DYING IN TRAFFIC

When I lived in Boston, traffic was basic. It was as much “life” as getting up to go to work. I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was fundamental. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding that extra hour — in case traffic was bad. Traffic was usually bad, but sometimes, it was worse. These days, I don’t need to think about traffic because we don’t have it. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection. Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a major issue. It controlled our days. Road work in Boston could make it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from work. It was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a u-turn and went home to the apartment. It was before cell phones, so I had to call the guard at the front desk at Channel 7 and ask him to go outside and tell Garry I couldn’t get there. The next day it was in the papers and TV. The entire city had been gridlocked, the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street, as long as you remembered alternate side of the street parking.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away. Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

We fled Boston. Traffic had taken over our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign or marker to give them a clue where to go. Maps and GPS were useless.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home. It was unnerving.


I must have spent years of my life in traffic. By the time we slouched home, exhausted and beaten, we were wrecks.

Is there a solution to this? Not that I know of.. You don’t find good jobs in small towns or the country. We underestimate how seriously the wear and tear of commuting affects us. It wears us down physically. It tightens our backs and necks. When it take hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Maybe its easier by train, but we haven’t lived anywhere with direct train — or even bus — service to anywhere we worked, so we had to drive.

If not for the commuting, I might have survived longer in the work place, but it was hopeless. One day, something snapped. After that, no amount of pushing was going to keep me going. I was done. There were other reasons too … but if I hadn’t had that two to three-hour twice-a-day commute? I might have found a way to hang on. Traffic has a lot more to do with our survival than we think.

Work is easy. Commuting is a killer.

14 thoughts on “DYING IN TRAFFIC

  1. That’s why they invented the T 😉 The closest I get to Boston in a car is Alewife. I keep my Charle Card fully loaded and do everything on the T. Of course at one point I had to throw away about $20 of useless tokens because i didn’t make it in on time to have them converted…. But, the T is the only way to travel in Boston. (I know people who live there and I think the traffic is a lot better than pre-and-during-Big Dig – they drive everywhere and when i ask about the traffic, they shrug and say “not bad”.)

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    • There is no T here. No T, no bus, no taxi, no minivan. There are feet and cars. Anyplace that has a commuter rail (too far outside Boston to be a T) is far enough away to make it pointless … and the trains are not fast or frequent in this neck of the woods. Apparently once, the 1930s and 40s, there WERE buses and trains.

      Today, the train sweeps through here — once a week — but otherwise, the station closed years ago. These days, it’s a real estate office.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Here in the UK, there is a new bicycle-highway specifically built between Leeds and surrounding cities in West Yorkshire. Leeds is growing economically and the commerce is expanding. The idea is for people to ride their bikes into work. Avoiding traffic and saving costs. So far so good, it is working. It took off 20 mins from my normal commute into the city and cost me nothing just sweat. I like it.

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    • People ride bikes, but it’s not as easy locally. It’s a very hilly area. We do have a long bike trail along the river, but that’s entertainment, not commuting. No one rides bikes in town. You’d get run over. In addition to being very crowded, Boston has some really terrible drivers. They drive without regard for rules or laws. They can be quite scary.

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  3. There has to be a better way. The commuting here is a nightmare and getting worse every day. We try to schedule our outing to off times too. Then we try using all the back roads. We’d use bicycles more if the distances weren’t so far and the weather inclement.
    Leslie

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    • Boston is an old city with a lot of twisting roads. In town, badly broken roads with potholes and cobblestones … all the things that make bicycles dangerous. Big trucks, narrow roads. There is a train (the T) and sensible people use them, but you need to live near a stop that goes where you need to go. Even when we lived in Boston, there was no direct transport to downtown. It was a black neighborhood and they didn’t apparently think we actually needed transportation. I’m not even going to say how we all felt about that.

      Bicycles are fine if you aren’t leaving the local area, but it’s more than 70 miles to Boston. A bit of a haul.

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  4. I couldn’t do a commute that involved traffic. Heck ,my car would be toast by now if it had to crawl along on highways for hours a day. My idea of a killer commute is getting stopped at the railroad crossing right before Mecca when the train decided to stop, start, back up, stop, move forward again, stop, inch backwards, etc. etc. until it finally gets on the line it needs to be on. We don’t have traffic, but we definitely have annoying train crossings…

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    • As the job market dried up locally, my commutes got longer and longer. At one point, I was commuting more than 200 miles daily and it beat me into plasma. I don’t even want to think what it did to the car.

      Here, we have traffic like you do, but where you have trains, we have convoys of school buses. Don’t go ANYWHERE between 2 and 4 in the afternoon!

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    • Boston IS a great town and we loved it. We still do, when we can convince ourselves to deal with the traffic and visit. It’s also a great walking city. You can hoof it from one end of downtown to the other and we used to do just that.

      I can’t do that kind of walking anymore, which is a problem pretty much everywhere we go. But while we lived in Boston, we walked. Everywhere. In all kinds of weather.

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  5. Marilyn – In the months past, I have been thinking of going to Boston to see all the History of our Nation. I would just LOVE to see the Old North Church and much more. Was going to spend 3 day’s there, but then I decided against it for the reason’s you mentioned. I was told that traffic is awful! If you don’t know where your going it will be a nightmare! No thanks!

    Philadelphia is another bad place to visit using the congested highway’s. One of them is the Schuykill Expressway that is the major artery into Philly. It’s terrible! I hate it! 3 lanes of congesting traffic going nowhere at times. You sit there, just like up there where you are. Lot’s of traffic accidents and fender benders. I have found another way to get into Philly. It’s not as bad. Cheers! Les

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    • Boston is GREAT. Just find a place to stay IN Boston and take public transportation. I don’t know about Philly. Haven’t been there for a really long time, but Boston is a wonderful walking city. Just not a good one for a car. No American city is good for cars.

      Ditto New York, by the way. And Chicago and LA and DC. You have to find a hotel IN the city and use public transport to get around. There are also tons of tours available and if you go to a travel agent, she/he can set you up.

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