17 July 2015

Adventures in Mass Transit: Detours and Poor Decisions

This week I've had some rough commutes to work. Things haven't been too bad since I started commuting again, but at the beginning of this week Webster Avenue, the primary route between Union Square and Central Square, was closed for repair work, and traffic was being detoured along Washington Street in Somerville to Beacon Street near the Cambridge line (and then through Inman Square). The 86 bus run is already pretty slow in the morning, and all the additional traffic made it much worse.

I had no idea how long the detour was going to be in place, so on Tuesday I went the same way and had another abysmal ride. On Wednesday morning I checked Google Maps for traffic conditions before leaving the house and ended up taking a different route, catching a bus to Medford Square where I switched to the 96, which runs through Davis and Porter and all the way into Harvard Square. But I had to wait at least 15 minutes for that bus, so my overall time didn't improve.

Yesterday I went back to the 86. The driver warned us before leaving Sullivan that the traffic was terrible, and gave people the chance to get off and go catch an Orange Line train; I opted to stay where I was, in a seat on an air-conditioned vehicle (a more pleasant prospect than a jammed train). About halfway between Sullivan and Union Square, a group of about two dozen children boarded the bus (with adult supervision). I'd estimate they were around eight years old, going on some sort of outing. They were reasonably well behaved, but the bus was still pretty noisy; I had to put away my book because I couldn't concentrate.

Also, a man behind me was on his phone, describing loudly to someone in great, specific detail how to get from somewhere in the middle of Somerville to Summit Avenue, which is near the top of Prospect Hill. He went through the directions three times and then asked, "Are you sure you want Summit Avenue and not Summit Street? Because that's at the other end of town, near Davis." He then went on to describe loudly and in great, specific detail how to get to Summit Street, also three times.

By that point I found myself feeling somewhat disappointed that I wouldn't get to find out how the Summit situation would be resolved, but a couple of minutes later he took another call and proceeded to reiterate the directions to Summit Avenue one more time, loudly and in great, specific detail. (Trivia/conicidence: a long, long time ago I lived on Summit Avenue.) Then he got off the bus.

I did eventually arrive at work, but late enough that I could take only a 15-minute "lunch" break. Today I thought I would make a smarter choice. I considered the option of taking the subway into downtown and switching to the Red Line, but it just seems silly to me to cover so much extra distance, and I'm always a bit wary of a breakdown underground, and taking this route would double the chance of something happening.

As it happened, I ended up making a different but equally unfavorable choice. I went to Sullivan and caught a CT2, which makes limited stops but stops at Kendall (where I could connect to the Red Line) on its way across the river. Unfortunately I didn't think too carefully about it, and after we were underway I remembered that the CT2 normally takes Webster Avenue. I tried to figure out what sort of detour the driver would take, thinking perhaps we might run down Medford Street behind Twin City Plaza and connect with Cardinal Medeiros Avenue to get into Kendall Square.

Nope, it went straight up Washington Street. There wasn't as much traffic today, but we still slowed to a crawl before reaching Beacon Street. I thought I could hop out at Beacon and either catch an 86 or just walk the rest of the way, but the driver would not make any stops or let anyone off the bus, since (presumably) it was not running on its usual route and there are almost certainly rules about these things. So I sat there while the bus crawled its way through Inman and continued along Cambridge Street, to the point where it was able to rejoin the bus's regular route into Kendall. All that took an extra 30 minutes.

Allegedly the road closure is supposed to last only through next week, but that means I still need to find a better, faster route to work for another five weekdays.

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