Commuter rail station saves travel time, fuels growth in Four Corners

The opening in 2013 of the Four Corners/Geneva commuter rail station has been a life-enhancing revelation for many of us who depend on public transportation to commute into Boston from Four Corners and neighboring communities.

Before the station opened up service to the Fairmount line, those of us who use the MBTA had to rely on one of several bus lines – The 23, 16, 19 from Washington Street/Columbia Road and, for some, the 22, 45, 28 from Blue Hill Avenue.

In the past, I used the No. 23 bus to start my commute from Four Corners to Ashmont and, ultimately, South Station via the Red Line. Depending on traffic, that one-way weekday commute was approximately 45 minutes to an hour, even longer if the Red Line was experiencing delays. The train from Ashmont is often packed in the morning and by the time it reaches JFK/UMass there is barely any room to move.

The 5 p.m. commute home from South Station was often worse. The platform is always packed and, occasionally, I had to wait for the next train because the doors were barely able to close.

For years, the Fairmount commuter rail trains passed right through Dorchester without stopping to serve Four Corners, a neighborhood with high rates of respiratory illnesses like asthma. The issues of transit and environmental justice prompted the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition and its community partners to mount a long campaign to convince state leaders that they should open up the Fairmount Line to our community. Eventually, it worked.

Today, my morning commute from Four Corners to South Station is approximately 15-20 minutes. The trains are scheduled every 30 minutes or every hour depending on peak or non-peak hours. The cut in my travel time has helped decrease the stress and anxiety I previously experienced with the longer commute. And the extra time available to me has increased my efficiency and productivity, a sentiment echoed by Greater Four Corners Coalition’s lead organizer, Mela Bush.

“In my experience the opening of the new stations has value not just for improved transportation,” said Bush. “The thing that is most valuable is time saved in my life! Do the math: An hour-and-a-quarter to an hour-and-a-half to travel from Hyde Park to Four Corners without this service is a long time. The Fairmount-Indigo Line service saves me an entire hour. I can put that in my life’s bank and use it as needed with family friends or just for myself. Combined with the lowered fares and weekend service, it’s a win-win-win situation.”

But there are other benefits to this enhanced service for Four Corners area residents. At a meeting sponsored by the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Sept. 21, residents gathered to hear the latest about development plans that have been triggered by the new transit hub. The Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station Area Working Advisory Group, joined by the Cecil Group, MBTA, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and the BRA planners hosted the open house at the Cornerstone Lot located at the intersection of Washington and Bowdoin streets. It was well attended and residents were actively involved.

The station, we learned, has already triggered new investment, including the construction of affordable housing at 331-337 Washington St., 10-32 Bowdoin St. and the new Dorchester Community Food Co-Op store at 260 Washington St.

Still, there are challenges to a realization of the station’s full potential. Earlier this year, lower fares and more frequent service was introduced on the Fairmount Line, including trains on weekends, which gives many residents new access to shop at South Bay Plaza for groceries. But many people remain unaware of the commuter rail service in the neighborhood and often miss the entrances located on Washington Street and Geneva Avenue. A study will soon be conducted on hurdles that prevent access to the station, such as accessible walkways to entrances, limited parking, and the out-of-sync schedules between the Fairmount train and the No. 23 bus on Washington Street.

Some residents continue to be surprised when they learn the monthly 1A commuter rail pass is the same price as the monthly MBTA Link Pass and can also be used on the trains and buses. Billboards in Four Corners are now promoting the service, but more can be done to get the word out.

The open house format allowed participants to examine and freely discuss the displayed draft plans for future development around the station. Feedback compiled from the open house was presented at a final working advisory group meeting held on Tues., Sept. 29, at the Holland Community Center.

Ted Schwartzberg, the senior planner for the BRA, said that residents who were unable to attend these meetings can review the plans online at the BRA’s website:

Chanie Infante Louisma is involved in several community programs and writes about her experiences in Boston at her blog LifeByZen. You can connect with her on Twitter: @LifeByZen.