Traffic Ahead

Developers tend to focus only on the nearby traffic consequences of their own project and to portray the consequences as manageable through local road improvements.  In fact, the rising congestion that we are experiencing is the cumulative result of development all across the region.

In 2013, several legislators came together to ask the state’s Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) to undertake a study of whether we have the necessary transportation capacity to support the growth we are expecting.  CTPS began the study in 2015 with the blessing of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and produced a complex report earlier this year.

Here are some of the background observations from the report.

  • Employment and population are expected to increase substantially in the urban core by 2040, while growth will be more modest in the more distant suburbs.
  • While working at home and biking to work have both increased dramatically over the last couple of decades, transit and motor vehicle use have also increased.  Transit and road demand are both expected to continue to increase over the decades to come.  It is often possible for a  household to locate so that one member is close to work, but it is hard to assure a short commute for all members of a household at once.
  • Over the last couple of decades, Red and Green Line ridership have increased over 28% and commuter rail ridership has increased by over 75%, while bus ridership has grown only 3%
  • Since 1970, total miles driven on limited access highways have doubled in the inner core and more than tripled in the outer suburbs and statewide.  This increase on limited access highways correlates with increases on all secondary roads and we experience this as increasing congestion.

Troubling projections include the following:

  • A segment of roadway starts to slow down and is considered congested when it is running at over 85% of its capacity.  In 2012, 25% of the road-miles of limited access highways and arterial streets in the core were over 85% of capacity in the morning rush and 39% were overcapacity in the evening rush.  By 2040, in the mornings, congestion will extend to 34% our road-miles and in the evening, 51%. Many other roadways will be approaching the congested level.  Note that congestion is higher in the evening because there are more non-commute trips occurring in the evening.
  • Most major routes in and serving my district are already congested on some segments.  Already congested routes that will become congested on more segments include Route 2, Concord Avenue, Fresh Pond Parkway, Mount Auburn Street, Memorial Drive, Storrow Drive, the Pike, Beacon Street, Commonwealth Avenue, the Bowker/Charlesgate Overpass, Massachusetts Avenue and Harvard Avenue.
  • By 2040, the Red Line between Alewife and Park Street, which is often near the acceptably full level today, but not (usually) “unacceptably” full, will frequently be unacceptably full with substantial delays in boarding at rush hour.  The core segments of the Green Line, which are already unacceptably full much of the time, will become consistently unacceptably full at rush hour.  The only line which is not expected to see much overcrowding is the Blue Line.
  • The 71 and 73 buses, which service Watertown and Belmont, already stand out as the two most overcrowded bus lines in the system.  They are expected to grow 8% by 2040, reaching rider-to-seat ratios of 1.6 and 1.9 respectively — the MBTA considers 1.4 the maximum acceptable.  The 70 bus, which runs from Cambridge through Watertown to Waltham, will cross the 1.4 level by 2040 for the evening commute, as will the 66 and the 86, non-radial bus lines that service Allston and Brighton.

Controlling traffic to improve local quality of life and ease the daily commute is one of my top priorities as a legislator.  I’ll be posting on some of the more helpful solutions on the table over the weeks to come. Your thoughts welcome at any time!

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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