Outdoor destinations that can be reached via MBTA

I wrote this as a reply comment to a b0st0n community post asking about natural and outdoor places around Boston that can be reached via the MBTA. Unfortunately, it was too long for LJ's comment form, so I'm making it an entry in my own journal. So, here are some nature and outoors destinations near the MBTA, sorted by a casual ranking of how essential it is to have the experience of visiting these places:

Arboretum - Forest Hills (Orange Line) - large and hilly park with a variety of cultivated trees from around the world - side entrance via a long path opposite the upper busway, or front entrance via the sidewalk alongside the Arborway highway

Hammond Pond and Houghton Garden - Chestnut Hill (D Line) - large natural forest with hills, bordering a lake (albeit overlooking a shopping plaza on the other side), and with some more carefully tended gardens in a fenced off adjacent area - from station cross the main road, turn right, take first left (Suffolk St) onto long residential street - Houghton Garden will eventually be on your left, followed by a pedestrian path that crosses the Green Line to access Hammond Pond

Middlesex Fells Reservation - Oak Grove (Orange Line) - large natural forest with paths, hills and lakes - Washington Street exit, go north to Stone Place, turn left and go up the hill (the street turns into Goodyear Ave) - this is a small and remote section of the Fells, but the area most easily reached by subway

Belle Isle Reservation - Suffolk Downs (Blue Line) - grassy park set in a marshy water environment, with an open wood tower for elevated viewing - exit the station on the outbound side, cross main road, turn left, park entrance will be on your right

Public Garden - Arlington (Green Line) - sculpted park with flowers, trees and surrounding a reflection pond - while Arlington Station is being remodeled, exit at Berkeley St, go east 1 block to Arlington & Boylston

Revere Beach - Revere Beach (Blue Line) - long sand beach on the open water north of Boston - two blocks from the station, several walking routes

Esplanade and Charles River - Arlington (Green Line) or Charles (Red Line) - park alongside Charles River with small islands and a place to sit over the water - from Arlington Station, follow Arlington St north to Beacon, take a slight jog and continue, then take a pedestrian footbridge over Storrow Drive to reach the Esplanade - from Charles Station, cross the traffic on the Charles Street side of the station, take a footbridge across Storrow Drive, and then I recommend going west past the Hatch Shell

Muddy River - Longwood (D Line) - cross the small hill alongside the inbound platform to reach a pedestrian path that runs alongside the Muddy River in both directions

Mystic River Reservation and MacDonald Park - Wellington (Orange Line) - cross the 'skywalk' to the parking garage, go to the ground level, continue in the same direction, cross Route 28. Several areas - a natural area with walking paths among reeds is to your left, after going through that area continue further along the river and there are some enormous open fields alongside the river in MacDonald Park - or you can bypass the marsh to reach the park by walking along the highway (28 to 16 then left)

Neponset River - Butler (transfer at Ashmont to the Mattapan trolley) - pedestrian path alongside the outbound track - taking it forward you cross the Neponset River on a bridge, taking it backwards and going under a rail underpass you come out on a wide marsh alongside the river, there are walking trails for exploring in the area

Chestnut Hill Reservoir - Reservoir (D Line) or Cleveland Circle (C Line) or Chestnut Hill Avenue (B Line) - large reservoir with walking trail around the entire edge of the water, and a park on the east side - from all three stations, cross Chestnut Hill Ave and park is between Beacon and Commonwealth

Pine Banks - Oak Grove (Orange Line) - city park (Malden and Melrose) with picnic benches, lake, trails, hills - exit station into parking lot, turn left, go to pedestrian bridge over canal (entrance to Oak Grove Village development) - go through development and cross main road - park entrance is a marked driveway

Danehy Park - Davis (Red Line) - city park with baseball fields, good area for flying kites - Meacham Rd / right jog onto Rice St, bend right onto Rindge Ave, left on Sherman St, park entrance is on your right (also walkable from Porter or Alewife)

Corey Hill - Fairbanks (C Line) - go to the north side of Beacon St and turn left, there will be a stairway going up the hill - you can take it all the way to the top of the hill, then turn left and there is a park with a view of Boston from a high altitude - although the chain of stairs is probably the main attraction

Olmsted Park and Wards Pond - Brookline Village (D Line) or Riverway (E Line) - thin strip of parkland along a series of ponds - park entrance is a pedestrian path alongside a lake on the southwest side of Route 9 and Jamaicaway interchange - Wards Pond is a fair distance down the path, just short of Jamaica Pond

Columbus Park - Aquarium (Blue Line) or Haymarket (Green/Orange lines) - urban park alongside Boston Harbor - from the eastern side of Quincy Market, cross the main road

Riverside Park - Riverside (D Line) - exit the parking lot, turn right, take the sidewalk along the on-ramp to Route 128 (yes, the on-ramp), stay on the right, and you will find yourself in a little park tucked alongside the Charles River

Griggs Park - Summit Ave (C Line) - small park in the middle of Brookline - turn off Beacon onto Marion St, take footpath (Marion Path) to right, comes out at the park.

