Traffic trickle down

Do more cars mean less traffic? Hard to tell if you read two new studies designed to address congestion through technology, including one that was done based on Boston’s streets.

Like any study, the results are a matter of interpretation and what was not addressed may be as important as what the study was based on. One sunny outlook released by the Boston Consulting Group, done in concert with the World Economic Forum, used computer models based on Boston traffic and predicted widespread use of driverless vehicles could reduce traffic by between 11 percent and 28 percent and cut commute times by as much as 30 percent.

“Moreover, carbon dioxide emissions could drop by as much 66 percent,” the Boston Globe writes in its summary of the report, “and Boston would no longer need many parking spaces because self-driving vehicles would continuously provide rides to people who no longer would have to drive in the city.” Quick, where do we sign up?

But wait, there’s more, though not played up in the report that was designed to influence global policymakers as they deal with the emerging autonomous auto technology. Unaddressed is where do the driverless cars go between trips when they don’t have passengers? Do they drive the streets aimlessly, like an unwanted robot looking for a purpose? What if the electricity the cars demand is provided by fossil fuel-burning plants because of changes in policy in Washington? And what happens when those vehicles are used for delivering pizzas?

The report also acknowledges making commutes easier for workers may also contribute to urban sprawl because there’s less to worry about on the roads into the city.

“Urban sprawl is definitely one of the biggest challenges,” said Nikolaus Lang, a co-author of the study. “If people don’t really see commutes as a painful exercise, they might tend to live further away.”

The BCG study comes on the heels of a report out of the University of California, Davis, that surveyed more than 4,100 drivers in 10 metropolitan regions, including Boston, about their transportation habits with the onslaught of transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. The people at the disruptive tech companies have argued for years if more people used their services, the world’s streets would be a better and less crowded place.

But the UCal-Davis folks say not so fast. The survey found that between 49 percent and 61 percent of respondents said if they didn’t have the app on their phone, they either would not have made the trip at all or made the trip by foot, bike, or transit, meaning the ride-hailing services added, not subtracted, cars on the road. Another study in New York says the app-based services have actually added more than 50,000 cars on the city’s streets while drawing people away from public transit.

The lure of pressing a button on a phone is not enough for many people to abandon their personal vehicles, despite the best efforts of Uber and Lyft. A poll by Reuters found that about 25 percent of Americans got rid of their old cars last year but only 9 percent decided the transportation network companies were a better alternative than a new set of wheels.

Clearly, there are far more questions to be answered on the future of the future, but you can bet the Hub of the Universe will be the proving ground for much of how the world will deal with its traffic problems.

“If you can pass the Boston test, you can drive anywhere,” Nigel Jacob, co-chair of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which partnered with the Boston Consulting Group on its study, told the Associated Press. “That’s basically been the idea.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Senators unveil legislation that stresses health care in cost-effective settings and lays the groundwork for a more interventionist regulatory approach. (CommonWealth)

The Cannabis Control Commission publicly interviewed the three finalists for executive director and the members will make their decision on Thursday after public deliberations. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan has submitted a bill to the Town Council to ban the sale of recreational marijuana. The council can make the decision because Braintree voters said no on the statewide referendum in November. (Patriot Ledger) Voters at a special Town Meeting in Dennis overwhelmingly approved a measure to ban all forms of recreational marijuana from seed to sale in town, a “belt and suspenders” move following a similar result in a town election in May. (Cape Cod Times)

Proponents of a measure on the warrant for Sudbury’s Town Meeting that would have made the community a “sanctuary city” asked that their proposal be removed from debate. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington say they have an agreement to restore the health care subsidies cut by President Trump, who voiced his support for the compromise even while continuing to vow to repeal Obamacare. (New York Times) Oh, wait, now he’s against the deal. (Boston Globe)

President Trump tells the widow of a slain soldier that her husband knew what he signed up for, according to a congresswoman who overheard part of the call. (Associated Press) Several Gold Star families in the area recall the deep impact of personal contact they had with President Obama following the death of a loved one at war. (Boston Globe)  Trump said Obama never called his chief of staff John Kelly, whose son died in Afghanistan while the elder Kelly served as a top Marine Corps general. (New York Times)

A judge in Hawaii put a halt to the latest version of the Trump administration’s travel ban that was set to take effect today. (U.S. News & World Report)

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warns that the stock market will probably tank if a tax relief bill fails to pass. (Politico)

ELECTIONS

A Herald editorial decries the millionaires’ tax heading to next year’s ballot, saying it will bring back the “Taxachusetts” label by giving the state the fourth highest top marginal tax rate in the country, according to a new Pioneer Institute report.

