Bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-93 South. Getting clipped as a speeding driver cuts you off. Slow drivers clogging up the passing lane. Evening rush hour starting the mid-afternoon. These are just some of the things Boston drivers say they’ve experienced on the roads in the last year.
We had anecdotal evidence of the bad traffic before, with readers sharing what the roads were like over the summer as more people returned to their normal commutes. Since then, Boston has been named the fourth most congested city in the country, with the average driver losing 78 hours due to traffic, according to the latest INRIX 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard.
The early days of the pandemic saw a sharp decline in the number of drivers on the road and the amount of traffic they faced. Before the pandemic, Boston was the most congested city in the country and the average driver lost more than 149 hours due to traffic in 2019. The early lockdowns of 2020 led to Boston’s traffic decreasing by 68%, but things are quickly getting back to normal.
We asked Boston.com readers if they’d noticed their regular commutes getting longer as the pandemic goes on, and they confirmed what the data tells us — things are going from bad to worse for Boston-area drivers.
“2021 has proven to be a soul-destroying year of crushing commutes,” Paul C. from North Attleboro said. “[T]raffic accident delays were so bad that my kids didn’t know me by the time I got home!”
Readers report that people on the roads have forgotten both the rules of the road and their manners.
“Everyone thinks they are the only ones on the road with someplace to be. Rude, pushy, dangerous, cutting off, pulling out without looking,” Steve S. from Wayland said. “Oh yeah, and still on their phones every chance they get.”
As for why the roads have gotten as bad they are, some readers said it was an inevitable consequence of lockdown restrictions lifting, but others speculated that changes to roads have made things worse by creating more bottleneck roads and fewer options for parking. Boston and surrounding communities have increased the number of bike and bus lanes on the roads over the last year.
The change, and the decreased number of drivers on the road during the earlier heights of the pandemic, led some readers to take the streets by bike instead of a car.
“The best thing to come out of the pandemic is my desire to ride my bike to work,” said one reader.
A poll by MassINC Polling Group conducted in June of this year found that 75% of Bostonians support creating bike lanes separated from cars, even if it means less space for vehicles on the road. Several readers, however, blame those new bike lanes for the congested roads drivers are suffering through.
“Boston, a city with an already overburdened, limited, and outdated road system decided to add bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes. Add to it, droves of people moved to the ‘burbs (who are not riding bikes or taking buses, some of whom still need to commute in,” said MN from Boston. “New normal is varying workday schedules [and] flexibility with people on the roads at all times. What did we think would happen?”
Things have gotten so bad on the roads that some readers say they’re limiting their trips in and out of the city to only the absolutely necessary to avoid the headaches of gridlock traffic and reckless drivers.
“Traffic into Boston, even at odd hours, has become BRUTAL and way worse than pre-pandemic. It’s gotten so bad that what used to take me 20 to 30 minutes to get into Boston now can easily take 45 or more,” said Elizabeth from Medford. “I used to enjoy going into the city for shopping, restaurants, cafes, but I’ve been avoiding it more, eating more in the Greater Boston area, and shopping more online. Just not worth the extra time, bottlenecks, and limited parking.”
So we asked readers where their usual commutes started and ended, and how long it typically takes them to get where they need to go. Several people who responded described commutes that were nearly twice as long in the evenings than in the mornings. One reader said their typical commute into and out of Charlestown takes “[t]wice to three times longer than it should.”
Ahead, you’ll find a sampling of readers’ experiences with driving in Boston over the course of the last year.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
If anything it’s worse
“In a word, hectic. Since starting a different job in August, my new employer allows three days a week to work remotely. I only commute into the city Monday and Tuesday now. Monday is by far the easier, not-as-stressful day to drive to and from the city. During the past year, traffic has increased substantially, with typical trouble spots re-emerging (i.e., Granite Ave. up through HOV zipper lane exit on Expressway NB) in force. Coupled with aggressive drivers who have no regard or respect for other folks on the road, the experience is harrowing and tense every day now. Possibly with the holidays and year-end, more folks are likely on vacation, so the past few commutes have been quite stress-free. I am not looking forward to the start of next year with more people going into their offices, along with the winter weather.” — Mason, Fall River
“Massachusetts drivers have always been aggressive. However, now they are aggressive and drive as if they had never driven in Boston before. In the last month, we have seen as least three cases of drivers driving the wrong way down a one-way road. We have seen drivers barrel straight into a rotary, not yielding to people already in the rotary. We have seen a lot of drivers swerve in or out of an exit at the last minute (probably because they were confused by the new exit numbers.) It’s been bad.” — T, Salem
“Drivers interpret the ‘rules of the road’ as just a suggestion in Boston! Pre-pandemic drivers were crazy but post-pandemic they are outright insane! I spend more time in my car observing people jockeying to go two inches ahead of another driver — like a video game gone bad. The thing is, there are still fewer people on the roads but the craziness has escalated far beyond what it was pre-pandemic. My solution: buy a Duck Boat as my daily commuter…” — Kate D., Everett
“Drivers are divided loosely into two groups: 1) The very distracted and therefore dangerous, who are texting or watching videos even at high speed in the left lane of the highway. Usually, however, they drive very slow on the left fast lane (distractedly) so causing enormous back-ups. And if you, tired of waiting, finally dare to pass in front of them, they suddenly wake up and get immediately upset and start chasing you along honking and flashing their lights.
