Thursday, August 16, 2007

Place Your Bets, Gentleman! (Storrow Drive & the Esplanade)

Surprise, surprise...the Storrow Drive Tunnel Repair is going to be far more expensive and take far longer than originally envisioned. So the Patrick Administration is floating the idea of putting a temporary bypass road onto the Esplanade while the tunnel is completely rebuilt. This idea was floated, and shot down, several months ago when the project was first announced.

The bypass road will extend about 40ft into the Esplanade, and reduce construction time by six months, and save about $5 million. On a several hundred million dollar (and two year) plan, that doesn't seem like much, does it? However, it's a big deal because it means that Storrow Drive can continue handling close to the 100,000+ cars that drive on it every opposed to trying to funnel those cars through Beacon Hill and Back Bay.

Yeah, think about that for a second: the already-traffic-choked Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods trying to cope with many tens of thousands of new cars every day for about two years. And that's assuming they finish on time. Just like how the Big Dig was supposed to be a few years, and instead took 15 and counting. Yikes.

Nevertheless, local Beacon Hill residents, and City Councilman Michael Ross, are screaming that this bypass road will destroy the Esplanade and they'll chain themselves to the trees before they'll allow it to be built.

I can see their point...the Esplanade is a real jewel in Boston's crown, and to have a major disruption on it for two (or three, or four or five) years really sucks. And there really is no guarantee that after the construction is done, the Esplanade will truly be returned to its current "impressively decent" state.

However, let's take a look at the alternative: those same residents screaming about "their" precious Esplanade will be the same residents screaming about the horrible traffic lasting until 2am every night if the bypass isn't built. Not to mention the incredible disruption to commuter traffic; since Storrow Drive is a major artery it will have a ripple effect across the entire region. That means lost worker productivity and an already-overburdened (and under-resourced) MBTA subway getting hammered even more. Not to mention the incredible environmental impact that millions of cars idling in traffic for an extra two or three hours per day will have.

The ultimate costs to business, the state and to ourselves could well run into the billions. I don't know what the exact number is, but the Patrick administration bettter figure that out quick because I'm willing to bet it's a helluva lot more than the entire construction project will cost.

And someone ought to remind those selfish SOB "Beautiful People" on Beacon Hill to think of the entire state a little more, instead of only themselves.


Ron Newman said...

I'm sorry, but protecting the park is much more important than accommodating automobile traffic from out of town. Remove the parallel parking from both sides of Beacon Street, between Arlington and Clarendon Street, and you've now got plenty of room to detour all the Storrow Drive traffic.

Ross Levanto said...

I agree with Ron. Many many people use the Esplanade, including from many other neighborhoods besides Beacon Hill and many other towns besides Boston.

The other issue here is that the State came out with the proposal for the bypass road completely out of the blue, even though there is a committee investigating what plan is best for all parties involved.

wit_happens said...

We live on Comm. Ave between Berkeley and Clarendon. We're expecting our first child in December, and I don't relish the idea of a permanent traffic jam on the street below our apartment. It's pretty clear that there are serious health risks to living near high-congestion traffic areas.

I love the Esplanade too, but it's not as if Storrow Drive is completely unobtrusive in its current location, either.

Ron Newman said...

If traffic is detoured onto two blocks of Beacon Street, it would not affect you at all down on Commonwealth Ave.

Anonymous said...

Sure, they'll clean it up afterwards. Just like the temporary closure of the E train from Heath to Arborway.

Charlie D. said...

Believe it or not, the world would not come to an end if Storrow Drive was closed, either temporarily or permanently.

Cities around the country and around the world have been tearing down urban highways and reducing road capacity. For example: The Embarcadero in San Francisco, West Side Highway in New York. Cities are reducing capacity by creating bus-only lanes or widening sidewalks. Catastrophic gridlock has not followed.

The concept of induced demand is well understood at this point. If there is a fast, convenient road, people will use it. If you take it away, people will use other roads, travel at different times, switch modes, or find other solutions.

A recent British study proves this point:

What's more important, having Mass Pike #2 or protecting and improving some of the more important green space in Boston. (And it's a park not just used by Back Bay and Beacon Hill residents, either. I live in Allston, which has very little parkland, and I use it quite often.)