, I offered suggestions on how Boston’s public transportation system could be improved. This week, I’m proposing changes that would improve automobile traffic flow into, out of, and through the city.
Although we all wish that everyone would take public transportation to and from Boston, the truth is, we will always need roads, bridges, and tunnels. The problem is, our system is overburdened, even after completion of the $22 billion Central Artery and Third Harbor Tunnel projects. Many Bostonians think of our city as one continuous traffic jam.
Here are some ways we can ease the commutes of many while also improving the lives of Boston residents.
We should charge commuters a fee when they come into the city from points north, south and west. Not a toll, per se, because the revenues raised wouldn’t go toward paying off the cost of the bridges and streets that people travel, but similar.
The idea is to make the cost of driving equal to an amount that reduces the desire for commuters to drive into the city. Those who come to the city by car or truck would be required to pay a fee if they chose to do so during the morning and evening rush hours - basically anytime there is congestion. The money raised would go toward improving (and expanding) the public transportation system throughout Eastern Massachusetts.
I realize it’s easy for those of us who live in the city to want this - we wouldn’t have to pay anything and we’d be the ones to benefit, too. It’s a win-win. But, it would benefit commuters, too - traffic jams would be eliminated. Those who feel they have to drive into the city would be able to; those who do so out of convenience or because they it costs less could switch their modes of transportation.
Major issues would have to be worked out. There are so many routes into and out of the city, from major arteries to small, narrow roads. How would you track everyone? And, what if it worked “too well” - what if the new fee discouraged too many people from working in downtown Boston and wouldn’t this added “tax” lead major employers to seek out suburban locations in which to expand?
There’s the privacy issue. How do you track commuters without invading their privacy? And, what about those who come to the city out of necessity, mainly to visit its hospitals? When you’re sick (or dying), you aren’t necessarily able or willing to take public transportation. Would the added cost be too much for them to bear?
Variable parking meter fees
There’s another way to raise revenue while reducing congestion and the release of carbon-based gases. Technology exists that would allow the city to modify its parking meter prices based on the time of day. For example, we could increase the current flat rate from $1.25 per hour to $2.50 or $5.00 per hour during the business day, reduce it to $1.00 before 8am and after 5pm, and make it free on Sundays and holidays and, since the mayor seems to like it, on the four Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Holiday.
In tandem with this, privately and publicly-owned parking garages would have their taxes increased to cover the direct and indirect costs incurred by people driving into the city.
Bowker Overpass / Storrow Drive
The Bowker Overpass is the multi-lane steel beam bridge monstrosity that lurks over Storrow Drive, that drivers use coming into Boston from north and west of the city to get to the Longwood Medical Area and Fenway Park. Proposals have been floated that would replace the overpass with a series of interconnected, street-level roads that would improve local traffic patterns and rejoin the Back Bay with Kenmore Square.
Storrow Drive was never intended to be a major access point for people traveling into and out of the city - that’s why its bridges are so low (the ones that U-Haul trucks slam into every September 1st) - but it now carries 100,000 cars per day.
Removing the overpass and returning Storrow Drive to its intended purpose as a “parkway” would mean commuters would have to find new ways to get into the city, mainly by using the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension.
Which means we would need ...
Additional Mass Pike on & off ramps
It’s been estimated that nearly half the traffic on Storrow Drive exits at the Bowker Overpass. What would happen if we added on and off ramps to the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension near the Back Bay, South End, and Chinatown? Would it reduce congestion on Storrow Drive? Would commuters start taking Route 93 from the north and south and access the Mass Pike from there?
What effect would this have on traffic and, more importantly, on the residents in those neighborhoods?
From a Back Bay Sun story of several years ago:
In fact, early Big Dig plans included ramps that did connect to the Back Bay. But James Kerasiotis, who was then secretary of transportation for the commonwealth, killed the plan, allegedly in response to objections from Chinatown residents, according to Fred Salvucci, also a former secretary of transportation, who was instrumental in executing the Big Dig. Kerasiotis said, “We already have a ramp to the Back Bay. It’s called Storrow Drive,” Salvucci recalled.
The proposal scares many Back Bay and South End residents, and with good reason - the fear is that the neighborhoods would be over-run with traffic if new off- and on-ramps were built. I think, however, that a new study needs to be completed to figure out what the actual impact would be.
Politics and money are impediments to these projects
We’re limited only by our leadership … and money. With a bit of both, we can improve every-one’s lives, commuters and residents alike.
To keep abreast of Boston / Greater Boston transportation projects, I highly recommend joining the conversation going on in the ArchBoston transit and infrastructure forum.