Combating Traffic Congestion: The City of Boston’s Innovative Solutions
Traffic on Boston’s Interstate 93, notorious for traffic jams. Photo courtesy Bob O’Connor.
The last time you were stuck in traffic, you probably wondered if congestion could get any worse than it is in Boston. The answer is yes – but not by much. Greater Boston ranks seventh in the nation for traffic congestion (average hours spent in traffic). The city itself has been rated the 18th most congested city in the world.
More than five million residents travel within the Commonwealth each weekday, according to the state Department of Transportation. And Boston is seeing a surge of traffic as the Seaport, Fenway and downtown all experience building booms.
In response, the city and the state are seeking new and unconventional strategies – not only to de-congest morning and evening traffic, but to help in our region’s efforts to fight climate change. (State officials last month approved new rules to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 25% below 1990 levels within the next three years.) The solutions for both range from the familiar to the unusual.
For instance, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) recently announced a plan for a rush-hour ferry service between North Station and the South Boston waterfront. The implementation of the ferry service, which could potentially come by next spring, would create a more efficient means of transit for the nearly 4,000 commuters who go through North Station on the way to the Seaport each day.
A ferry on Boston Harbor. Photo courtesy Boston Harbor Cruises.
Millennium Partners, a major Boston development firm, has suggested a strikingly innovative solution to congestion problems: an aerial gondola between South Station and the Seaport District. Trams of this kind have already been successful in New York and Portland, Oregon, among others. By removing 15,000 people from the streets, it would avoid additional ground level traffic and leave more space for those using other modes of transportation during their commute.
A proposed aerial gondola in Chicago. Rendering courtesy Crain’s.
The city is also considering an even more creative strategy to reduce the number of cars moving around the city streets – underwater parking garages. With downtown surrounded by the Charles River, the harbor and Fort Point Channel, there is plenty of space to implement these unique structures, which could help reduce pollution and traffic caused by drivers circling the streets looking for parking and the congestion caused by double and triple parking. A side benefit would be the reduction in asphalt lots, which absorb large amounts of heat and, in turn, raise surrounding temperatures.
An upcoming underwater parking garage in Amsterdam. Rendering courtesy Boston Globe.
Finally, the city and the state are gearing up for the inevitable introduction of driverless cars, which a new study suggests could significantly reduce congestion and air pollution, as well as free up parking space. The report predicts that traffic could decrease between 11 and 28 percent, and that average travel time for commuters could be reduced by 11 to 30 percent.
Boston is not alone in combatting congestion. Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and others are all facing similar issues. With pressure growing to both ease congestion and make the cities more sustainable, new and innovative approaches will be needed for traffic control – and developers are now beginning to take notice and take action. The development community should both consider the effects of these changes when planning new structures and use its own creative capacity to help solve the issues faced by the city and the region. It’s not only a civic duty, but it will ultimately have a corporate impact as well, helping to make Boston a more attractive place to work, live, and play.
Boston’s skyline along the Charles River. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.
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