same conclusion as I've done with experiencing the Zakim Bridge, Tip O' Neill Tunnel, Ted Williams Tunnel, Silver Line and Rose Kennedy Greenway: as costly and semi-useless as everything else!

Before I begin the true rant on the North Bank Bridge, let me first provide the semi-interesting back-story of how I came to even find out about this nearly-invisible bridge:

On a hot but not-too-humid Sunday afternoon I was sitting in central air conditioning at the dining table in my soon-to-be-90 Grandmother's house in South Carolina. I had picked up a copy of the Boston Metro much earlier that day from a box, but somehow managed to not read it on the Orange Line, Blue Line, Airport Shuttle or connecting flights to South Carolina--not to mention the hour-long ride from the airport "down there" to her house. But now, relaxing from all that traveling and soaking up the legendary Southern Hospitality, I had the time and so I did.

Therein lied, in typical quick-and-to-the-point Metro fashion a short article on this so-called North Bank Bridge. Ever one to stay on top of major urban transportation development around Greater Boston, this one caught me completely off guard. I asked my mother, who also stays on top of current events, if she had heard of it; she hadn't. So naturally, in this day and age, I then sought out further research from my recently purchased "smart" phone, the Samsung Galaxy S3. I found a few articles touting the building and opening of the Bridge sometime in mid-July.

Mid-July?! But . . . hadn't seen . . . heard anything . . . didn't even know exactly where it was! And as I crossed it yesterday I soon came to understand, at least partially, why.

Hard to Get To:
The Bridge is described in basic terms as providing a "vital link," or some euphemism thereof depending on the article writer, "between Charlestown and Cambridge." Well, that's true, but when I think "vital link" I think of say, the Prison Point/Gilmore Bridge--something easily accessible from major thoroughfares, in the case of that bridge, Rutherford Avenue and McGrath/O'Brien Highway, prospectively. The North Bank Bridge actually connects Paul Revere Park--which I'm sure even many some Charlestown residents have to look up--with North Point, a-k-a that tony condo-y section of Lechmere Square that sought to separate itself in the same way that the Seaport District was separated from South Boston.

Paul Revere Park is no picnic to get to--if on foot  you have to walk down stairs from the Charlestown Bridge; if on any set of wheels--bicycle, roller skates/slates, wheelchair/scooter, etc., you have to go all the way around to Warren Street and under the Charlestown Bridge (Constitution Road/Water Street) just to get there as there is no ramp access off of Rutherford Avenue/North Washington Street. There are three main access points:
*Access 1: Off of New Rutherford Ave just before the Tobin Bridge Onramp (foot, any wheeled vehicle)
*Access 2: Off of North Washington Street, just after the I-93S/"Loop Ramp" Onramp (foot, any wheeled vehicle)
*Access 2.5: Stairs off of North Washington Street, just after the I-93S/"Loop Ramp" Onramp (foot only)
*Access 3: Underneath North Washington Street/Charlestown Bridge from Constituation Road/Water Street (foot, any wheeled vehicle)

Even though, as you can see, I redacted much of the original comments about accessing the Bridge having, in the last two years, found the other "secret" access points, I still stand by my original "no picnic" comment, looking at it mainly from a cyclist's perspective:
*Access 1 requires you to either cut through the Bunker Hill Community College Campus or mix it up first with traffic turning onto the Prison Point/Gilmore Bridge, then cross that entire Bridge then mix it up with traffic turning toward the Tobin Bridge--on a safety scale of 10 (safest) to 0 (taking your life in your hands), I'd give it a -1; but, conversely it is the most efficient way to go.
*Accesses 2 and 2.5 require you to either continue further down on  New Rutherford Ave, past Access 1, also mixing it up with traffic turning onto I-93/"Loop Ramp" or taking a detour through Main Street Charlestown and City Square only to have to eventually cross the wide intersection of Chelsea Street and North Washington Street. On the same safety scale, I'd put it at about a 7, but what you gain in safety you lose in the time factor.
*Access 3, the way I used to go and, at the point of the original rant, the only way I thought you could go if not on foot, requires an even more convoluted detour through Charlestown. Safety factor 11, but again, you lose much in the time factor.

