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Taking It Personally: The Bus Stops Here

Well, most of the time anyway.

This was going to be quite a different column, but I was missing a couple of pictures I was going to take on Sunday until fate intervened.  But that’s getting to the end of the story when I should start somewhere closer to the beginning.

A little over a year ago, my wife and I started a grand experiment to see if a household of three adults could exist with just one car, two bicycles, Lexpress and the T.  Up front, I will admit that there is an advantage to living in the Five Forks neighborhood which is served by both the #4 Lexpress bus and the #76 T bus.

You have to work around the fact that buses run once an hour and, at night if you don’t hit the last bus through the Center which comes at 9:44 PM, you are going to be walking home. The big question, though, is how much your life will be constrained by a less than perfect system, which came up in big, bold, letters, when the car died on Storrow Drive last Sunday. This week was going to be a bit busy and, with no fallback, this was shaping up as The Big Test.

Lexpress is easy to predict. Moreover, there is a Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner where I wait for that bus and, since I am dedicated to supporting local businesses, it is almost mandatory that I stop in while waiting.

The T is a bit harder to predict, but there is an app available for computer or Smartphone, which uses the realtime GPS information from buses to tell you when the next bus will be at your stop. You can get it from the T website, which also has timetables and route maps that can be downloaded to your or other device along with online trip planning services. Maps and timetables are available for Lexpress from the town website.

If you are riding the T, get a Charlie Card because it will reduce the cost of your ride in a couple of ways. Charlie Cards are free, so I am not sure why people still use Charlie Tickets and cash.

All T buses that come through Lexington have bike racks on the front so you can bike to the bus, toss your bike on the rack, and then leave the long haul stuff to the bus. The first time you put a bike in the rack is the toughest. Figuring out how the rack works while a whole bus full of commuters stares at you can be tough.

I made it a little easier on myself by waiting for a bus at the end of a line, where the driver had 10 minutes to kill before making the return trip. He let me practice putting my bike in the rack and he also showed me how to add money to my Charlie Card. But don’t forget to take your bike when you get off.

The vast majority of the drivers for both the T and Lexpress are helpful. Talk to them.

Often they will stop where you want them to stop even if it is not exactly at a bus stop, something that is very nice in the winter when the snowbanks are high and the slushy water is deep. Other passengers can be helpful, as well. On one Lexpress bus I ride often, passengers always help a handicapped person carry the groceries she is bringing home to her door.

But enough theory. Now it was Test Time—sort of a pop quiz.

I had to get to the Bedford Staples Monday morning. Super easy: 76 bus to the Center, then the 62 bus to Staples. I made the trip from home to Staples and back to the in under an hour. OK—I also stopped at McDonald’s. All I had was a healthy snack, I swear!

Mid-term time came with a trip to the in Burlington/Lexington. The mall is in Burlington, but the store is actually in Lexington so my Shop Lexington creds remained intact. Anyway, that was almost as easy since the #5 Lexpress bus goes right to Market Basket, just a very short walk across the parking lot from my destination.

Those were just warm-ups for the Final Test, though.

On Tuesday, I had to get to the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street in Arlington. Hmmmmmm. 

Lots of ways to do that, it turned out. Either the 62 or 76 to Alewife and then either the 75 or 350 to Arlington. Or the 62 to the Arlington bus shelter and then the 77, 78, or 79 to my destination. Or I could get off the bus to Alewife as it crossed Pleasant Street and walk about a mile. I could put the bike on the front of the bus, get off at Pleasant Street, and bike. Or I could just pedal on down the Bikeway. 

Life is all about options, after all, but with rain threatening, the last three were low on my list.

There was one last option, though, that turned out to be the most attractive.  As I was waiting for the bus, a friend came by who was headed to Arlington by car.  Synergy! 

For now, the theory of how to get to Arlington will remain theory. Or maybe I will trade in my bike for something I saw a few days ago in Lexington Center. Even though it was blocking the crosswalk while the Walk light was on, nobody seemed to care as they "oohhhed" and "ahhhed" at the hybrid motorcycle/car vehicle before them.

Audra Myerberg June 15, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Fun article Hank. Thanks for trying to reduce your carbon footprint.
Denise J. Dubé June 15, 2011 at 06:29 PM
What's the mileage on your sneakers? And, for the record, I don't for one minute believe you had a healthy snack at McDonald's!
Hank Manz June 28, 2011 at 05:12 AM
The theory on how to get to Arlington Center by bus is no longer a theory. 76 bus to Lexington Center. 62 bus to the Arlington Bus Shelter. Then the 79 bus to go down Mass Ave. The trip down was surprisingly quick--there was no wait over two minutes. Coming back was a little slower. The MBTA will swear you have to go all the way to Alewife before catching the 62 bus. That is, of course, wrong. Some robot needs to be reprogrammed.

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