Getting smart about Cape summer traffic

On a hot and sunny Sunday after the Fourth of July, hundreds of people decided to leave the Cape “early” to get a jump on getting ready for the work week ahead. They learned the hard way when the traffic jam leaving the Cape over the Sagamore Bridge stretched for a gruesome 25 miles. One woman told The Boston Globe that it took her six hours to get from Provincetown to Boston, a trip that normally takes roughly half that time. Monday was only a bit better.

The Cape Cod Times was incredulous. “Sometimes, after reading about….the 25-mile traffic backup on Route 6 on Sunday, we think we live in the Third World,” read Wednesday’s editorial.

Cape Cod traffic jams are the stuff of legend and the drivers who know this should be legion by now. After all, Mitt Romney didn’t build the Sagamore flyover on a whim. There are web pages devoted to the perils of Cape traffic that advise people to leave very early in the morning or very late at night. There are even some nifty traffic apps. Yet none of these things changed the lemming-like behavior of Cape Cod travelers.

But the one thing the mother of all Cape traffic jams did is made Tom Cahir, the Cape Cod Transit Authority administrator who pushed for the reinstitution of Cape summer train service, look like a hero and 2,300 other people look like geniuses. Those are the people who decided to take the Cape Flyer train between Boston’s South Station, Buzzards Bay, and Hyannis over the holiday weekend— and who probably felt quite smug after they passed the hordes slinking oh-so slowly across the Sagamore Bridge.

The upcoming summer issue of CommonWealth takes a look at what it will take for the Cape Flyer to break even. If summer weather continues to cooperate, Cahir surely has a hit on his hands; this Sunday’s traffic snafu is the best free advertising a public transportation manager could hope for.

Which begs the question of whether the trains will run past Labor Day weekend or even next year. Despite the Fourth of July weekend success, the Cape weekend train is a pilot service that relies heavily on daytrippers. Daytrippers, in turn, are influenced by weather, which in New England is notoriously fickle. Memorial Day weekend was the coldest in years, and the low ridership on the Cape Flyer that weekend reflected that fact.

Few people understand that the Cape Flyer pilot program is an initiative of the Cape Cod regional transit system, not the perennially poor MBTA. Cahir knows he, and not the MBTA, has to make the numbers work. Moreover, the Cape Flyer is very carefully couched as a restoration of service, rather than an expansion in service so as not to raise the hackles of likely South Coast Rail communities who are still waiting for their train ride.

If passengers turn out in droves, Massachusetts transportation officials must consider the steps necessary to make the Cape Flyer a reliable option that assures that the state’s limited dollars are funneled into a commuter rail line that actually fills a demonstrated need. (They can also start thinking about how train service might help them evacuate the Cape in case of a major emergency, because the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges are not up to the job.)

Seasonal weekend summer service should be a no-brainer especially after Sunday’s debacle. Drivers have no one but themselves to blame for poor decision-making, but that doesn’t let transportation officials off the hook.

The Cape Cod Times counseled that officials start thinking seriously about instituting alternatives during busy weekend including HOV lanes, diverting traffic to the Bourne Bridge (where the backup was only 1 mile), and shifting the traditional Saturday-to-Saturday rental periods to other days of the week.

The newspaper even suggested that “someone” design a “predictive app” that would allow users to input travel times and get a readout on how long a trip could take. Or drivers could just use common sense and avoid peak summer travel times. But there’s no app for that.

                                                                                                                                                                             —GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

The Legislature’s Public Health Committee approves a compounding pharmacy bill, the Associated Press reports (via WBUR).

Beacon Hill lawmakers travel to Worcester to hear testimony on gun safety, and hear a lot about assault weapons and the role of mental health in background checks, CommonWealth reports.

The state has adopted new regulations aimed at reducing high balances on EBT cards and food stamp assistance. The Boston Herald reports that nearly 1,800 of those EBT cards carry taxpayer-funded balances of more than $1,500 dollars, with one account reaching a startling $12,000.

Former state Rep. Daniel Webster, who resigned from the House after his law license was suspended for mishandling clients’ accounts, is trying to get back into the political arena by seeking a seat on the Republican state committee.

MARATHON BOMBING

Accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears in federal court Wednesday to face charges that he detonated a weapon of mass destruction that killed three and injured scores more.

FBI officials have declined to attend a hearing today into the Boston Marathon bombings by the House Homeland Security Committee, a void that is likely to be the focus of some lawmakers on the panel who want to know how they missed the homegrown terrorists despite warnings from Russia.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Cape Cod and Plymouth residents want to see the state expand the emergency zone radius for the Pilgrim nuclear power plant from 10 to 20 miles.

On his second try, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini succeeds in winning city council support for an increase in the local-option hotel tax from 4 to 6 percent, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Lynn City Council rejects Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s choice for chief financial officer, continuing a political struggle over the position, the Item reports.

Hanover officials are considering holding a four-hour election in September to fill an open seat on the Board of Selectmen.

The Boston zoning board approved a fast-tracked $8.5 million development project in South Boston, despite some objections over constructing a YMCA and youth safety.

CASINOS

MGM Springfield has invested $1 million in the “Yes for Springfield” campaign. The vote on bringing a casino to the city is July 16.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Sarah Palin says she is toying with the idea of running for senator against the incumbent Democrat in Alaska, even though polls, which show her with a slight edge over potential primary opponents, indicate her favorability ratings are not high among voters outside of conservatives.

ELECTIONS

Nine of the 12 Boston mayor candidates appear at a forum hosted by environmental groups and activists. CommonWealth reports the only disagreement came on how the city can improve recycling. WBUR’s report focuses on how the candidates tried to one-up each other with pro-environment initiatives. The Globe story is accompanied by a good picture.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Shut out of Worcester, Rush Street Gaming of Chicago takes its plan for a slots parlor to Milford, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The Chicago infrastructure bank is off to a slow start, Governing reports.

EDUCATION

The National Review has a glowing look at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and its benefactor, billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein. The piece, though, only offhandedly mentions Epstein’s conviction and imprisonment for soliciting underage prostitutes in the final paragraph and a tagline informs readers the author is the head of media for Epstein’s foundation.

Over the past three years, the cost of tuition at four-year state schools rose faster for in-state students than their out-of-state counterparts, according to a U.S. Department of Education report.

TRANSPORTATION

A new report documents the impact of poor public transit on low-income people in four Massachusetts communities.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The town of Dartmouth is beginning to reap significant savings after installing a solar array to reduce energy costs.

One of the last remaining farms in Andover is expected to go on the market, making 10 acres of land available for development, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Search warrants released yesterday in the murder investigation tied to Aaron Hernandez show a friend told police Hernandez admitted to being the shooter and many of the warrants document a damning trail of evidence pointing to the former New England Patriot’s involvement. The Patriot Ledger, which filed the original motion to unseal the documents, posted all 156 pages.

James (Whitey) Bulger and his former associated Kevin Weeks shout “fuck you” at each other  in court, NECN reports.

A Norfolk Superior Court judge found a Quincy woman not guilty by reason of insanity in the poisoning death of her 8-year-old son.

A Brockton man pled guilty and was sentenced to three years probation on charges that he defrauded Medicaid out of $107,000 by billing for personal care services he never performed.

California officials say 30,000 inmates refused meals on Monday in what appeared to be the beginning of a hunger strike over the prison system’s isolation policies, the Los Angeles Times reports.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, are making plans to merge, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Newsroom diversity suffers as the journalism business contracts, the Atlantic reports.