Similarly, on the Cambridge side, North Point Park is set back off of McGrath/O'Brien Highway by connecting road Museum Way.

Long-story-short, if you want to take this Bridge you have to really want to take it--so much for it being a "vital link." live in Charlestown already you probably find it convenient, but, for me, coming from the Sullivan Square Area, it's either dicey roads or convoluted roads.

Hard to Orient Oneself Once on the Opposite Side:
There is really nothing much more to say that wasn't said in the previous section except that if you really don't know the area, you'll really be lost once you cross the North Bank Bridge since, again, you're kinda sorta winding up in Lechmere Square or kinda sorta winding in Charlestown--but not really. Such was my thought yesterday as I crossed the Bridge from Charlestown to North Point and realized that I was at least a half a mile off from the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path near Storrow Drive--where I wanted to be. A distant dream  includes a secondary bridge connection linking North Point Park area to the park area along Nashua Street such that you don't have to do a funky "U" through North Point Park to reach civilization.

Not an Very Overly Popular Bridge:
As a cyclist you get used to going in directions not frequented by pedestrians since, well, bicycles are far more versatile, not the least of advantages being the ability, at will, to switch from path riding to street riding to sidewalks (for infrequent safety reasons). But sometimes you just get the sense that going a certain way just really doesn't seem great and thus a red flag was raised in my head as I crossed through Paul Revere Park and noticed that not some, but all of the pedestrians walking through were continuing to the left to the Gridley Locks while nobody was heading right towards the North Bank Bridge.

Now, mind  you, I was still under the false pretenses that the Bridge was a "vital link" and thus couldn't yet fathom why people were continuing to squeeze their way through the Locks while this fancy, expensive new bridge was available. But then, as I mentioned in the previous section, it hit me when I got to the Cambridge side--I wasn't in the West End or Science Park area--I was in the no-man's (person's) land of North Point! Expecting throngs of people while crossing the Bridge, my total human contact consisted of eight persons--a father biking in the opposite direction with his daughter in a front basket of some sort and another man biking up the bridge in the opposite direction who I had to wait to pass by the huge planter on the Cambridge side (decorative and to prohibit motor vehicle traffic) because two mothers with children in strollers, and one holding another baby managed to situate themselves right in the space between the planter and the railing on the other side. Mind you they could have parked themselves anywhere along the Bridge except where people needed to squeeze by said planter. Yes, even on a sparsely-used pedestrian/cycling bridge, leave it to Massholes to create unnecessary congestion!

Benefits North Point more than Charlestown:
Taking everything I've said already into consideration, the only real use I can see for the Bridge if you live on the Charlestown side is if you want to go to the Museum of Science or Cambrideside Galleria--even the Green Line Science Park station would still be quicker by cutting through the Gridley Locks. From the North Point side, it's easy access to the much more bustling Charlestown and North End--especially if you're able-bodied and can do stairs. Plus, it's a bonus for North Point residents since it connects their blasé park with the expansive Paul Revere Park.

Simple and Effective Engineering and Architecture:
Finally, on to some positives! Okay, so the thing appears structurally sound from my learned engineering standpoint, or at least more structurally sound than other portions of the Big Dig. From an architectural standpoint, the $8 million price tag, while steep, at least seems to be money-well-spent as the Bridge is a healthy mix of modern-cool while at the same time almost no-frills. Also, of note is that you really, really have to cross this Bridge at night sometime--not past your bedtime of course: the lighting is very awesome, much like the behemoth Zakim Bridge above it.

Great Views:
The panoramic view, as I mentioned earlier, would really benefit tourists who happen to find this thing--I personally am more concerned with the Bridge's great unobstructed overhead view of trains entering and leaving North Station over the drawbridge, as well as views to the North of the Commuter Rail tracks and nearby Somerville Shops and the Orange Line. The biggest reason I'll take the Bridge when I have time will be the train views; the second reason being my love for off-the-beaten path rides. I'm guessing neither of those reasons factored into describing the Bridge as a "vital link" however.


Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cold-Weather Tested

The commute today actually took longer than yesterday's by about a minute. That pretty much sums up all the conjecturing being done over the past 24 hours about the MBTA taking strides to not have this morning's commute be a repeat of yesterday morning's commute. To be more specific, an approximately 22-minute commute took 33 minutes yesterday, and you can do the math to figure out today's time. No, not extremely bad, save for the fact that, for the second day in a row I missed my connection to an employee shuttle resulting in a 1 1/4-mile walk from the station platform to my work desk.

If there's any solace, it's knowing that the train I narrowly missed due to my own "traffic ahead" while walking briskly to Stony Brook Station would not have gotten me to Sullivan Square Station in time to catch the last employee shuttle. That train couldn't possibly have made it, given the fact that, although it left four minutes ahead of the one that I caught, was apparently so swamped that our train caught up by Ruggles and it was stop-and-go all the way to North Station--due to "traffic ahead." Of course, one would argue that, especially due to the current issues being experienced, I should hardly try to chance things so close--I readily admit that. But, let's be real--there are things to get done, like gathering and setting out recycling to the curb on trash day, and I give myself what I call a comfortable margin of time in which to get to work.

Speaking of my busy-ness, I've certainly missed a lot of MBTA milestones and newsworthy events over the past year, most notably the appointment of Richard Davey as one of the youngest (if not the youngest) General Managers the T has ever had. From day one he has talked, and taken, a more proactive approach to improving transit services. A self-proclaimed longtime rider of the T, he easily won brownie points by most critics, including myself, as a stark contrast to former GM Dan Grabauskas who commuted from the North Shore in his company-issued SUV hybrid every day. To Davey, I say "Congratulations!" and "Good Luck!"--you're gonna need it.

After all, it's days like these that truly test the capabilities of the largest public transit system in New England, days when people are a little less forgiving when they're late for work or school for a second day in a row due to the exact same issues. I hardly fault Davey for personally making apologies and promising to improve services; people just wanted to see improvements--and they didn't see them.

Really, I feel most sorry for what I call the "North Side Riders"--those who live at any of the stops between North Station and Oak Grove. These riders have had to endure Summer after Summer of weekend busing due to track and signal "improvements." While many of the problems over the past 24 hours have certainly been the fault of the aging trains themselves, any announcement about "switching problems at Wellington" or other issues up the line has to be absolutely grating to their ears and an unfortunate foreshadowing of the work that apparently will need to continued at the opposite end of the year when it's sunny and 85F and they're once again packed into buses flying down Route 99.

For the rest of us, we take it in stride, calling into work if we have to and letting the bosses know it's "gonna be another one of those days." The traffic reports this morning listed numerous problems on the Commuter Rail and Red, Green and Blue Lines; I had my fingers crossed that the Orange Line was spared. Next time I'll cross my toes too. My biggest letdown for the whole day: rushing out the door and not bringing my trusty pedometer to log the steps and calories from all the cardio.



Monday, March 03, 2008

No Power to the People

For as long as anyone can remember (or at least since its inception in 1964), the MBTA has always cited its inability to run the "rapid" transit 24-hours a day as needing the 4 1/2 or so hours to do "track maintenance." Why the bus system can't run 24-hours is the subject of an innumerable number of conspiracy theories ranging from the rational-but-lame "there's not enough overnight demand" to the far-fetched-but-reasonable "the T is in cahoots with Boston's cab companies." But, strictly speaking about the trains, you would think that with all that time to work on the tracks sans revenue trains, you wouldn't have the issue of downed/defective overhead wires on the Green Line North Station, an issue that first surface last Thursday and apparently, according to a most recent "T-Alert," has resurfaced today.

To add insult to injury--because why not--you have to ask this question:
Didn't North Station get rebuilt just a few years ago?! I mean, did I miss something where the old elevated E-Line (briefly E and D, but I'm not going to get into that) got torn down and all new tubes, tracks, and overhead wiring were put in for the new underground alignment?. So why, of all places, North Station?!

