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The return of serious rush-hour slowdowns, and where to keep your phone packed away

Posted by Nichole Davis  April 7, 2013 09:45 PM

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I'm just going to throw this out there: this is not going to be a pleasant week for many commuters.

In fact, this week is going to be the start of headaches that will be sticking around for weeks - if not months - to come... and many of you will be affected. The big projects getting going this week are going to be in Cambridge and Needham, as well as on the Tobin and Sagamore bridges. We've been talking about the Tobin and Sagamore work for the past couple of weeks, so that's been expected. River road commuters, though - heads up...

The William J. Reid overpass is not one that you would necessarily know by name right away. For those of you that travel on Memorial Drive, you'd recognize it as the overpass that takes you over the rotary by the BU Bridge. Over the past few years, several structural deficiencies have been found in the foundation of the bridge. The DOT says they're going to be shutting it down to tackle those problems -- but this isn't a problem that can be solved with a week or two of work.

The overpass will be closed for six months, give or take a few weeks, for crews to get the bridge back into tip-top shape. Not even bicyclists or pedestrians are going to be able to use it, so if that's your normal exercise route, you'll have to re-configure it. You can still commute through the area without having to go on a lengthy detour -- you will just be sent into the rotary under the overpass, where you can then choose to get back onto Memorial in whichever direction you desire.

That's going to cause some pretty jammed up traffic, though -- especially on a road that's already dealing with bumper to bumper delays during drive times. I'll keep you updated as the project progresses.

Also, if you're a Needham or Newton Highlands resident, two well-traveled roads are going to start getting a facelift in the coming week. Starting tonight (Sunday), DOT workers are going to start setting up work crews on Highland Avenue and Needham Street. Milling and paving will be taking place each night through the third week of April -- that is, barring any freak major weather problems, such as some more snow...

Traffic restrictions will be put in place each night Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 PM to 5:00 AM. DOT spokeslady Sara Lavoie says some midday closures could be possible, too, as crews get out there to re-adjust manholes and some drainage equipment.

Of course, the big story that everyone is dreading (at least if you live on the North Shore) is the Tobin work that's looming. According to the Highway Operations Center at the DOT, 10:15 AM on Monday is when the permanent lane closures will go into place for the spring, summer, and majority of the fall. If you missed it - both directions will be affected by these closures, which will take the bridge down to two lanes each way. And, of course, traffic mayhem will commence. Allow plenty of extra time to get into and out of Boston from here on out. If the delays are anything like last year, you can expect (especially in the afternoon) that the Leverett Connector, river roads, and Zakim Bridge will be heavily jammed downtown as well.
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It's not unusual to hear of criminal acts occurring on the MBTA - from fare jumpers to theft to assault, it's all been said and done. However, according to a new investigation by the Herald, there are a few stations on the Red Line where you may want to keep a little more alert.

They say a review of the T's latest available crime stats shows an overwhelming amount of criminal activity taking place in just a few stations -- and many of them are in the same area. The report says over one third of robberies reported in the MBTA subway system in the first few months of this year occurred at Shawmut, Fields Corner, Savin Hill, and Downtown Crossing stations.

Many of the robberies seemingly include snatching cell phones from unsuspecting riders, as the article outlines:

  • On March 21, a woman and her husband aboard a Red Line train at Downtown Crossing overheard a group of teens talking about robbing her. As the train pulled into the Savin Hill Station, the doors opened and one of the suspects grabbed her phone and fled...
  • On March 25, a 15-year-old male was charged for the unarmed robbery of three iPhones at the Savin Hill and Fields Corner stations.
  • On Jan. 5, T police were called to the Downtown Crossing Station, when a man tried, but failed, to rip the phone from the hands of another rider, near the Chauncy Street entrance...
  • After a rider was robbed of an iPhone Feb. 18 at Fields Corner Station, T cops managed to track down seven suspects connected to the crime on March 7.

This spike in iPhone theft isn't just happening on our rails, either. It's called "Apple picking", and it's occurring more than you may think. According to a July 2012 article from the Wall Street Journal:

National data aren't available, but in New York, there were more than 26,000 incidents of electronics theft in the first 10 months of 2011—81% involving mobile phones—according to an internal police-department document. In Washington, D.C., cellphone-related robberies jumped 54% from 2007 to 2011, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. And the data may drastically undercount thefts. Since many don't involve violence, many victims don't bother reporting them.

Check out this Storify, put together by Matthew Hurst, which shows staggering rates of iPhone theft in New York City and beyond. It's become such an issue there that the NYPD has even created a task force just to deal with the problem.

How can you try to prevent your phone from becoming the next one swiped on the train? It seems simple, but... if you're set up near the doors for your ride, consider keeping your phone in your pocket as opposed to out in plain sight, even if you were thinking about writing an email or reading an article. Many thefts are of the snatch-and-grab variety, and if you're close to the door, chances are your phone will be halfway out of the station in someone else's hand before you even know what happened.

Also, if you haven't already, register for Apple's "Find My iPhone" app. Not only can it locate your phone if someone unfortunately swipes it, but you can also send commands to the phone to completely delete all your personal information, among other features. You can learn more here. And, of course, putting a passcode on your phone will help slow down someone from getting into your info, should it get nabbed.

As for the Red Line problems? The Herald article goes on to note that the MBTA Police have acknowledged the issue, and say they're on it - somewhat sneakily. Chief of MBTA Police Paul Macmillan said plainclothes officers will be riding the rails on the Red Line in the more heavily-affected areas. So, we'll have to see if their tactic works -- but, for now, be sure to keep your phone close and your eyes open.
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No matter what you call our (arguably) impressive moves, Boston drivers know how to get to where they're going as quickly as possible -- all while really getting under the skin of most everyone around them in the process.

A new article by Ben Zimmer over on the Globe's website (may require login) discusses putting a label on our bad driving skills - the majority of which seem to involve navigating busy intersections in highly illegal fashions.

In the article, Zimmer asks if there's a specific "regional" move that really grinds your gears. I can tell you that this one is absolutely mine:

While many use it in the quick-turn-on-green sense, “The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets” says the “Boston left” refers to a different kind of shady turn at an intersection with no light: “You pull out into the right-bound side, thereby blocking traffic, while waiting for an opening in the traffic on the left-bound side."

I'm already getting road rage just thinking about it and have much worse names for it than "the Boston Left". This is a PG-13 blog, however, so I'll be nice.

What's yours? How would you rate your city driving skills? Do you just avoid coming in to town altogether because of the madness? Let me know.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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