BOSTON - You've heard the saying: it takes an hour to get to Boston from Boston. Boston commuter traffic is notoriously bad but had waned significantly over the course of the pandemic.
In our Question Everything series, we wanted to know: has Boston commuter traffic gotten worse, or is it just our perception?
The data shows: the traffic has gotten worse.
According to numbers given to WBZ by the GPS service Waze, traffic from summer 2022 to summer 2023 has increased in the Boston metro area by the following amounts:
- Boston: Traffic increased by 5.2% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Cambridge: Traffic increased by 5.2% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Newton: Traffic increased by 10.8% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Framingham: Traffic increased by 15% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Somerville: Traffic increased by 2.4% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Waltham: Traffic increased by 12.4% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Quincy: Traffic increased by 8.6% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Salem: Traffic increased by 12.4% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Lowell: Traffic increased by 6% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
- Brockton: Traffic increased by 11.5% in August 2023 compared to August 2022
The Massachusetts' Department of Transportation also tells WBZ its Highway Division is evaluating the evolving traffic over the last two weeks, and that early data suggests there has been very heavy congestion on major roadways.
It may surprise New Englanders to know that the prime crash season is fall, according to CARFAX. "More than 72% of U.S. drivers – roughly 170 million – live in states where Fall is the peak season for accident damage," the organization said. Factors that contribute include increased driving hours in the dark due to earlier sunsets and later sunrises, and weather changes.
WBZ interviewed drivers as they were stuck in backed up traffic at a red light in Medford. "It's terrible," one man said. "It's gotten worse," another added.
Total Traffic in Medford keeps an eye on the roads every hour of every day. Anecdotally, they agree that traffic has picked up. "Definitely people are back from vacation," said Operations Manager George Brown. "I think people are back to their regular routines. Schools are back open. I think more people are returning to the office."
We wanted to know why the traffic was so bad. The US Census data shows that many people are returning to working in the office. Remote workers were down to 15% in 2022 from 18% in 2021, with the trend expected to continue.
Some of that is not by choice, as companies have begun mandating a return to the office.
"The first week of October will be back to being four days in the office if we're within an hour of the office," explained Abby Leger-Jeffrey, who lives in Stoneham and works in Somerville. The question is: what are the qualifications for living one hour from the office? "I mean a five-mile commute takes me close to 45 minutes some days, and even more than that, it can really depend on the day," she said. "The last four months or even the last two months. It's like, just become insane. It's completely unpredictable. You can leave at the same time every day, and it can be different every day."
Plus – data shows fewer people are using public transportation now than they were pre-pandemic, which could contribute to more cars on the road. MBTA data shows that average weekday ridership in July of 2019 was 1,211,009 – compared to 754,051 in August of 2023. That's a nearly 500,000-person difference.
AAA has suggestions for drivers growing frustrated with the commute. The first piece of advice? Change your attitude. "Psychologically, when you're in traffic, you got to remind yourself that you're traffic," said Mark Schieldrop of AAA. "It's not that you're trying to get through, and everybody's in your way, you know, you're that somebody else."
Schieldrop says a more courteous commute could lead to a more peaceful ride. "A Lot of times congestion is caused by people tailgating, not giving other folks space, and the end result is you get these ripples, these waves of people hitting their brake lights, and it really gets worse and worse the farther out you go, so many times you'll be driving along, you seem to grind to a halt for no reason, and next thing you know, you're back up to speed again, and there's no, there's no crash."
Also, AAA recommends leaving yourself extra time each morning, and not relying solely on your GPS to guide you – but rather, to plan your route so you have more control.
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