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Going Nowhere In Boston Traffic: Winding Streets And The Big Dig

By Mary Blake, WBZ NewsRadio 1030
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Rush hour traffic on the Southeast Expressway. (Photo by Mary Blake-WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

Rush hour traffic on the Southeast Expressway. (Photo by Mary Blake-WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

420x316-grad-blake1 Mary Blake
Mary Blake is an award-winning reporter and anchor who joined WBZ News...
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Getting Around

 

BOSTON (CBS) – Here’s a sign that Boston traffic hits a nerve.

Michael Coleman, Director of Creative Production for WBZ NewsRadio 1030, recently posted his parody, “The Boston Driving Song,” on YouTube.

In a matter of weeks, it’s had 31,000 hits. Coleman says he’s not surprised since Boston drivers have developed a certain reputation.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports – Part 1

“So, hurry up, get out of my way! I’m late for yoga,” he quips. Coleman says he had plenty of material to work with.

“I just had to mention the term ‘rotary’, not what goes on in a rotary,” he laughs.

So, what makes Boston drivers so irate?

Earlier this month, the GPS company TomTom ranked Boston ninth out of 53 major U.S cities in terms of congestion. The Mass Highway Operations Center statistics puts us fifth in the nation in terms of the most congested cities. HOC officials say Boston has more than 500,000 vehicles driving in and out of the city every day.

Eric Bourassa, Transportation Director at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, says our road maps don’t help.

“When you have a gridded network, you can manage it a lot better. You can have one way streets. You can have greater blocks, where you don’t have as many intersections with left turns. Left turns create lots of traffic,” says Bourassa.

“Here, we have these winding streets where a lot of streets come together with a lot of left hand turns. We’ve kind of just sprouted and grown because we were one of the original cities in this country and it wasn’t planned like some of these other ones in the western states and the Midwest.”

Add to the cow path configurations: volume.

Most experts agree that Boston traffic has gotten worse in recent days. Many days it’s now at pre-2007 levels. There are different explanations.

WBZ traffic reporter Rick Simonson has his theory.

“My guess is that more people have decided to drive on their own, and they’re not carpooling, or, the job situation around here is a lot better than it is in a lot of other places,” he says.

Simonson’s colleague, Rich Kirkland, has been reporting on Boston traffic for nearly 30 years, and thinks the price of gas is key.

“The price of gas now is $3.50, which, I think, all of us all of us would think, I can deal with $3.50. When it bumped up to about $4.00 or $4.50, that’s when you saw traffic start to come down a little bit, ” says Kirkland.

Enrique Silva, assistant professor of City Planning and Urban Affairs at Boston University, says cities can be looked at in terms of rhythms, and this includes traffic.

“I would bet you if you ask people who commute day in and day out, they know, they have a sense of who’s coming in and how to get on the exit ramp or the on ramp and you probably identify the same types of cars,” he says.

Silva also says traffic congestion is relative. “When people say its congested and so forth, you can’t argue with it. Yes, people are spending time in their cars,but, is it the worst ever? I’ve been to places that are worse,” he says.

THE BIG DIG

There is strong consensus that, while bad, Boston traffic would be much worse if not for the Big Dig.

“People are able to get to and from Logan Airport much easier than ever before. They also can exit downtown much easier than ever done before,” says Kirkland.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports – Part 2

Former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci says there would be no Innovation District in Boston if not for the Big Dig.

He says bottlenecks have been moved out of downtown Boston and, while there is still congestion, he says at this point it’s no longer on the steps of Massachusetts General Hospital. Salvucci is often referred to as the father of the Big Dig, which he likens to being the father of children in their thirties and forties.

“You continue to be unreasonably proud of their accomplishments, even though you don’t have much to do with it any more, and embarrassed at their failures, long after you’ve lost the ability to influence their behavior, so, pleased to have been part of it,” he chuckles.

Salvucci is most pleased with the Greenway.  “That’s the part I really love,” he says.

Salvucci also was glad to see the five-to-seven mile an hour crawl through the city on the elevated Central Artery eliminated.

“I get a real kick out of the fact that they’ve had to put a 35-mile-an-hour speed limit on the underground part because it’s now possible to go too fast. It didn’t used to be possible to speed,” he says.

But Salvucci says there’s no excuse for what happened to quality control. He calls the ceiling collapse that claimed the life of Milena Del Valle, “tragic.” He bemoans the lack of follow through on other Big Dig components, namely public transit projects and limits on parking spaces.

He also remains upset with the scrapping of his proposed Scheme Z plan. If Scheme Z had been built, he says , “The five or six fatalities on motorcycles that occured from the Central Artery toward Storrow Drive, in the original design, that curve would not have been there. Those motorcyle riders would be alive. There was some hysteria around that, that led to some very bad decisions, so that the state spent at least an extra billion dollars to have a road that is less safe and has less capacity.” He laments, ” That one, I have nightmares about. It could have been and should have been much better.”

Coming up Tuesday, we’ll head out on a couple of crunch commutes.

MORE LOCAL NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON

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