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So there was never really any question whether, shall we say, “challenging” traffic conditions would return as the COVID-19 pandemic eased up. This is Boston, after all, where cars seem to multiply like rabbits, and everybody has somewhere to be that’s nowhere near where they’re currently at.
But did anyone really think it would get this bad, this fast?
Based on anecdotal evidence (i.e. people complaining on Twitter), we asked Boston.com readers if traffic had actually come back worse than it was before the pandemic. And sure enough, the vast majority say it’s not your imagination: It’s a jungle out there.
Of the more than 400 Boston.com readers who responded to our poll, a full 66% said that the state of Boston-area traffic is indeed worse than pre-pandemic, with drivers seeming to have forgotten how to drive; 22% saying it’s at least just as bad; and a mere 9% saying it hasn’t yet returned to pre-2020 levels.
“People are driving like maniacs … I fear for my life every day,” said Edward from Newburyport, with another anonymous reader lamenting, “People seem to have forgotten how to be even remotely considerate to others.”
In fact, it’s gotten so bad that it’s even drawn the attention of Fundación MAPFRE and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, who just launched a new public service campaign aimed at encouraging drivers to be “aggressively nice” while on the road. (How they act at home remains their own business.) Called the “Look Both Ways” program, it’s a useful reminder that we’ve reached the point where Massachusetts drivers need to be spoken to as if they were 8.
(FYI, included in the program is an online video game that allows you to measure how good a driver you really are. Spoiler alert: You are probably pretty bad.)
Meanwhile, more than 50 readers shared their recent traffic horror stories, citing excessive speed, a failure to follow basic rules of the road, the proliferation of bike and bus lanes, and drivers ignoring the state’s hands-free driving law as problems contributing to the mounting issues on the roadways. Maybe Nikki from Braintree said it best: “The time I spend on 93 South each week feels longer than the total time I spent in quarantine.”
Here’s a sampling of what readers had to say.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“Traffic has definitely become worse as things have begun re-opening and lots of people are commuting to work again, but it still is not as bad as it was pre-pandemic (yet). I assume that’s due to a significant amount of people still working remotely. There’s still the same old brutal traffic standstill spots though — 95 in Dedham/Canton, 95/93 Cloverleaf in Woburn, anything north and south of the city on 93, the Pike inside of 95, and of course, weekend Cape traffic. I need to hit the Powerball so I can just travel by helicopter.” — Chris, Boston
“I think it’s the same as before. It just feels worse because we got used to less traffic and forgot how miserable it was. Last Friday I met coworkers at Assembly Row. It took me 35 minutes to get there and an hour and 35 minutes to get back to Randolph.” — Courtney, Randolph
“My 18-mile commute during COVID was about 25-30 minutes. As of last week it is about 1 to 1.25 hours. Rt. 3 South from Tyngsboro to Burlington is just back to being miserable.”
“People are driving like maniacs. Eighteen-wheel trucks traveling in the high speed lane on Route 95. Route 95 has become the German Autobahn. No one follows the rules of the road as cars pass by me in the far right lane at 80-90 miles per hour. If you drive 65 mph you’ll get run off the road. I fear for my life every day on that highway.” — Edward, Newburyport
“I think since people were not driving as much for a while their attention and anticipation seems way off. I’m avoiding 128 altogether — it’s always slammed no matter what time of day.”
“I travel at 5 a.m. [and] don’t see much change … I leave work at 2:30 p.m. and it’s been the worst I have ever seen! Bumper-to-bumper traffic as if it was 5 p.m. rush hour!”
“A lot of line straddling on 128, both directions, all the time. The tendency to drive either right on the traffic line or over it is unnerving as there is not a lot of space to move around in packed, high-speed traffic. I’ve been pushed into the center median strip several times in the last few weeks.” — Kate, Newton
“Agree that it’s become worse; I’ve witnessed several instances of failing to stop (at all) for stop signs, and blatantly running red lights. Almost makes me wish for traffic cameras at intersections to ‘nudge’ drivers back to some plain old common sense.”
“Driving to a 9 a.m. appointment at MGH on June 22, coming from north, so 93S to Storrow Drive. In the ‘before days’ at that time it would be very busy, but people seemed to know what to do, in that letting people in and out of lanes when they need to change actually makes things better. This commute was terrible, no one giving an inch. Coming off of 93S on the connector you’re in the right lane but need to get over to the left to exit onto Storrow. No one in the left lane coming from Rt. 1 would give an INCH. My needing to be in the left lane was like a personal insult to other drivers, like I was doing it just to make them a fraction of a second later.”
