Friday, March 13, 2009

Hellington Circle

Five miles north of Boston is an area called Wellington Circle. It’s a commercial (and now residential) block of Medford struggling to shake it’s white trash roots and dingy image.

For the most part it’s succeeding. There is a new Boston Sports Club, Starbucks, Walgreens, Pizzeria Regina, Game Stop included in the new Station's Landing center with residential apartments and condos that look over the Mystic River towards the new, improved Boston skyline. The subway is right next door, making a quick and easy trip into Boston possible. Across the bridge is another new shopping center that includes Target, Costco, PetSmart, Texas Roadhouse, Baby Gap, Best Buy, Home Depot and TGIFridays.

Just down the block is yet another shopping center that includes Staples, Christmas Tree Shop, Home Depot and other shops you get everywhere else in this country. No, that’s not a typo, by the way. We have two Home Depots within two miles of each other.

Yup, the generification of Wellington Circle is complete.

Considering the condition of the area ten years ago, this turn around is remarkable. The Staples area used to be the Assembly Square Mall anchored by a Kmart (which is still there) and various gang member battles. Taking my kids there would never have been an option.

After Somerville bitterly fought over what to do with the area (there was even talk of building the new Gillette Stadium on the land so the Patriots would be closer to Boston) they simply decided to fix everything up, get rid of the gang members, and make everything pretty. This worked out much better than expected.

In the heart of Wellington Circle where Starbucks and expensive high rise apartments now reside used to be…um…well…an empty lot. It would alternate between a farm stand and where you went to buy your Christmas Trees in December. Between December 26th and spring that lot would remain vacant save for a crummy looking shack in desperate need of a paint job looking like it would fall over when the next breeze kicked up.

How the times have changed.

Except for one glaring exception – Wellington Circle itself. See, the name comes from the circle of traffic that converge where Route 28 (aka The Fellsway) and Route 16 (aka The Revere Beach Parkway) collide. The word ‘collide’ is not a random term I selected as a description. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

To put this simply, this is a nightmare of city engineering; a mish mash of roads coming from 16 different directions with no clear path on how to get from one point to another. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out this picture:

To you get your bearings, the building on the lower right is where the new Starbucks, Walgreens and Station Landing condos/apartments are located. The upper left contains a Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS, Chipotle and Men’s Wearhouse. The upper right is a Kappy’s (enormous liquor store chain in the Boston area), AT&T wireless store and tattoo parlor. That white trash label isn’t totally gone. Behind that Kappy’s is even more new apartments.

To get to the shopping center that contains the Target and Costco, you take Rt 16 east. Or left to right in that picture. To get to the Staples (old Assembly Square Mall) center you must head South on 28 (up to down in the picture - follow the red arrows!).

Starting to see the problem? Imagine being at the Best Buy and wanting to get to the Staples. You would have to come down Rt 16 west (right to left) BUT take those two lanes that swing down so you can get on Rt 28. And there are traffic lights at every intersection. You can see where they are by the number of crosswalk lines on the street. Take a minute and count them if you want. I’ll wait.

Done? I counted 13, but I think there may even be more than that.

The hidden (evil) genius of Wellington Circle is that some of the lights kinda sorta point towards two different sets of traffic. Allow me to explain.

See that street labeled Middlesex Ave (apologies about the picture quality) near the top? That actually is the end of Highland Ave that runs through Medford, Malden and Stoneham. When you exit that road you come to a set of lights that is right next to the same flow of traffic that is coming south on 28. You can see both sets of cars waiting where Middlesex Ave and 28 form the V at the top of that picture.

If you look closely enough you can see the traffic lights for those two sets of cars. They are strung on a line across 28. It’s right above the first red arrow that shows the direction of traffic from 28 South (heading down). Now, take a long look at that section…

Long enough?

What do you see? You should see that Routes 28, 16, and Middlesex Ave all meet at that bizarre love triangle. What you don’t see and what I’m struggling to describe is that those traffic lights are visible to EVERY SINGLE ANGLE OF TRAFFIC.
This means if you aren’t familiar with this particular circle of Hell, you’d think that when the light turns green for the traffic heading south on 28 you would actually think it was green for you. Since, you know, the green light is facing in your direction. This means cars coming south on 28, leaving Middlesex Ave AND heading west on 16 could all think ‘Oh, is that my green light?’ at the exact same time.

If I drive to the train, I am unfortunate enough to have to come 28 South (up to down) and turn left (left to right) to get onto 16 East. Every single morning there is one car exiting Middlesex Ave that mistakenly starts pulling out when the light turns green for 28. Every. Single. Morning. This is not an over statement.

And, yet, I still am not doing this particular traffic pattern justice.

I haven’t even mentioned that there is no walkway from one shopping center to the next. Something that would make total sense and probably wouldn’t cost that much to build. Instead pedestrians must take their lives in their hands attempting to navigate the multitude of crosswalks to get from one side to the other. This, of course, means everyone drives so they don’t get killed. Or get killed as quickly.

I haven’t mentioned that to stay on 28 North you don’t continue straight, but bear slightly left (but not all the way left cause then you’ll be heading east on 16). If you go straight, you’ll actually wind up on Highland Ave and be totally lost.

I haven’t said one thing about how the lanes to head in a certain direction are marked, but drivers decide to go straight instead of turning left like they’re supposed to. Or how they’ll realize at the last minute they should be turning left while they’re in the far right of a five lane section.

I will also not mention the exploding Asian population in the area so I appear racially sensitive. I’m sure they drive just as well as everyone else.

Sidenote here: A long time ago in one of my past posts, I recounted a story where a driver was so thoroughly confused he couldn’t decide which way he should go and wound up smashing into a tree between his two choices. I witnessed this with my own eyes and still can’t believe it (nor stop laughing about it – laughing right now remembering it). Well, that happened at Wellington Circle. If you look at upper right where Kappy’s is, you’ll see a yellow line with red arrows pointing up. To the right is a white line with red arrows also pointing up. This driver (who was Asian) couldn’t figure out which of these to take. Instead he took out the tree that used to be right at the bottom of that triangular divider. Poor tree never knew what hit it.

I haven’t yet mentioned that due to all the new shops there is more traffic than ever being routed through this maze.

I will, however, mention that one building to the lower left of the picture. That is the most important building in the entire area: The Massachusetts State Police barracks. Nobody even needs to call 911, because the State Police usually hear the car crashes from their own desks.

The one convenience of Wellington Circle.

Enjoy your weekends, my friends.

Today’s distraction: When 5th Graders Have Anger Issues. (Or love to play with their snacks). I love creative stuff like this. Happy Friday!!


Hammen said...

That made my brain hurt. A lot. Not cool on a Friday afternoon, Beach. Not cool.

Clayton Bigsby said...

I'm with Hammen, and that link is a little disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Reason #63 I don't really mind living in a city of 50,000 people: this entire post. I shudder to think of where a freakin GPS would lead you in that area. You'd end up slammed into a God damn bridge embankment in no time.

BeachBum said...

GPS devices look around, shrug and shut themselves down when they get near this circle.

I debated putting in this 'icing on the cake' item, but decided things were confusing enough: Wellington Circle is right near the Malden River which is infamous in the Boston area for having caught fire and burned for weeks. It happened a long time ago, but I still find it hilarious.