This is only part of a comprehensive guide I hope to complete on transportation in Boston. Here are two methods that I have been using frequently this summer, although so many more exist. Hopefully the final edition will be something useful that anyone can refer to when they are looking for some information or advice on transportation in Cambridge and Boston, so keep an eye out for it. Also keep in mind that I am not an expert by any means on any of these things. Whatever I have written here is from my own personal experience or the advice of others. If you see any errors, please let me know and I will fix it as best I can!
The Actual Guide Part:
– “Best bang for your buck” award –
– “Most likely to cause you to stub your toe on an unevenly paved sidewalk” award –
Walking around is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable method of transportation. Every day, after finishing up a long afternoon in my UROP lab, I walk back across the Harvard Bridge to get to my apartment. According to google maps, the trek is one mile long, but it feels like a lot less because I relish the time I get to spend spacing out and basking in the borderline-uncomfortable summer sun. The expansive view of the Boston cityscape that the open plane of the river affords someone crossing the bridge is spectacular at any time of day. Even though I’ve crossed and re-crossed the same wind-buffeted stretch of road more times than I can count, some things never get old: the white sails that dot the waterway like freckles, the enormous CITGO sign that promises neon dreams and baseball, and the peeling Smoot markers painted on the sidewalk that sporadically countdown the number of imaginary human lengths I have left before I enter the city of Boston.
In California, driving was the primary form of transportation. Hardly, if ever, would anyone walk anywhere, perhaps one of the reasons why gripes about the skyrocketing price of gasoline were so rampant. Now, a gas station is nothing but an after thought and the idea of sitting through Boston traffic when I could be swinging my arms and whistling in the streets seems unfathomable.
Walking can also be viewed as a convenient antidote to the increasingly sedentary lifestyle that computers, cars, and cable TV are ushering in. Now granted, I like being an occasional potato as much as the next person and a little reality cooking TV never hurt anyone. In fact, I think sometimes impersonating a tuber can be a welcome and deserved reprieve from a long day at work (everything in moderation, of course). But maybe that’s one of the reasons why I choose to walk somewhere I could just as easily take the T to: to assuage the tiny health-conscious Krystal that sits on my shoulder sometimes and says, “Hey, here’s a little nugget of advice: maybe you should be less like a potato and more like a functional human being whose exercise consists of more than just hardcore pipetting in lab and occasional jogs to the water cooler in the office.”
The freedom to look around and meander down streets in the general direction you are going comes at an obvious cost: the distance that you can travel is limited by the amount of energy you are willing to expend. Walking from the apartment to South End has become a weekend routine that consists of a thirty minute stroll through red-bricked neighborhoods and tree-lined sidewalks. A 2.5 mile jaunt to the North End on foot, however, is far less likely to ever happen. The great thing about living on Boylston Street this summer is that most places, like MIT’s campus, Newbury Street, Boston Common, Chinatown, and Fenway are all within a reasonable walking distance, so on weekends, when time seems deceptively infinite, an expedition on foot to explore uncharted nooks and crannies is often the activity of the day.
Did I mention that this is the free-est method of transportation here? I added the extra, grammatically incorrect superlative there to emphasize the free-ness of feet.
Crossing the street whenever you feel like it is apparently the social norm here. You can generally tell if someone is from around here (or at least a comparable city by size) if they cross the street even when the red hand has long since stopped blinking. Long time city dwellers enjoy playing a real-life version of Frogger without even batting an eyelash. Please try not to get hit by a car. Thank you.
– “Sometimes smells really weird” award –
– “Highest density of bizarre advertisements” award –
MBTA stands for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and is the operator of the common forms of public transportation: the subway and the buses.
Since this is only the summer edition of my newly hatched transportation guide, I will defer a more detailed description of the subway system to the unexpectedly and creatively titled School Year Edition of this guide that shall be written at a future date during, you guessed it, the school year.
This summer, I mostly take the T (the name of the rapid transit system here) to get to Tufts Medical Center in the morning and from TMC to MIT’s campus for my afternoon in the lab. There are four lines: the Red, Green, Blue, and Orange, that run in different directions throughout Boston and the surrounding smaller cities. There is also a Silver line, which consists of an underground and above ground busway system, and the Purple line, which is the commuter rail. I take the Orange line to work in the morning, then change to the Red for my afternoon commute. For those of you unfamiliar with subway lines, ticketing, and the general idea of public transportation, don’t despair! I, too, was a public transportation rookie, hailing from Southern California, the land of horrible to non-existent public transportation. The whole idea of “inbound” vs “outbound” and which train or line to get on is a little overwhelming at first, especially if you are venturing out into the wilderness on your own, but after a few rides, you start to get the hang of it.
Since I knew I would be commuting to work every day, I purchased a $70 monthly pass which would give me unlimited swipes for the month I purchased it. They actually recently raised the transportation costs, my monthly pass now costing $75 and the single swipe increasing from $2 to $2.10. I kept an Excel sheet of tracking the number of times I swiped into the subway and in June, I saved a whopping $4 by buying the monthly pass! Hooray for saving money.
The wait is usually five to ten minutes between each train that passes through and there are usually a few benches scattered about. Perhaps one of the worst feelings in the world is walking into a T stop only to find that the train is just leaving and the next train is eleven minutes away. Sad times. There doesn’t seem to be a schedule (not that I’ve ever looked into this) but from my experience, the times between trains are extremely variable and subject to slow passengers, the packing of people onto an overcrowded train, and random medical or police emergencies at certain stations. On the whole, the T is a pretty great form of transportation, despite the occasional musty whiffs that permeate some of the less populated T stops.
I have far less experience with the buses of the MBTA. The only one I am familiar with is the 1 bus, which has a stop right in front of MIT on Massachusetts Avenue and crosses the Harvard Bridge with a stop near my apartment at Boylston and Mass Ave. Since I’ve only ever ridden on it a couple of times, I don’t have much to say on its functionality or reliability, although I will say it seems like every time I need to ride the bus, it’s never there, but every time I’m casually walking by a bus stop, a bus or two will pull up and let people in. Buses are also included in the basic monthly pass that I purchased.
Public transportation is great for traveling longer distances (although I’ve heard bad things about the Green Line. In fact: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2014/07/25/runner-beat-green-line-train-in-race/. What.), and at only $2.10 a swipe, no matter how many stops or changes of trains you make, it’s a pretty affordable option.
Unlike your feet, the T can take you the end of the world and back, as long as your world ends at Alewife Station (the Red Line) or Wonderland (the Blue Line) or any of the other irregularly spaced T stops and you happen to have $4.20 to spare on two swipes.
Inbound, for all colored lines, refers to heading in the direction of Boston. For the Red Line, this means towards Park Street from either direction. For the Green Line, this means towards Government Station from either direction. Outbound refers to heading away from Boston. That’s a general rule of thumb that has always helped me keep track of which train I need to hop on (especially helpful when you are in places that are not Boston, i.e. Cambridge), but it’s usually best to use the end destination as your reference point. Trains are always labelled with the last stop in the direction it’s headed. These tidbits might seem a bit confusing now, but in the context of being at a T stop, they have at least helped me out.