Inner Harbor Ferry - MBTA boat - if you get your MBTA pass as a Charlie Ticket (not a Charlie Card!), and get a Commuter Rail Zone 1A monthly pass (not a LinkPass!) - the cost is the same as a regular monthly pass ($59) - you get free travel on the Inner Harbor Ferry, which is a 10-minute ride across Boston Harbor from Aquarium Station. The other end is in Charlestown, and you can ride the ferry back, the trip runs every half-hour on weekdays into the early evening.

PS - I have a photo of the day website that includes my photographs of many of these places. The daily photographs are also available on LJ through an RSS feed bluebrook_potd

Come listen to the MBTA's Chief Financial Officer - Monday 3/30

The MBTA's expenses substantially exceed revenue, with a projected annual deficit of $160 million. In large part, this is due to debt resulting from the $2 billion system expansion ordered by the state to improve regional air quality and get cars off the road. No amount of service cutbacks, government reform, or operational savings can reduce the MBTA's $145 million annual expense for servicing this debt. To stay afloat, the T has been spending its rainy day fund. If nothing is done soon, they will simply run out of money.

Therefore, if new funding is not identified by the end of June, we can expect an across the board fare increase of 25 to 30 percent, and service cuts of about 30 percent, taking effect on September 1 or October 1 of this year. The details of these cuts are still being worked out, but the fiscal reality makes these kind of deep cuts absolutely necessary if there is no new funding.

The Governor's proposed transportation finance reform is designed to bring the MBTA sufficient revenue to maintain existing service at existing fares. The key element of this plan is an increase in the gasoline tax (intended to fund both highway maintenance and public transit), but the legislature will probably scale this back, leaving the MBTA on course for financial disaster.

To learn more, please come to the MBTA's Rider Oversight Committee meeting on Monday, March 30. Jonathan Davis, the MBTA's Chief Financial Officer, will provide an overview of the financial situation, and discuss the MBTA's current plan for implementing emergency fare increases and service cuts.

This meeting will be from 5-7 pm, on the second floor of the State Transportation Building. This is near Boston Common, on the northeast corner of Stuart & Charles, close to the Boylston or Chinatown subway stations.

Contact me for more information. Here is the official notice of the meeting:

http://mbta.com/about_the_mbta/public_meetings/?id=16777

Shuttle launch tonight

The second attempt to launch the space shuttle is scheduled for tonight at 7:43 pm EDT. The shuttle will be visible from Boston about 7 minutes after liftoff, during the final 90 seconds of the launch, see my previous post for details.

Shuttle launch visible from Boston - Wednesday

The space shuttle launch on Wednesday evening will be visible from Boston, if there are clear skies in our area. As I've noted before, night launches usually fly up the Atlantic coastline, and it's remarkably easy to see the shuttle launch from the northeast. Since the shuttle program is expected to shut down in 2010, there will only be a few more chances to see a launch, so if you're even remotely interested, this is worth a shot.

The long-range Boston weather forecast calls for 50% clear skies, so it's unclear right now how local weather will affect visibility. Launch is scheduled for 9:20 pm Wednesday, and if there's a delay, would be slightly earlier on following evenings.

I usually watch night shuttle launches from Medford, and welcome company ... if you haven't seen a launch before, it can help to have someone who knows what to expect. If you are ambitious and have a car, it would be possible to run away from clouds if the weather conditions are more favorable outside of MBTA range. If you want to try spotting it on your own, let me know and I can send more specific instructons for where in the sky, etc.

Whoops! (in the newspaper, in space ...)

I've learned to read news articles with a great deal of skepticism, because when I read about subjects I know personally, there are so many glaring errors. It is reasonable to infer that other subjects are reported just as inaccurately. Case in point:

Scientists estimate that there should be around 3,000 comets in the galaxy, but only 25 have so far been identified.

Heh!

There are way more than 25 comets known. Here's a 2005 NASA announcement about a single observatory that has been used to discover 1,000 comets.

(The newspaper article seems to be talking about old comets that no longer produce tails and are especially hard to detect, but that's not what it says. And I'm not even touching the apparent mixup of "galaxy" with "solar system".)

I suppose there is now a legitimate basis for editing Wikipedia to say that only 25 comets have ever been identified. Heh.