2) The very aggressive, who pass with the red light and zip-speed between lanes crashing into cars that are already occupying the lane. I understand their frustration with slow traffic (e.g. the drivers described above), however, after all that zipping, I often see those same aggressive drivers suddenly slow down (even on the left lane!) to look at their phones. So they are not any better than group 1.
In conclusion, drivers are not making the slightest group effort that is necessary to render a congested area such as Boston Metro even minimally functional.” — Anonymous, Boston
“Driving to work can be as unreliable as the T. On any given day, I can be stuck in one hour of traffic…for the next day to not hit any and have a 25-minute commute to the office. I believe fewer rush-hour commuters are not using the T post COVID and it makes rush hour MUCH worse. Additionally, I have been noticing more fully loaded tractor-trailer trucks on the road, which essentially create a rolling roadblock as they are driving significantly slower than other traffic as it takes them longer to break. I wish the governor would limit the hours tractor-trailer trucks can drive on the I-93 corridor and/or drive through Boston so that they do not make rush hour even worse.” — Jonathan M., Holbrook
“Evening rush hour starts at 1 p.m. now. There is no good time to leave work. It’s horrific leaving the city. Drivers are more aggressive than they were before the pandemic. Even when traffic is flowing at full speed, there are more drivers weaving between cars at speeds above ninety, and they do NOT care how close they’re coming to clipping drivers as they cut you off. I’d love to take the T, but between the cost for the ticket plus parking and the schedule, it’s simply not feasible anymore.” — Melissa K., Providence
“Traffic has shifted from a predictable three-hour window to a constant state of gridlock in and around the city of Boston. Prior to the pandemic, it was common to see traffic ease and begin to flow freely between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and again after 7:00 p.m. These days it is just a constant mess. Drivers are inconsiderate and aloof and the congestion never seems to stop. We are at a point of crisis.” — P.J., Winchester
We’ve returned to “normal” — it’s as bad as it ever was
“I live in Mattapan off of Blue Hill Ave., and I leave my house early so I don’t have to deal with traffic in the morning, but getting home has ALWAYS been a problem. People who live on the South Shore use Blue Hill Ave. as an alternative to taking I-93. So, essentially, it’s highway traffic on Blue Hill Ave., and the ‘road diets’ for UNUSED bike lanes only compounds the problem. Add to that the traffic lights really need to be synchronized so you’re not having to stop every 100 ft. allowing traffic to build up. Traffic has ALWAYS been an issue, and the ‘improvements’ to the roads are only making things worse.” — Russell M., Mattapan
“I still went to the office during COVID and it was an easy 20 minutes each way. Now the mornings have returned to pre-pandemic levels and the afternoons can sometimes be even worse than before. I’ve had some 80-minute rides from Waltham home to Norwood. That’s nuts!” — Greg, Norwood
“I feel like traffic is still moderately less than pre-pandemic. It has definitely picked up a bit more from last year, and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a nightmare, but I don’t feel there is more traffic. More of an issue that I see than traffic is speed. I typically drive relatively fast, well over the speed limit, and people are blowing past me at 90 to 100 m.p.h. Previously I would see this once in a while, maybe one or two cars during my hour commute, but now it’s at least three to four cars at a time, almost pack-like. Anyone else seeing this?” — Michael, Westford
“Last year was great, it seemed like volume was around 40% of what it used to be. Now, it seems like we are around 80% of what it was pre-covid. There is still traffic some days, but it isn’t as bad as it was in the olden days. The nutcases are still out there though, they will never go away. The third lane does seem a little slower than it used to be. People forget in the third lane, you should be passing people. But it now just feels like an elephant parade. Maybe people might be a little nicer and willing to let you switch lanes. Pre-covid commuting was cut-throat, but now it is just aggressive in certain patches instead of the whole time.” — Jon, Attleboro
Still better than prior to the pandemic
“I can no longer take I-93 and Route 128 to work, but the back roads are still not quite as congested as they were pre-pandemic. As for rudeness and bad behavior, it’s worse now than pre-COVID for sure. My theory is that some people who’ve been on the roads during the pandemic are not happy that everyone else is starting to return, and they are behaving badly as a result. Not to put all the blame on them, as I also feel that some who have been off the road have forgotten common courtesy, something our society is in desperate need of these days. Plus there needs to be an increased traffic police presence to go along with the increase in volume.” — Anonymous, Reading
“My workday is ‘off-peak’ times (6 a.m.-2 p.m.) so I am never driving during rush hour. Running after work errands sometimes results in hitting a bit of traffic but nothing so bad that would prevent me from going out.” — Kristyn L., Billerica
“I don’t think it has gotten worse, just think more people are driving now than using public transit. Look at the T, most buses I see are practically empty and pre-COVID they were packed.” — Julio R., Somerville
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.