The Road Ahead: Is Commuting Ever Going to Get Any Better in Boston?

Bostonians spend a lot of time getting from one place to another. Whether by car, bus or train, commuting takes a toll on our quality of life and our well-being.

Inrix, a research firm, says Boston drivers wasted 164 hours sitting in rush hour traffic last year. It is the highest of any U.S. city.

Long commutes and a public transit system struggling to keep up with a growing population are why the city launched Go Boston 2030, its master plan for what commuting could and should look like in Boston within the next 10 years. It's Boston's ambitious plan to improve transit in the next decade by innovating nearly every aspect of how we get around.

Two years into the master plan, are things getting any better?


Part of the Go Boston 2030 plan is improving the city's network of bike plans and making them safer and easier to access. Stacy Thompson, executive director of Livable Streets, says she would give the progress on that front a C+ on her progress report. Her organization is a watchdog of the Go Boston 2030 plan.

While Thompson is frustrated with the slow progress of the bike lane initiatives, she points to some success stories. On Beacon Street, the city has created protected bike paths by strategically placing parked cars and barriers between the cyclists and the motorists. That keeps the cyclists safe from the fast-moving vehicles and keeps them out of traffic.

"That's not something we had a couple of years ago. A couple of years ago, that person would have been driving alongside traffic going 30, 40, 50 mph," said Thompson.

However, that hasn't happened everywhere or even in most neighborhoods.


"People often talk about the cow paths in Boston, and it's such a problem. I think it's our greatest asset because wide straight arterials are very dangerous," said Thompson.

She says those straight roads lead to more speeding and the windy, narrow roads of Boston can slow people down. While we may spend a lot of time sitting in traffic, that doesn't mean speeding isn't a problem. It is one of the biggest complaints to the city.

Go Boston 2030 is trying to slow people down in the name of safety with its Vision Zero initiative. The goal is to eliminate all fatal and serious crashes within a decade.

At the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue is a white ghost bike that serves as a memorial to Anita Kurmann, a bicyclist killed at the spot in 2015 when hit by a turning truck. After her death, the city initially took action, but Thompson says they have not maintained the barriers, and that forces some trucks and cars to make a wide turn to avoid hitting cyclists and pedestrians. She says the posts have been missing since winter. NBC10 Boston watched as car after car cut right over it.

On the same corner, we watched a bicyclist trying to cross. He rode the wrong way up the bike lane. Thompson pointed out that he was "going the wrong direction because he doesn't have a safe crossing." He cut through traffic across all lanes, making a break for it.

Thompson says many bike paths stop all over the city.

"You wouldn't get into a car and drive on a road that just drops off, and we are asking our cyclists to do that every day in the city," explained Thompson.

She calls the over 4,000 bike and pedestrian crashes in Boston last year "a public health crisis," and says lack of maintenance, bike lanes that end abruptly and too few barriers are keeping the city from reaching its ambitious safety goal.


If you aren't biking, you may be on one of the 19,000 daily bus trips in Roslindale. On Washington Street, the city is testing a bus-only lane. What once took 45 minutes to go a little over a mile to the train has been cut to eight minutes. However, there is no bus-only lane for the commute home.

What do those same commuters do in the afternoon commute?

"They do what they have always done," said Thompson. "They sit in traffic."


Thompson says the Go Boston 2030 slated improvements to the Emerald Necklace, sometimes called the "broken necklace," are still not finished. Thompson says it's called "broken" because "there are gaps between our parks, like Moakley Park and Franklin Park, where you might be able to walk or bike comfortably, but you hop on Columbia Road, and the bus doesn't work, and there aren't many trees, and it feels unsafe."

One goal is to add more trees and wider sidewalks.

Thompson says the ideas for Go Boston 2030 are good ones, but the progress of completion is slow-going.

"We, as advocates, are frustrated we aren't seeing more changes more quickly, and by the city's own standards, they need to move faster to achieve their Go Boston 2030," she said.

In a statement, the Boston Transportation Department wrote:

"Since the release of the plan in March of 2017 the City of Boston has made significant strides in implementing Go Boston 2030. With more than a decade remaining, more than half of the 57 projects and policies detailed in the Action Plan are already implemented or in the design pipeline," the Boston Transportation Department said in a statement. "Additionally, Mayor Walsh has provided for substantial investments over the past two years to ensure staff expansion and increased resources that are allowing us to ramp up efforts and advance toward our goals even faster in the years ahead."

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