In other news ... two communications satellites smashed into each other yesterday at an altitude of 789 kilometers. (After my warning above about inaccuracy in media, I'll note that Bill Harwood is an excellent reporter who routinely seems to get everything right, from the details to the big picture.) This is the first time two large objects have collided in orbit. There have been a few previous minor incidents, such as an antenna getting clipped by a piece of space debris, plus a general peppering of dust-size space debris on orbiting satellites. What happened yesterday is at a whole different order of magnitude.

Orbital velocity is around 25 feet per millisecond, so satellite collisions are fast. The satellites don't smash into each other, they melt instantly and pass through each other. Both satellites have disintegrated into an orbiting debris cloud, basically high-velocity shrapnel. And this is in a very bad place, because debris at that altitude will stay in orbit for a very long time, and that part of space is heavily populated (weather satellites, astronomy satellites, etc). Below about 500 km, the thin traces of Earth's upper atmosphere brings down anything that is not being actively kept in space; above about 1,500 km, there are few satellites and they're widely spaced (with the exception of the geosynchronous ring). A long-standing fear in the space community has been a chain reacton, where debris from one collision hits another satellite creating more debris, etc. This is the altitude range where collisions are most worrisome.

For reference, the Chinese ASAT test happened at a similar altitude. They shot a missile into one of their weather satellites, and about 10-15 percent of everything tracked in orbit is debris from this one weapons test. (In contrast, the US shootdown of a failed and potentially hazardous military satellite happened so close to the atmosphere that all the debris has already come down from space, leaving no long-term debris hazard to other satellites.)

Oh, I should mention what the satellites were in yesterday's collision. One was an active Iridium communicatons satellite, the other was a dead Russian military communications satellite. At that altitude, unused satellites, rocket stages or other debris can remain in orbit for hundreds of years.

Shuttle visible from Boston on Friday and Saturday

The space shuttle Endeavour has undocked from the space station. From Boston, if you look at the right time, very low in the northern sky, you will be able to see the two spacecraft flying near each other in orbit.

Tonight (Friday), the time is about 5:06 to 5:08 pm, the spacecraft will move left-to-right over the northwest to northern horizon, only 10 degrees in altitude -- best to look over water, a field, or other land with no obstructions. See if you can find the Big Dipper. The spacecraft will fly through the handle, and along the top of the bowl. I don't know how close the two spacecraft will be, or in what order they will appear, but space station is usually the brighter of the pair.

Tomorrow (Saturday), the time is about 5:34 to 5:36 pm, along the same path in the sky.

Space Shuttle visible Monday evening around 10 pm

The space shuttle Discovery will be visible from Boston on Sunday evening, flying independently before docking with the space station on Monday. The weather forecast currently calls for mostly clear skies.

At about 10:06 pm, both Discovery and the Space Station will rise in the northwest, passing slightly above the bright star Capella. The two spacecraft will probably be visible within a minute of each other, I don't know how far apart, but the Station is expected to be brighter and the Shuttle fainter. (Both spacecraft should be easily visible to the unaided eye, they're bright.) Each spacecraft will take about two minutes to rise to maximum elevation, roughly due north around 10:08 pm, halfway between the North Star and the horizon (that is, about 25 degrees elevation). Then, while setting in the northeast, each spacecraft will pass near the bright star Deneb, and then disappear when entering the Earth's shadow. The times might shift by a few minutes due to orbital adjustments, but it should be pretty close to accurate.

This is the only pass of Discovery visible from the Boston area before docking with the Space Station. It's really amazing to see two spacecraft during a rendezvous, flying close together in space. The elevation is rather poor, but if the weather is favorable, it's worth seeing if you have a good view low in the northern sky.

I'm not sure where I'll go to watch the pass, but if anyone is interested in joining me, let me know.

One more day of shuttle/ISS

Endeavour is scheduled to land this afternoon. If the weather is not favorable, it may stay up an extra day. In that case, it will be visible again tonight. The pass over Boston rises 8:17 WNW, peak 8:20 at 50 degrees high in the SW, enters shadow 8:23 SE. The path will basically hit the bright star Arcturus at 8:19. Shuttle is trailing space station, and would be the second of the pair. If shuttle lands, these times still hold for space station alone. Also, here's a photo of the shuttle pass on Sunday night.

Shuttle/ISS from Boston (again)

Tonight's Shuttle/ISS pass over Boston (the last before landing) is not as favorable as last night's pass. The time is 9:30 to 9:32 pm, low in the west to southwest (peak elevation 16 degrees). The pair will rise in the west, and enter the Earth's shadow in the southwest, very close to the moon - about 10 degrees to the upper-right of the moon. The best way to pick up shuttle/ISS is to scan the area about 30-45 degrees to the right of the moon, at the same elevation, looking for a pair of bright stars moving towards the moon. I'm guessing the two objects may be 30 seconds apart tonight. If landing stays on schedule, this will be Endeavour's last visible pass over Boston on this mission.