The Stories from Suburbia

August 26, 2022

Well, uhh, here we are. Thirteen months and sixteen days after this blog was created, it's time to move on. No, no, this blog is still going to be a thing, don't worry. I'm moving! I am leaving the suburbs behind and moving to Chicago tomorrow (the 27th)! Because I covered RIPTA's 301 for the blog's anniversary in July, now is the time for a little history lesson, and some stories about my favorite posts over my time living in the suburbs, as well as the journey of my life alongside them.

Our story begins on July 10, 2021, a nice Saturday afternoon here in the suburbs of Worcester, Massachusetts. I'm at work in Northbridge, at my old job actually, sitting on a stool bored out of my mind. My friends Eric and Cedric had just started blogs of their own (the now-merged Trainably and now-defunct The Providence Planner, respectively). I had an idea. What if I used my coding ability to code a blog? I went home that night, and spent three hours at my computer putting the editor together, the one I still use to this day.

There was one question that remained. What do I write about? I lived in the suburbs, so there wasn't much transit nearby to do the tried-and-tested route reviews. I was working two jobs at the time, six or seven days a week, so taking a day off to ride transit, especially on a weekday, wasn't an option. How about transit planning? I didn't have to go anywhere to produce a post, and it was something new and exciting (in retrospect, it's even better and more exciting nowadays). I wrote a quick introduction post that night before heading off to bed at about 1:30 that morning.

What would the first actual post be? The first post was on Grafton's train station. Grafton was the easiest to get to train station to my suburban home, and in 2019, I wrote a guest post on Miles in Transit about the stop. The 2021 post was mostly a re-hash of the 2019 post, with some added details about fare zones, ridership, and a couple more pictures. Maybe my 10/10 rating was a little biased, and is why I don't actually give things ratings in this blog, but I still stand by my belief that this is a wonderful station, compared to some others I've seen.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2021, the blog focused on bus route rants (especially with RIPTA) and slowed down as the fall progressed. That didn't mean that the blog was done. Not even close. That December, one of my teachers assigned a paper for a class. The paper was a disputation argument for a questionrelated to our own career aspirations. The question I chose to argue for was "Should the expansion of public transportation be prioritized?" Well I needed a source with an argument for, so I chose to use the 2021 infrastructure bill here in the US. I spent my entire free period for a couple of days to read the entire relevant portion of the bill. There were a couple of other sources I had to include as well. The paper was due right before winter break at the end of December. I submitted it on time, but over the break, Eric dropped a wonderful post (which I can't find anymore) about regional rail. I edited my paper, and on the first day back to school in January, dropped a copy of the new paper on my teacher's desk. The copy of that paper became its own post here, Prioritizing Public Transit. My teacher enjoyed it, and we had a few conversations about transit after school in the weeks following.

After that paper was finished, and right before I had to present it to the class, another big post started development, that being Fixing Fare Zones! This whole fare reform started when some friends of mine were talking about the oddness of the T's fare zone boundaries (beacuse they are odd). I decide to create a spreadsheet with where the fare zone boundaries lie on each line. To my surprise, most of the boundaries fall within a certain distance range. There are a few exceptions, those being Zone 1A on Fairmount, which was due to some low-income ethics thing, I think, and Zone 8 on Fitchburg. Living way out in the 'burbs, and with a family, taking the train into Boston was often deemed too expensive, and it was ... compared to driving on I-90 and parking somewhere downtown. To work I went, and I looked back at my spreadsheet. All of the zones had a different average price per mile to get to the downtown terminals. Zones 1 and 2 were the most expensive per mile, while Zone 10 was the cheapest per mile. If one looks at a map of where MBTA buses go, most of the outer bus routes serve towns with Zone 2 Commuter Rail stations. Zone 2's outer boundary is, on average, 11.66 miles away from the terminal (actual values range from 9.2 miles to 14.6 miles). There had to be a better way to even out the expensive Zones 1 and 2, as local bus and train service could get you downtown for only $2.40. I set Zone 2 to be $2.40 and I extended the $0.21 per mile proportion to the rest of the system, using that average boundary distance for each zone. This was how I first told some of my friends that I was headed to Chicago for college, by adding Metra to the fare reform.

That wasn't the only proposal I've made on this blog, though. My friend Caleb used to live in the small city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster is served by its own small transit authority, the Red Rose Transit Authority (RRTA). He had a route proposal for a new service connecting the small town of Quarryville (population of about 2800) to Lancaster and the rest of the RRTA network. This was in early March, and was the basis behind B, But Better. It was possible to replicate this idea in the suburbs of Worcester, an area in which I am familiar with. The WRTA's B is a very suburban route in the towns of Northbridge and Grafton, and has an utterly terrible schedule. I focused on creating an expanded and updated schedule to better connect the two towns and Grafton's train station. These towns are further out from Boston, and I don't know who is using this route to commute into Boston, considering that you've got to get on a bus at 6 in the morning to get into Boston for 9. The new route is fully built around the train, and provides a much-improved service for the towns, which have a combined population of about 35,000. Fair warning - I did not copy Caleb at all. He enjoyed the post.