But forget that for a second--an even bigger slap in the face was that, last Wednesday, a similar overhead wiring issue happened on the Mattapan High Speed Line (a-k-a "The Other Green Line"). In case you missed it, that entire line was down 24/7 for about a year and a half! In other words, that line should be flawless.

It's issues like these that make riders feel, literally, powerless--is it really too much to ask that for the 4 1/2 hours that the system is down, we the riders can be certain that the juice will flow, uninterrupted, for the other 19 1/2? Hopefully downed/defective overhead wiring won't become a running joke like signal problems on the Orange Line which have required scheduled partial or total weekend shut-downs, as well as impromptu weekday shut-downs, between Wellington and Oak Grove, for almost two years now. Hopefully...

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Don't Waste a Dime on That

First of all, a very belate Happy New Year to all my readers! I apologize for my third hiatus--very busy, as usual. I hope to respond to more current events in a timely fashion in the New Year.

I was going to title this rant in response to
this article, "Dear Clueless in Wilmington," but I realize that no everybody shares my same enthusiasm for mass transit vehicles (*gasp*). More on that later. Let me give you a little background on this article since the link may expire within a week:

A woman from Wilmington, who shall remain nameless--if you really want her name, check the article--wrote into Boston Metro's Q & A With Dan Grabauskas and was published today. Her question and concern: what's with the "awful smell that resembles burning rubber" that seems to start at Wilmington (where she boards) and wafts through the coach at each of the stops as her train makes its way to Boston. She is concerned about the potentially carcinogenic nature of the smell.

After consulting, um, consultants, MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas correctly replies to her that the awful smell that resembles burning rubber is actually the non-life-threatening smell... of burning rubber. Brakes, specifically. He goes on to say something so bizarre-o I tried paraphrasing it several times, but gave up:

The odor may also be more powerful for commuters sitting in the end sections of the coach or when the coach doors remain open longer than usual at busier stops. While this is not a quick fix to your concern, I will continue with further action. I have instructed Commuter Rail Chief Jody Ray to work with our commuter rail provider MBCR to ensure proper maintenance to the coaches continues, including maintenance to the breaking [sic] systems."

What the heck is "further action?!" Of all the MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail's concerns--on-time performance, equipment malfunction, bridge malfunction, that nagging issue of being the last commuter railroad in the Northeast Corridor other than VRE to even partially electrify, etc.--this warrants further action?! Don't waste a dime on it, other than routine maintenance. It's not my fault the poor woman obviously didn't have fun in high school chemistry--I did. Let's just say there were a lot of fun things to let's-see-how-this-burns-and -smells with a Bunsen burner. But even still, I guess she's never been in a vehicle doing heavy braking on a hot day--yes, even your car can give off a burning rubber smell from heavy braking on a hot day.

Personally, I love the smell of train brakes (*surprise surprise*). In that odd breed of people known as rail buffs, train brake smell is sentimental to the operation of trains as the clickety-clack of wheels on jointed rail, the electrical smell in a subway and the hum of generators as units start and stop. Having grown up riding Amtrak 3-5 times a year, I probably knew what the brake smell, and accompanying mixture of humming and screeching, when I was--I don't know--three. Oh well, maybe it's time for a new hobby.




Wednesday, September 12, 2007

That's One Way to Look At It

Subtitle: Commonwealth drivers now feeling pinch of transportation deficit too. What's in question is the $20 B or so first reported on about a week ago, and brought to the forefront again by both Channel 7 News and Fox 25 News [I'm citing both of them now, don't bug me later]. Our fledgling Governor Deval Patrick wants to reduce that debt by raising existing tolls; adding tolls to other interstates, especially I-93; raising the gas tax; starting up a "congestion tax"; and privatizing state roadways. Let me give insight:

Tolls work. But you already knew my stance on that issue--I only mentioned it here, here, here and here. If anything, I think the first step in this money-producing initiative, is to return the tolls to the Western Mass. portions of the Massachusetts Turnpike, which were taken away. I've said it before and I'll say it again--the MassPike was a toll road through and through and should remain so. Western Mass. drivers felt like they were simply lining the pockets of Eastern Mass. roadway projects (Central Mass. is just this barren wasteland of small cities and big towns that you pass through to get from Eastern cities to Western farms and vice-versa), but, with the tolls eliminated, now Eastern Mass. is shouldering the cost of the entire Turnpike--which isn't right either. Unfortunately, however, returning the cost of paying for the Western Mass. portion of the Turnpike to Western Mass. residents isn't on the agenda. Nope, step 1 is to raise the tolls on the Eastern-Central half, in addition to the Sumner and Ted Williams Tunnels and the Tobin Bridge... to pay for all state roads. Sound familiar--such was the case, beginning in the early '90's and ending December 31, 2006, where people not living on the surface portions of the Green Line cried fowl because why should people on the Green Line go Outbound for free. So what did the MBTA, trying to make things fair and equitable for all do--return things to their original state: all pay! Take a hint.

But, back to reality, current tolls may be going up. And?!... One woman on Channel 7 News bellyached about the excess time of having to take local roads to avoid the Tobin Bridge because she doesn't like paying the $3.00 to get into the city everyday. I lived in Chelsea for a little over a year; I did the same thing; I still do the same thing, making my weekly pilgrimage to the Chelsea Market Basket. And?!... As I mentioned before, tolls aren't meant to separate the rich from the poor, they're meant to support the road/bridges/tunnels that they are on. In case you haven't noticed, chunks of concrete are falling off the Tobin Bridge; lane closures are way past being over. Clearly that thing needs substantial funding, and that funding can't come from reaching even deeper into an already very dry well of transportation funding. The same goes for the aged Sumner Tunnel and leaky Ted Williams. All costs go up--here's a tissue.

As far as adding tolls to other roads, well, I think you already know what I'm going to say: why not. Forget wayward manhole covers--there are sections of I-93 in Somerville and Medford, just as an example, were if you hit the road in the right spot, you will literally bounce into the next lane; the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the bounce. Adding new tolls is always the "anything but that" concept, but really, do we really want I-93 looking like the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (I-278).

Let me digress because this is a good analogy. I-278, like I-93, was "rammed through established [city] neighborhoods"; the former by non other than the anti-public transit, mostly anti-commercial vehicles, lobbyist Robert Moses. Some might call Deval Patrick the anti-Robert Moses with all his pro-toll, pro-gas tax and pro-congestion tax proposals that seem to stick it to Commonwealth drivers all the while he continues to push his desire to restoreg public transit (Commuter Rail) to his constituents in New Bedford. The reality is that he's a the first make-sense Governor we've had in a while when it comes to roadway funding (borrowing only makes more debt, as fun as borrowing is), and a just-slightly-above-average-sense Governor when it comes to transit initiatives (read: Old Colony Railroad restorations can wait--rapid transit and the buses have been, are and will be hurting and will be suffering without adequate funding).

This brings me up to raising the gas tax: people want to know where this money is going to go and what is the real intention. Is the increased tax going toward roadways, public transit or the general pool of transportation funding? Is it going to be raised to discourage driving or is it simply to raise funds? Neither transit advocates nor roadway advocates can do more than speculate on what's spinning in Patrick's ahead (train wheels or tires, hah), and we may never know for sure. Overall: sure! Have I told you how much I like my bicycle (hint: I really do!).

The same goes with a congestion tax. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is already toying with the idea, seriously, in Midtown Manhattan. Governor Patrick may follow suit over certain sections of road in the Greater Boston Area. Yet, just like for the gas tax, there are unanswered questions regarding where funds are to go and who's really getting squeezed. Again, sure (see bicycle comment above).

As far as privatization, let me invoke a phrase used a few years ago when the MBTA Bus System was in such a fiscal crisis that there was talk of privatizing it: " Keep the Public in Public Transportation." Now, let me squash the phrase as it applies to keeping the public in public roads. The truth is we really don't know what's going to happen in the long run. Of course, in the short term it will take the heat off the state to maintain the roads, saving millions. Can we be certain that private firms won't try to charge more on their then-controlled toll roads and/or add more tolls in order to have bigger returns. Gee, I don't know--do we live in a capitalistic society?! Solution: the state can sell rights to the roads, it doesn't have to sell the right to regulate toll prices. That's something the people can vote on (and vote out and screw everybody over like the end of rent control). End of discussion.

