To Curb Traffic, Don’t Build Roads
To the Editor,
A common and justified gripe among East Boston residents of all backgrounds, cultures, and experiences is our neighborhood’s relentless traffic. Situated at the juncture of two major highways and surrounded on three sides by the largest transportation facility in the Greater Boston area, Eastie is consistently and frustratingly choked with automobiles, from passenger cars to massive eighteen-wheelers. They clog our streets and squares with noise, debris, and pollution. They render both walking and biking almost impossible due to safety hazards, and they create logistical nightmares for emergency vehicles. Regardless of our personal or political views on anything else, it’s safe to say that we all want to reduce traffic.
With this constant community irritation as a backdrop, it is all the more bewildering and saddening that some of our neighbors are backing Cargo Ventures’ (CV) attempt to take the waterfront along Chelsea Creek to build a road for yet more heavy traffic to make its way to and from Logan Airport. CV has reached out to residents promising that the “Haul Road” will be a panacea for East Boston’s traffic problem – and to well-meaning people who are tired of the constant congestion on our roads, it is an enticing prospect. The road will increase traffic, not lessen it. It will result in more trucks in the neighborhood, not fewer. It will greatly exacerbate the very problem it purports to solve, at the expense of those who call East Boston home. And you don’t need a degree in engineering or planning to understand why.
“If you build it, they will come” is a simple adage that explains a great deal about demand for any resource – in this case, highway capacity for cars and trucks. The current amount of available roadway isn’t sufficient for the number of vehicles that are using it, creating traffic jams. But if you build additional roads, such as the corridor along Chelsea Creek, it’s not the case that the same number of cars and trucks will simply spread out onto the additional real estate. Rather, the larger amount of road space will be an invitation to yet more cars and trucks to use the roads. In a very short amount of time, all of the roads, both old and new, are choked with as much traffic as before.
To put it simply, if we build another road, more vehicles will come, and the results will be more destructive than we could possibly imagine. The haul road will invite more trucks to make the trip from the airport to the creek using the existing Coughlin Bypass, which is currently shared by trucks, Silver Line buses, and passenger cars. With the bypass serving more trucks, there will be less space for cars, which will use neighborhood surface streets instead and increase gridlock. Furthermore, just as described above, soon the new truck road won’t have the capacity to hold all the new trucks and will itself be clogged with traffic. When that happens, many of the trucks will just go back to using Route 1A and surface streets, and we’ll have the same traffic situation as before. Only it’ll be much worse, because there will be double or triple the number of overall trucks in the area. So we’ll be left with the same snarled streets but twice or three times the amount of noise and pollution in the air. The cargo facilities win because they make money. Everyone else in the neighborhood loses.
There are plenty of things to be done that would actually solve the traffic problem in East Boston. Massport could expand public transit options to get to Logan so that fewer travelers feel the need to drive there. The city could clear lanes for high-frequency bus service on major thoroughfares to decrease our reliance on cars. The MBTA could hasten necessary infrastructure upgrades to ensure that Blue Line service remains reliable and incentivize residents with discount fares. All of these measures are feasible, relatively easy to implement, and highly effective. What we absolutely cannot afford to do is hand over a block of prime waterfront territory to a private corporation. And we cannot allow that corporation to pull the wool over our eyes by claiming that it is doing this for our benefit. We all agree on the need to get traffic under control. Let’s rally around real solutions and reject the schemes and lies of those who place profit above the interests of our neighborhood.
Member of the
Logan Community Clean Air Coalition