Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: A good ‘sign’ in Boston

The city of Boston is attempting to shake its reputation as a motorist’s nightmare, starting with its traffic lights. In an effort to relieve rush hour congestion ‘-‘- and drivers’ headaches ‘-‘- the Boston Transportation Department decided to re-calibrate the timing of its traffic signals. With some of the changes already effecting positive changes to traffic flow in the Back Bay, this program brings meaningful change to city streets that have seen very little of it in the past.

The transportation department boasts that 60 Back Bay intersections have already seen adjustments in signal timing, with initial estimates showing up to 29 percent reductions in traffic delays. Planners made sure to take pedestrian density and walking patterns into account in the new signal timings, which will help people cross intersections quickly and more safely.

Besides just smoothing commutes and making drivers and pedestrians less irritable, the BTD estimates drivers will spare up to 125,000 gallons of gasoline and 9.5 tons of ground-level carbon monoxide per year, saving drivers money and reducing pollution.

But it’s not just the immediate savings by the city and its drivers and pedestrians that make this program laudable. The BTD instituted a program that has found a way to benefit both drivers and pedestrians, and involves minimal construction delay and implementation costs. It’s the urban planning equivalent of a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure to help circulation. Compared to the years-long open-heart procedure that is the Kenmore Square Improvement Project, the BTD initiative should be a breath of fresh air for the city.

With the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority drowning under its own debt and mismanagement, it is reassuring that other agencies are innovating to solve problems and cut costs. Granted, Boston’s road network is only one piece of the city’s transportation puzzle, but it represents a crucial link for thousands of commuters and Bostonians. Until the MBTA’s dismal financial situation improves, it must look to low-cost solutions to improve its own system, and the BTD’s traffic signal program would be a good case to study.

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