News you knew: Boston traffic stinks
New report sets off calls for action, not more talk
JUST AS BOB DYLAN said you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, there was probably no need for another study to tell Boston drivers that traffic here is worse than bad. But that’s what we got, and whether it ends up being a helpful prod or just cause for more teeth-grinding, the report set off a fresh round of talk about our roadway gridlock.
Boston traffic during the peak morning and afternoon rush hour was the worst of any major US metropolitan area last year, according to the analysis by Inrix, a transportation data firm. The report said Boston traffic congestion added 164 hours to rush hour drivers’ commutes last year.
Some questions were immediately raised about the study and whether it accurately captured where Boston stood. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack suggested the ranking was faulty. But she seemed to agree that getting too tied up in methodology details about tie-ups is a bit beside the point: By any reckoning, traffic congestion has become a growing problem in Boston whether we rank an unenviable No. 1 on some metric or fifth or eighth.
“We can’t ignore congestion,” Pollack told the Globe. “My biggest concern is that people and businesses have made it clear that we are now experiencing a level of congestion that they are struggling to cope with. That’s what tells me we have to focus on this problem, not if we’re number one or number eight or number 10.”
Gov. Charlie Baker has been cool to that idea, and he vetoed a measure last year that would have provided a discount to Massachusetts Turnpike drivers during off-peak hours. A Globe editorial today touts variable-priced tolling as an idea worth trying, but it says we might also get some relief from old fashioned approaches like carpooling.
Improving service on the MBTA certainly wouldn’t hurt, and the Baker administration says that’s a priority. But it’s projected that a recently proposed T fare increase will drive some users out of the system and, presumably, into cars.
Former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi, in a Globe op-ed, argued that any T fare increases should be matched by increases in the state gas tax and fees for ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. It’s not only a matter of equity, he says, but a way to acknowledge that various transportation modes are all connected and that changing the costs, in isolation, for one will have spillover effects on the others.Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby suggested yesterday that the answer to the region’s traffic woes is to respond to the clear preference people have for driving by building more highways.
That might work in Phoenix, but does he have a master plan for where within Route 128 those new highways would be built? As his paper’s editorial this morning said with some understatement, “Even if adding highway lanes would help, there might not be anywhere to put them.”