Pack up and leave "Taxachusetts" before the going gets rougher... or costlier--that's one way to look at it. Another is to sit back, take a chill pill, and see what actually develops. Almost no portion of travel public transit in the Commonwealth is "free"--motorists will eventually have to pony up to travel on state roads, in addition to paying taxes, as well.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Train Mon! Welcomes the Competition: A Fresh Face in the Age-Old Bus Debate

After months of trying to break my hiatus from blogging that coincidentally started around the same time that BadTransit started its indefinite "siesta" and the Charlie on the MBTA blog scandal started, I've finally done it! After letting months of good material slip by, from the shipment delays of the new Blue Line cars to the again-shutdown of the surface portions of the D Line to the MBTA Rider's Union Annual Report to my favorite Mayor's insane idea to move Boston City Hall to the public transit-ghost town known as the Seaport District, I finally got inspiration to start--and finish--my latest rant: an article sent to me by a friend and a recent experience I'll simply call "1019 and 1044"--yes, you can weather the suspense of the latter.

Let's start with said article in the Boston Herald, West Roxbury Teen Gets to Route of T Troubles. The implication, at least as my friend got across to me, was that I have "competition": while I sit here, a lifelong public transit advocate and industry insider, currently employed in the training & safety aspect of the field , I have been "one-upped" by a kid ten years my younger who has more knowledge of MBTA bus routes than I'll ever care to know and already has MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas's ear-- and eyes--after a professional presentation at a reach-out-the-public meeting, so much so that Mr. GM has his top managers listening to his ideas... and actually taking notes.

Bring it on, Stuart Spina.

Personally I'm happy for the Westie protagonist. Without trying to sound my usual sarcastic, I applaud his ability to stay above the cynicism, tirades, and, yes, sarcasm, that myself and dozens of other bloggers big and small have reduced ourselves to towards the MBTA and other perspective-to-their-areas ill-run transit agencies across the nation. However, I don't agree with his seemingly strictly bus-approach to a system that, contrary to Grabauskas who's lately been putting almost all his chips in the the bus half of things, does have a potentially great rail half. But that's another story; let me finally end the suspense of the second half of the story for this rant, "1019 and 1044."

1019 and 1044 are my short answer to the reason why approximately MBTA Riders' Union Annual Report that approximately 75% of Greater Bostonians are fed up with the MBTA bus system; how I spotted them in the first place places me in that 75%: I was driving over to my parents' this past Sunday evening. Why was I driving--because the weakest link in a transit trip across town is the 93--a bus that boasts one of the highest frequencies in the system: 4-10 minutes, during weekdays, and 20-30 minutes on weekend days, but drops off daily to every 40-60 minutes after hours. 40-60 minutes is unacceptable, and so is the 12-minute walk in the blistering heat to and from Sullivan Square Station, thus I drive it. As I approached Brigham Circle on Huntington Avenue, I noticed 1019 and 1044 both leaving the stop. 1019 and 1044, if you haven't looked them up yet or deduced by now, are two "articulateds" on Route 39. You see, seeing two back-to-back 60' buses brought back years of living in Mission Hill and riding that route and the E Line and wondering why buses, and trolleys, always run in pairs. Now, I've been in the industry too long to not know the myriad of factors that go into why buses, and trains, get backed up to the point where they're tailing one another when they're supposed to be anywhere from 2-20 minutes apart, but the question remains why?

