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.
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.
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