Although many of the details regarding the Tremont Street redesign have yet to be decided, there is one significant change on the horizon that apparently is set in stone, or rather asphalt. The number of lanes designated for vehicular traffic will be reduced from four down to two—one in each direction—along the busy stretch between Massachusetts Avenue and Herald Street.
With increased construction in the South End, traffic along Tremont Street has increased in recent years, especially in the more commercialized area between Dartmouth and Berkeley streets. Cutting the number of traffic lanes will certainly add to the congestion.
But the problems associated with a single lane go beyond the basic math. Imagine the backup of cars and trucks behind a #43 bus that is stopped while taking on passengers replenishing Charlie Cards or stopped while a rider in a wheelchair is assisted by the bus driver. Consider the line of vehicles held up while some motorist struggles to parallel park, or waiting behind a police car that is stopped to issue a ticket or make an arrest.
Think about the impact of these scenarios during rush hour.
Hopefully, hurried and harried drivers will resist the temptation to cross the center line attempting to bypass the stalled traffic.
We are told that this change is for the propose of pedestrian safety: to avoid the peril created when a driver traveling on the inside lane is unable to see a pedestrian crossing in front of a car stopped in the outside lane. But there are other strategies for solving this problem, such as limiting the number of non-signaled crosswalks and then equipping the remaining ones with pedestrian-activated flashing beacons—the type being used successfully in many areas in and around Boston.
The 1,400-foot segment of Tremont Street between Dartmouth and Berkeley streets, for example, include six non-signaled crosswalks (one at Upton Street, two at Union Park, one at Hanson Street, and two at Milford Street). These could be replaced by two crosswalks (one between Dartmouth and Clarendon and another between Clarendon and Berkeley) each equipped with an on-demand pedestrian crossing signal. These along with the traffic signals at Dartmouth, Clarendon and Berkeley streets would offer safety and convenience for pedestrians seeking to traverse the four lanes of Tremont Street while preserving the number of traffic lanes.
Notwithstanding the well-intentioned concern for pedestrian safety, it would seem that much of the motivation is to accommodate protected bike lanes in both directions. The move to enhance bike safety is certainly worthwhile. However, there are other locations for bike lanes, such as on the less-traveled Shawmut and Warren Avenues, that would not create traffic headaches. Sure, that may inconvenience cyclists a bit, but cars and trucks must similarly work around the maze of one-way streets in the South End.
The city is, of course, encouraging residents and commuters to take a bike or a hike, and leave their cars at home whenever possible. Still there are many residents, including seniors and the disabled, for whom driving is the only option, especially given the track record of the MBTA.
James Alan Fox and Sue Ann Fox