Why in a system that has spend millions of dollars in improvements, including everything from GPS to brand new equipment to more, and better, training of inspectors to monitoring route traffic, do two buses run tandem... on a Sunday? Does it really take Spina's best-pressed clothes and formal report--and uncanny knowledge route knowledge--to get Grabauskas's attention and make him realize that "maybe something's wrong"? Or is Spina just the latest spin, if you will, on the same argument that years-long residents of the City of Boston, like my parents and neighbors, have been saying for years: if the T really cared about the community, if the people who ran the company actually used the system, the system would be better? Years ago, while waiting for a 39 bus back to Mission Hill from Back Bay on a nondescript weekend day with my mother and sister (after they let me do some train watching in the station, of course), I distinctly remember my mother asking a inspector standing in the horseshoe area both why the buses were bunching up at the station and going out of service (about four had pulled in, none had left in about 20 minutes) and how often he or the other bus operators actually rode the system. In a brief, but amiable conversation, the inspector admitted that neither he nor most of the other inspectors or B/O's rode the system often, if at all, and that therefore, it did play a factor in level of care towards the passengers as far as making sure that service leaves on-time--probably the most honest answer I've ever heard out of an MBTA employee.

So, Coca-Cola make good product because employees actually drink it and Nike makes good product because employees actually wear it... and the MBTA will be good once employees actually use the system?! What a concept! Unfortunately, we're going to be waiting a while for Spina to run things. In the meantime...


Monday, March 19, 2007

Uphams Corner: Overhyping the Obvious

The last time I wrote about Boston Globe transportation columnist Mac Daniel's Sunday Starts & Stops column, I was praising it for mentioning, unlike the MBTA website, that the T had completed construction projects on the E Line. Since then I've pretty much bitten my tongue, or blogging fingers, and left any rants about Mac Daniel or his column to the larger, more famous local blogs, Charlie on the MBTA and Bad Transit, as well as the MBTA Forum, all of which I have nothing but the utmost of respect for, I might add. The general consensus amongst the "Big 3" seems to be a respect for the work Mac Daniel does as far as being able to get "those answers" at the MBTA which us common folk would be given the run-around about, yet at the same time questioning both whether or not he actually rides the system and whether he is a PR machine for the MBTA. After this past Sunday's article on Uphams Corner, I can't take it any more--I have to throw my ring in the hat and rant too, and here's why:

With regard to upgrades to teh Uphams Corner Commuter Rail station on the Fairmount/Readville Line, let me first start off by saying it's about time that the MBTA starting doing anything positive for the Dorchester community. On behalf of low-to-middle class neighborhoods all over the Greater Boston Area feeling more than short-changed by the completion of the Greenbush Line while so many inner-city and inner-suburban projects have been sidelined, or done poorly, it's a baby step, but a step nonetheless, for the positive.

But that's where it ends. Saying it will "now cost you just $1.70 to take commuter rail downtown" is overstating the obvious--Uphams Corner (as well as Morton Street even further out) is a Zone 1A stop--that's how much it costs! It didn't magically come down in price... because the stop was renovated. And, duh, you pay it in cash, where applicable, to the conductors--like Chelsea, it's not like there's a ticket kiosk there--this isn't Metro-North, my friends. The fact that the "commuter rail still doesn't accept CharlieCards" is nothing new either. Look here for a lengthy explanation on why the Commuter Rail doesn't that I wrote months ago. Furthermore, in my rant, you'll see why I think think that, if anything, people with a LinkPass-loaded CharlieCard are getting screwed into paying more to board and exit at Uphams Corner and Morton Street because they didn't opt for the monthly Zone 1A--the non-RFID version of the LinkPass which costs the same and allows for Zone 1A Commuter Rail, Commuter Boat and any other MBTA anomalies where the CharlieCard isn't currently accepted. Still don't get it--let me try this approach: you're already paying for a monthly pass which, is supposed to cover your boarding and drop-off locations--why are you paying additionally?! Still lost--let me put it bluntly: if you buy a monthly pass for a particular coverage area you shouldn't have to pay another dime to use services within that coverage area--that is what people with LinkPass Charlie Cards are doing when they board Commuter Rail trains within Zone 1A and have a LinkPass CharlieCard instead of the Zone 1A CharlieTicket? So I'll reiterate from my earlier rant, until the CharlieCard is universally accepted on all MBTA modes of transport, get the Zone 1A--forget the LinkPass CharlieCard!