This blog hasn't been the only place I've shared and discussed my work. In mid-March, I was asked to tell a story and give a talk to juniors and seniors at my high school (I was a senior at the time). The prompt for my talk was the following - "In this presentation, the student speaker calls attention to the value of 'getting some things off your chest.' This can be accomplished by recounting an experience when the speaker 'puts his cards on the table' in conversation with a peer or adult, or by actually 'putting his cards on the table' about something here-and-now before the assembled large group, or by doing both." I chose to tell the story of me being a transit nerd interested in going into transit planning, a story I hadn't told anyone at my high school in nearly four years. My talk had this section - "Shortly after I shared one of the proposals I wrote on my own, Caleb commented on it, saying that it was a wonderful proposal, and also believed that transit planning nerds such as myself should be the ones doing that job. We are the ones passionate about the subject and would provide the most benefit to the most people by doing so. My other proposal was how I got my nickname of 'the fare reformer' and a wizard due to my skills with math while creating it." This was when I shared some of the crazy things I've done on this blog, but not in too much detail. I received a standing ovation for that talk.

In the weeks leading up to the talk, I had a small "test run" of me showing transit-related passions. In my junior and senior years of high school, me and one of my closest friends were the co-presidents of our school's photography club. One of my friend's ideas for the club was to take a field trip to Worcester's Union Station, a historic and recently restored (about 20 years ago) train station that is currently served by MBTA and Amtrak trains. I remember walking around the station taking all of the photos that were in my blog post on the station. It was just the three of us (me, my friend, and a teacher), and nobody bat an eye at me randomly taking photos of the train platform. Not even the other passengers (but did they even notice?). I wasn't judged in any way, shape, or form for what I had done that afternoon.

Fixing Fare Zones wasn't the only time I did some crazy math for this blog. In early May, about one week prior to my high school graduation, I had a unique idea, something that none of my friends had even heard of. There was nothing similar to compare it to, either. What if there was a measure of how straight a transit line’s routing is? How direct is this routing? I had those questions one afternoon, and I proceeded to spend the next couple of hours at my computer, coding the solution. While I was not expecting it, I got a brief introduction to spherical trigonometry - trig, but with spheres, like the world - while working on this measurement. Finally, after about five hours of working, I finished the calculator for this measurement. Introducing the Eliot Deviation Index, the ratio between the distance a line travels and the distance between both endpoints. The ratio of distance to displacement. This can be found through the calculator, by listing each stop on the line in order before the calculator does the crazy math. This is arguably my favorite thing that I've done on this blog. The deviation index was initially met with a fair share of doubts. Why would someone want to go through some crazy process to get something that seemed useless? The calculator for the deviation index had about 300 stops at the time of its release. It took a couple of months, but the deviation index is now a favorite of a group of my friends. As of the time of this post's release, the calculator now has 50,177 stops throughout 23 agencies. I ended up introducing the deviation index to a group of rising seniors at my high school last week, and those who approached me afterwards were really interested. Especially the engineering teacher, who told me a story of a student of his who is creating a program to find the quickest ways between points at our school.

Did you know that Fixing Fare Zones had a planned sequel before its actual sequel? Yeah... we won't bring that one up. The actual sequel was another one of my favorites (this or the Eliot Deviation Index is my favorite) because of the wizardry computer science magic that I used here. It took nearly six months, but this was when I figured out what to do with the MBTA's interzone fares - the fares between two non-terminal stations on the same line. The plan was simple - just extend the magical 21 cents per mile proportion to the entire system, every fare combination possible would have this proportion. This was sparked by some friends attempting to figure out what the cheapest and most expensive per-mile journey is on the MBTA Commuter Rail. So yep, I spent a couple of hours coding something together to figure the answer out. I also managed to generate a 20 page spreadsheet with every. single. fare. combination. If that isn't enough crazy... I spent a few more hours doing it all over again with Metra (only because it was part of the original Fixing Fare Zones) and generated another 60 pages worth of spreadsheet. It is crazy how low some of these fares could go, but unfortunately, I don't think such a plan could be enacted.

Earlier this summer, a friend of mine who reads this blog (yes, I know people who read this) was going through some time with low self-confidence with any idea of theirs. To try and help and support them, I decided to have a nearly ridiculous and crazy idea of mine that I would share out. That was the route behind Transit to Little Compton. Literally everything with that route was meant to trigger something to help my friend out. It was perfect. From the route number of 81 to the terminal at some weird turnaround, this was fucking amazing. I loved every bit of it. Fighting fire with fire here. I knew that this part of Rhode Island was super rural and it probably wouldn't get a fixed route, but hey, this is the same person who decided to have 4 am local rail service in Rhode Island. Anything can be created when I'm the one doing it. When this post released, my friend got a hold of it, read it, looked at the route, and loved it. I really hope their self-confidence has boosted in the past few weeks, from what I can tell, it has.

This was a really fun post to write. Just taking a look back and where I've come, and where I'm about to go. To... uhh... the 130, I guess?

Posted: Aug 26, 2022 02:16


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