US District Court Judge William Young refuses to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Lowell’s at-large voting system has prevented minorities from winning office for decades. (Lowell Sun) Read the story that set the stage for the lawsuit: “Why whites control Lowell city government.” (CommonWealth)

Steven Kerrigan, the 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, is jumping into the Democratic contest for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by Niki Tsongas. (Boston Herald) Sen. Barbara L’Italien, who is considering entering the Democratic primary for the seat, says Daniel Koh, who has already thrown his hat in the ring, should return a $2,700 campaign donation from the brother of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. (Boston Globe)

Democrat Paul Feeney, a former selectman in Foxboro, won a special election for state Senate by winning 47 percent of the vote. Republican Jacob Ventura came in second with 43 percent and independent Joe Shortsleeve was third with 9 percent. (Sun Chronicle)

Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan is resigning today, two and half months before his term ends, to begin a consulting business. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts seems poised to shower Amazon with as many as 10 different bids by the Thursday deadline, and no one is sure whether that helps or hurts the state’s chances. (Boston Globe) Worcester is prepared to offer as much as $500 million in property tax breaks as part of its bid. (Boston Globe)

George Soros, the left’s version of the Koch brothers, has shifted $18 billion of his personal wealth into his progressive advocacy Open Doors Foundation, making the nonprofit second only to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in terms of assets. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

Scores on the state’s revamped MCAS exam dropped significantly, but officials say it’s because the test is harder, not because student achievement has slipped. (CommonWealth) Here are results for every school in the state. (Boston Globe) The Eagle-Tribune has results for Lawrence, which is under state receivership, and the surrounding area. Try a few examples of the 10th grade exam and see if you’d pass. (Herald News) Boston’s troubled high schools showed little improvement on the 10th grade test. (Boston Herald)

Struggling with a downturn in enrollment, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is trying to implement a turnaround plan. (Berkshire Eagle)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Veterans Administration inspector general has launched a criminal investigation into the death of a patient at the Bedford VA hospital based on reports of systemic failings of care at the facility. (Boston Globe)

A gaffe by the Massachusetts Nurses Association prompts a sharp response from Berkshire Medical Center, which is locked in bitter labor negotiations with nurses. (Berkshire Eagle)

A limited study by researchers from Harvard and the University of Vermont says social media postings can help determine if a person suffers from depression. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION

Automobile fatalities in Massachusetts jumped by 13 percent last year, twice the national average. (Boston Herald)

The MBTA is in the very early stages of building a second train platform at Union Station in Worcester, a move that would allow the station and the line to accommodate more trains. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Gloucester Times editorial warns that coastal communities need to craft new zoning rules that don’t conflict with state and federal requirements for building in a flood zone.

Three out-of-state companies have submitted bids to develop a solar farm in Fall River on 300 acres of land managed by the city’s water board. (Herald News)

CASINOS

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission tracks the performance in real time of every slot machine at Plainridge Park Casino and will do the same at the two larger casinos under construction. (CommonWealth)

With 1,000 construction workers on the site, the Wynn Resorts casino in Everett is starting to take shape. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

State Sen. William Brownsberger and victims’ advocate and lawyer Wendy Murphy debate the controversial so-called “Romeo and Juliet” provision in the criminal justice reform bill that would alter how prosecutors handle sex between consenting minors. (Greater Boston)

Milton police said two women were sexually assaulted by the driver of a car they thought was a “vehicle for hire” after being picked up in other communities and driven to Milton where the attacks took place. (Patriot Ledger)