Disjointed Traffic Signals Frustrate Boston Drivers

“You have three lights in 50 yards, and the middle one will be green and the other two won’t. Then the opposite. No one’s going anywhere,” Uber driver Felipe Rios said to the Herald last week.

by Sean Philip Cotter, Boston Herald / March 7, 2019

(TNS) — Boston drivers are seeing red over out-of-sync traffic lights they say force frequent braking and create gridlock, problems City Hall says it hopes to reduce with new technology, though transportation officials say they’d rather get people out of cars and into public transit or on bikes.

“You have three lights in 50 yards, and the middle one will be green and the other two won’t. Then the opposite. No one’s going anywhere,” Uber driver Felipe Rios told the Herald last week, voicing a common gripe about constant stops and starts that he and other drivers see as unnecessary.

In numerous Herald interviews with cabbies and ride-share drivers, the same thoroughfares kept coming up: Surface Road along the Greenway, intersections around Causeway Street, the Longwood medical area, downtown, and the entire length of Massachusetts Avenue. Boylston Street is often well synced, but a few blocks over, drivers on Commonwealth Avenue have to stop constantly. Complaints of heavy congestion in several of those areas are borne out by the city’s own data. Stretches of road on both sides of the Greenway, roads around TD Garden, Congress Street and Mass. Ave are rated among the worst by Boston’s traffic engineers, falling between “high” and “very high,” the city’s top classification for congestion.

Cab driver Jean Pierre, sitting on State Street near a bad stretch of Congress, pointed to the intersection ahead of him and said, “We need them to understand there’s so many areas where they need to implement things like that.”

City transportation chief Gina Fiandaca said Boston’s many winding, looping streets make synchronization difficult, though most of the streets that prompted sync complaints are broad, straight boulevards.

“We’re an old city, and we’re trying to really accommodate a variety of roadway users,” Fiandaca said.

A recent national study found Boston has the worst congestion in the country, worse than even Los Angeles. But Fiandaca said making traffic in Boston move faster isn’t her top concern.

“Our pedestrian safety programs are our No. 1 priority,” Fiandaca said, citing concerns that synced lights lead to speeding and put pedestrians and cyclists in danger.

She said the city and state are about to put in “adaptive” traffic signals in the Seaport. These computer-controlled lights interact and change their cycles to adjust to traffic in real time.

“I think it would certainly help,” Fiandaca said, adding the city could install adaptive lights in other areas.

In the Boston Traffic Management Center in City Hall, traffic officials monitor 228 traffic cameras aimed at intersections, making on-the-spot timing changes every day. On a five-year basis, they review each of the 593 intersections that have traffic lights in the city monitoring system, tweaking about 60 per year.

But a state agency traffic expert told the Herald there is more that could be done to improve traffic flow.

“There’s locations where signal coordination along a corridor could make a huge difference,” said Sarah Lee, assistant director of transportation at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. She said in each case it’s a balancing act between moving cars more smoothly and keeping the streets safe.

Drivers say the gridlock is sometimes so bad that even when lights are green, they’re stopped.

“You can go through two green lights and not move,” said cabbie Robert Zebedeyo.

Between the pedestrians, bikes and badly synced lights, cab driver Gary Lavitman said, “They’re squeezing the cars out of the picture.”

©2019 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.