Congestion may be bad, but commute times changing little

Boston is struggling with the worst congestion in the nation, but drivers surprisingly say they haven’t seen a big increase in their commuting time over the last decade.

According to US Census data, the average travel time to work for Bostonians was 27.5 minutes in 2007. In 2017, the travel time was up only 2.3 minutes to 29.8 minutes, a gain of 9 percent.

How can that be?

Boston was crowned the most congested city in America by the transportation data firm Inrix in February. And a new Urban Mobility Report, put out by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, found the annual delay per driver in hours had gone up 25 percent over the last decade.

Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant in New York City, said in a recent article in CityLab that Boston is not the only community with a disconnect between congestion and commute times. In cities across the country, he says, congestion has increased dramatically over the last decade yet commute times have increased only slightly.

Take Houston, for example. The city saw its annual delay per driver increase to 75 hours in 2017, a 47 percent increase since 2007. But Houston commuters told the Census Bureau that their drive to work was 30.3  minutes in 2017, up just 6 percent, or 1.6 minutes, from a decade earlier.

Schaller says drivers are experiencing a lot more congestion, but they and many employers are continually adjusting to that congestion to make their commutes somewhat reasonable.

“The process starts when people accept a slightly longer commute into the city in exchange for a suburban house and lawn,” Schaller writes. “Jobs soon follow to the suburbs, shortening the commute for many residents. Some people then move out a bit further to take advantage of cheap land prices, and get closer once again to open countryside. As jobs follow again, metro areas expand like a balloon, everyone and everything moving outward from the center but not so far apart from each other. That’s how workers can keep their commutes to a reasonable duration.”

The chief exceptions to the rule are San Francisco and San Jose, which are fast-growing and land-constrained. That’s a recipe for both congestion and commuting times increasing rapidly.

In an interview, Schaller said he would have thought Boston’s numbers would have been similar to those in San Francisco. But he cautioned that the numbers on congestion and commute times are all a bit squishy. “”There is no underlying truth anyway because you’re averaging over a lot of people and a lot of different communities,” he said.

Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, said in an interview that Schaller’s article suggests that workers and employers are responding to congestion by changing jobs (workers) or moving (employers) to keep commutes reasonable. He said the ongoing dislocation is not a solution to the real problem.

“Sprawl is not the answer,” he said. “I think it would be a mistake to say things aren’t that bad.”




On the eve of a Beacon Hill debate about how best to fix the MBTA, Gov. Charlie Baker finally takes a ride on the Red Line. (CommonWealth)

State Auditor Suzanne Bump says transportation hurdles are a significant barrier to people obtaining federal food assistance, particularly in western Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

The Cannabis Control Commission suspends six marijuana licenses after a part-owner is accused of conspiring to traffick pot illegally. (State House News) Gov. Charlie Baker joins the calls to change the local approval process for pot shops after the indictment of Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia on charges of shaking down would-be cannabis merchants. (Boston Globe)


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Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera canceled an appreciation dinner for emergency personnel who responded to last September’s natural gas disaster because firefighters threatened to picket and boycott the event. (Salem News)

Vandals sprayed graffiti on two icons of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lynn. (Daily Item)

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Craig McLean, acting chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he will investigate why top agency brass backed President Trump’s erroneous tweet about the path of Hurricane Dorian, and suggested the move was “not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.” (NPR)


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The Eagle-Tribune looks at one of the letters published in the paper last month and whether Carina Pappalardo’s endorsement of Methuen mayoral candidate Jennifer Kannan could threaten the non-profit status of The Psychological Center where Pappalardo is CEO.


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Another mall, this time the Greendale Mall in Worcester, takes a hit, as Best Buy says it is closing its store there in November. A Best Buy spokesman said shoppers have shown they prefer to shop in other places than the mall. (Telegram & Gazette)

Immigrants with temporary protected status are facing a new hurdle at work. (MassLIve)


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Lawrence Fire Lt. Jimmy Flynn says the city’s 9/11 memorial will “look brand new again” with a fresh touching up in time for tomorrow’s memorial service. (Eagle-Tribune)


Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera is using $225,000 of city funds to eliminate fares on three bus routes through the city. (CommonWealth)

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Susan Lavoie, a 64-year-old from Beverly, was acquitted for her role in a road rage incident on Route 128 last March after telling jurors she was “trying to defend myself.” (Gloucester Daily Times)\MEDIA

Tom Shattuck will shift from editorial page editor at the Boston Herald to senior editor of the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. (The Sun) Sandra Kent will take the reins as new editor of the Herald opinion page. (Boston Herald)

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