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How to Get Around

From the Harvard Bridge to Wonderland, a Variety of Transport Options

Eric J. Plosky

By foot, on a bike, wearing skates, in a car, or hanging out the trunk of a cab shall you go? The Boston area has lots of ways to get around, some of which are fast, some of which are free, and some of which are fun.

For most of your transportation needs, just look down -- your feet will take you nearly everywhere you need to go. Walking in Boston and Cambridge is usually pleasant, depending on the weather. Tourist attractions, restaurants, cultural institutions and MIT are all located within walking distance from one another; walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, or meandering along the Esplanade or through the North End, demonstrates the walkability that has made this such a vital area.

Eventually, if you live across the river, the walk across the Harvard Bridge will get to be a long haul, particularly in winter when it starts to get dark at 2:45 and the temperature rarely rises above -15°F. Skates speed up that trip, as well as many others, but skaters are often inconsiderate; even when they’re courteous, they still take up a lot of space on the sidewalk. If you’re going to wear skates, especially over the bridge, be deferential. Simply yelling “Coming through!” or “On your left!” isn’t enough. Politeness, please.

The main problem with bicycling is vulnerability; Boston drivers are, in a word, totally nuts. Many of this columnist’s bicycling acquaintances have been abruptly introduced to Buick fenders. Besides, in most areas, bicycling is dangerous because there are no (or inadequate) accommodations for bikes. Where there are bike lanes, they’re often poorly designed -- many has a bicyclist trustingly used the diamond-labeled lane through Central Square only to be nailed by a car door.

Road quality is so bad, and weather conditions are so variable, that cyclists must contend with punctures, bent spokes and damaged rims at a rate about four thousand times greater than the national average. And don’t forget to get a U-lock for your bike if you would like to ride it more than once. (Even a U-lock isn’t always invulnerable -- wheels and seats and accessories, and sometimes even a whole locked bike, have been known to disappear.)

Some alternative-types seem to have taken to riding skateboards, though these are mostly Cambridge locals, not MIT students. Often on the weekends, area ‘shredders’ can be seen negotiating the steps near the Media Lab and those of the Boston Public Library. Eccentrics can sometimes be found on unicycles, or puttering along at fifteen miles an hour on bizarre motorized whatzits that are halfway between powered skateboards and Vespas. A few people do drive proper mopeds or motorcycles; I have always meant to ask one of them what it feels like to tool along Mem. Drive at thirty miles an hour in a zero-degree freezing rain.

Most people, faced with a journey the feet refuse to consider, queue right up for the T’s various transit services. Buses can often be useful; 60 cents will take you up Mass. Ave. to Harvard or down it all the way to Tower Records, the Cheri movie theater, and Symphony Hall. A multiplicity of buses operate out of Kendall and especially Central Square, heading to such destinations as Allston, Lechmere, Union Square in Somerville, and the Longwood medical area.

Buses, of course, are dead slow and unreliable in the extreme. Published schedules are available at Harvard Square but cannot be trusted -- you’ll invariably have to wait fifteen minutes and then, of course, two buses will arrive simultaneously. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of riding the bus, if it can in fact be called an advantage, is that you’ll get to experience a broad cross-section of native Bostonians. Think locals and MIT students have a lot in common? Ride the bus.

Virtually every MIT student will, at one point or another, avail herself or himself of the T’s subway service. The Red Line serves Kendall Square, closest stop to main campus. Central Square is only one stop away; chic Harvard, happening Porter and trendy Davis are also nearby. Inbound, Boston is easily accessible. Park Street links to the streetcars of the Green Line, which run all the way out to Brookline and Boston College. Downtown Crossing provides access to the Orange Line, perhaps the line least used by MIT students.

Getting to the airport is a pain by T because there is no direct connection between the Red Line and the Blue Line; only the intrepid, or the cheap, go through the complicated transit choreography that eventually delivers them to Airport Station. Many instead ride taxis to the airport; these can be called ahead of time or simply hailed, whether on the street or at taxi stands such as those in front of the Student Center and the Kendall Square Marriott. Cabs’ secondary function is transporting late-nighters, since public transportation in Boston and Cambridge oh-so-cleverly shuts down at about 1:00 AM. Some cabbies manage to make the ridiculously high-priced drive worth it; most simply focus all their attention on driving like a maniac.

If you want to drive like a maniac, you can try having a car, but parking can often be a pain, insurance rates are high, and the very experience of attempting to navigate a car in Boston can shred the nerves of the most stalwart. Even managing a car is a pain; you have to worry about being towed away for street-cleaning and about random people smashing into your parked car for no reason and then driving away, leaving only a note under your windshield wiper saying simply, “Sorry.”

Motorized transport is also available in the form of Saferide, MIT’s late-night shuttle service, which serves most dorms and FSILGs. There are also other shuttle services around campus, but who they serve and where they go and what they cost are all mysteries.

Definitely try as many modes of transport as you care to; there are lots of great places nearby, some of which can only be accessed by particular means. Union Square in Somerville, for instance, is only two miles from campus, but to the unadventurous, two miles is the same as a million. Bike, skate, walk, ride, and surf the T -- we live in a place where it’s easy to get around, and Wonderland is only a few Blue Line stops away.