No, You're Not Dreaming: Your Commute Is Getting Worse

If you drive to work in Boston, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “could this traffic get any worse?” Well, it has. In a new report from Seattle-based Inrix, a connected car and transportation analytics firm, Boston is now the seventh-most traffic-congested United States city – up one spot from last year – and No. 19 worldwide.

Besides being super annoying, traffic congestion hurts the economy. Consider this: The average Boston commuter spent 14% of their driving time in congested traffic areas in 2017, resulting in a $2,086 loss in productivity per driver – or $5.7 billion citywide. Ouch.

Why is Boston traffic deteriorating? Let’s consider two of the causes:

1. More people across the Commonwealth are working

According the St. Louis Fed, Massachusetts’ unemployment rate dipped to 3.1% by the end of 2017, a 10-year low. That number has notched up to 3.5%, but even still, these figures mean roughly 325,000 residents of the Commonwealth have gone back to work just since July of 2017. That fewer of our neighbors are unemployed is unquestionably good, but the math is fairly simple: when more people are working, more people are driving to work — worsening traffic.

2. Ride-hailing has exploded across the Commonwealth

We’re letting others drive us to work as well. Ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft, and Fasten have exacerbated an already dire traffic situation in Eastern Massachusetts. According to a survey conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, these apps have taken commuters – including many of us “dreaded Millennials” – who’d otherwise be utilizing public transportation and put us in traffic. The survey found that 60 percent of commuters who use these apps say they would not be in a car were they not able to hail a car on their phone. That means fewer people are taking the MBTA trains, buses, and commuter rail lines to work, resulting in more cars on the road at high-volume traffic times.

Will it get better?

Communities and towns are addressing traffic congestion in different ways. Consider the traffic-ridden Seaport where, as tenant demand continues to drive up rental rates, developer Millennium Partners has offered a creative – and some might say outlandish – solution: an aerial cable car system to elevate ground traffic.

Back on the ground, infrastructure improvements may hold the most hope for decreasing traffic. For instance, the long-awaited renovations and upgrades to the Longfellow Bridge – which connects Boston’s North End, West End and Back Bay to Cambridge – are slated to finally wrap up in May of this year. With the massive “Hub on Causeway” development undertaking and continued demand for the Kendall Square sub-market, the reopening of the bridge will help alleviate some of the traffic in an area with plenty of demand from tenants.

Finally, don’t underestimate the impact individuals can have when they make changes in their commuting routines. For instance – and maybe this is a challenge for my fellow Millennials – I’ve made a resolution this year to start biking to work. Once the doldrums of February and March give way to a lovely Boston Spring, I vow to make a concerted effort to save an Uber or Lyft trip leveraging the Hubway Bike System. Maybe there are others who wish to join me in this commitment. Our bodies, wallets, and fellow commuters will thank us.

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