Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster

Commuter trains to nowhere

Increased commuter-rail service is a key component of “smart growth,” but not all train stops allow for car-free living. Some are simply too far from supermarkets, hardware stores, fitness clubs, and the like. According to the website WalkScore, which gives locations “walkability” scores ranging from 0 to 100 based on their distance from services and amenities, a home next to the Waltham stop on the MBTA’s Fitchburg line would put you in a “walkers’ paradise.” By contrast, a place adjacent to the Halifax stop on the Plymouth line would strand you in a carless person’s nightmare, with “virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range.”

Besides Waltham, the commuter-rail stops of Norwood Central, Roslindale Village, Providence, Salem, and Stoughton had scores above 90. Halifax, nearly two miles from the nearest grocery, got a flat 0, and single-digit scores went to Hastings, Littleton/Route 495, Rowley, Silver Hill, and Westborough. (Mass transit stops themselves are not factored into the calculations.)

Most subway-stop locations are at least considered “very walkable,” but the lowest score went to the Orange Line’s Oak Grove, which scored a 46, or “car-dependent.”

framingham: the new hub of the bay state?

Next year marks the 60th anniversary of Route 495, the superhighway that has changed everyone’s mental map of Massachusetts and redefined the meaning of “Greater Boston.” (At least, it will be the 60th anniversary of the oldest piece, from Middleborough to Taunton.) The block letter “C” formed by Routes 128 and 495 is now a distinct economic and political region that has steadily grown in population over the years.

The population of the cities and towns between Routes 128 and 495 was 760,000 — or 16 percent of the state’s total — in 1950. (For a municipality bisected by one of the two highways, its region is decided by where the town center lies.) The most recent Census figures put the tally at 1.8 million, or 28 percent of the state’s population. Over the same period, several communities that lie between the two highways have become major population centers. Framingham has doubled its size and risen from the state’s 33rd most populous community to the 14th, Plymouth has quadrupled and gone from 66th to 21st, and Billerica has more than tripled its population and upgraded from 78th to 30th.

Meanwhile, the number of people living within Route 128 fell slightly — from just over 2 million to just under 1.9 million — and that region’s share of total population dropped from 44 percent to 30 percent. As for Bay Staters living beyond 128, they have increased from 1.9 million to 2.8 million, or from 40 percent to 43 percent of the Commonwealth’s total population.

wait until your mother leaves home

There are almost as many women as men trying to get through the morning rush hour, but men generally spend more time at it. Newly released Census data, based on surveys taken last year, showed that 58 percent of Bay State commuters who customarily left the house between 6 and 7:30 a.m. were men, but 57 percent who left between 7:30 and 9 a.m. were women. (The total number of commuters for each time period was just over a million.)

In what is essentially another verse of the same song, the Census Bureau also reported that 55 percent of Massachu­setts workers with commutes of less than 10 minutes were women, but 59 percent of those who took at least an hour to get to work were men.

cigarettes leave gas tax in the dust

This year’s sharp increase in the cigarette tax (from $1 to $2.51 per pack), combined with Beacon Hill’s refusal to entertain a gasoline tax increase, means that the state is now getting more revenue from smokers than from drivers. During the first two months of fiscal year 2009 (July and August), revenue from the gasoline tax dropped by 4.4 percent, to just under $100 million. Not coincidentally, the US Department of Transportation estimated that traffic on Bay State roads was down by about 4 percent in June (the latest month for which figures are available). Driving less to cut down on fuel costs, it seems, may be good for the air, but it isn’t doing the state government any favors.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has more than made up for the shortfall by squeezing cigarette smokers. Thanks to the tax hike, the state’s cigarette revenue jumped by 39 percent in the first two months of the fiscal year, going from $81 million to $113 million. At the same time, cigarettes zoomed past gasoline pumps to become the fifth-largest source of revenue for the state (behind the income tax, regular sales tax, corporate tax, and meals tax).

During the same two months in 1998, the gasoline tax provided almost three times as much revenue as the cigarette tax — $99 million vs. $38 million.

the internal-combustion census

The town of Chilmark has the most road-ready population in the state, according to new data from the Department of Revenue. There are 1,760 registered cars and light trucks for 963 residents, or 1.8 vehicles for every man, woman, and child. Chilmark is closely followed by Edgartown (also on Martha’s Vineyard) and the western town of Plainfield. Among cities, only Newburyport and Woburn have more passenger vehicles than people. At the other extreme, Chelsea has only 0.49 vehicles per person, followed by Amherst and Cambridge.

Meet the Author

Island communities may have more cars simply because it’s harder to get rid of them. Aquinnah, another town on Martha’s Vineyard, ranks first in the average age of its registered vehicles: 14.4 years, well above the state average of 10.1 years. It’s followed by one of the more affluent communities in the state (the island of Nantucket) and one of the poorest (Lawrence). The newest fleet is in Sharon, with an average age of 8.0 years, followed by Needham and Southborugh.

And light sleepers take note: With 225 two-wheelers for each of its four square miles, Somerville is by far the most motorcycle-saturated community in the state.