“Speeding, tailgating, weaving — much more than normal. Why do we even have speed limits since no-one abides by it? Twenty miles per hour above the speed limit is the norm now. Plus pickup trucks, German cars (tailgating and speeding) and motorcyclists who think they are superior to cars weaving in and out of traffic. GET A MUFFLER. Everyone needs to get a grip and realize they are not the only people in the world. What was that old slogan? A little courtesy won’t kill you? Need it now.” — Amanda, Stoneham
“I think people have forgotten how to read traffic signs. When the NO TURN ON RED sign is as big as the sun and people still turn in dangerous intersections (Washington & Beacon intersection in Somerville), we know we’re in for a rough summer. With increased bikes and pedestrians, this is a recipe for disaster and way more road accidents.” — Meredith, Somerville
“Traffic is worse than ever. This past Friday (June 18) a round trip to Logan from Barnstable took nearly seven hours. Rt. 3 north was stop-and-go at 1 p.m., and then 93 North was a parking lot all the way from the split to the airport, including both tunnels. And the airport was total chaos. The whole escapade reminded me of the late 1990s, when we were in the throes of the Big Dig. But it’s not just Boston; Cape traffic is abysmal this year. This past Sunday at 11 a.m. there was already a five-mile back-up along 6, and the volume on 28 never lets up anymore.” — Megan, Cotuit
“I’m an essential employee who never stopped driving during the pandemic. If you are not passing anyone, you need to stay out of the left lane. People are more inconsiderate than ever. State police need to start enforcing, and ticket the slow drivers who cause the traffic.” — Wes, Framingham
“Driving up and down I-95 between Norwood and Beverly several days a week, the drivers are much worse and I’m actually kind of nervous driving now. People whipping left and right across multiple lanes IN TRAFFIC, driving in the breakdown lanes, speeding, tailgating. Basically any illegal maneuver you can think of, I see it on a daily basis. There was one particular moment where a person was trying to cut across two lanes in about 50 feet to get off the exit; they swerved into the right lane and then stopped, causing the person in the right to swerve into the breakdown lane, which in turn caused the person driving in the breakdown to slam on their brakes and almost into the guard rail.” — Brian, Norwood
“People need to stop using the far right lane as a fast lane. Seems like every time I’m trying to merge onto the highway a speeding vehicle goes flying by, almost crashing into me.” — Chris, Winthrop
“We’ve been excited to get out and have fun this summer, but our leisure activities are limited by gridlock traffic and scarce rail options throughout Greater Boston and the shores. It seems this entire area just doesn’t have the transportation infrastructure to support a high quality of life for the volume of people here.” — George, Franklin
“Seems roadway signs (Stop, Yield, No Left Turn) and traffic lights have just become suggestions, not rules of the road. Everyone drives like where they are going is the most important. People constantly don’t stop at stop signs or intersections.”
“It seems like folks are avoiding public transit so there’s more congestion, even at off peak hours.”
“I’ve noticed that drivers are much more aggressive this year. I’ve witnessed multiple instances of people on 93 NS 95 making rapid lane changes, driving at unreasonable speeds, and excessively tailgating. Some of this is par for the course, but it seems to occur much more frequently now. With almost zero traffic enforcement in Boston, and so much pent up aggression, I expect that the statistics for this year will reflect an uptick in crashes, injuries, and deaths.” — Steve, West Roxbury
“It’s not normal, as there is a new mix of commuters (prior commuters and people who used transit/rail), many who aren’t used to the commute which requires different skills. True rush hour commuters know the commuter game, which requires quick action, they know how to deal with lane drops (like RT 1N Copeland Circle) with alternate traffic rows weaving together, as opposed to a duel. In addition, in Boston there are new dedicated bus lanes, new dedicated bike lanes, some parking utilized by restaurants; all of this adding more traffic to less lane capacity. Yeah, it’s a mess: As a 30-year commuter from the north into Boston, I will WFH to the max extent possible and limit my Mass. out of state tax to the minimum. Traveling to Boston just isn’t worth it.” — Joe, Seacoast, N.H.
“While nobody was watching, the city of Boston has converted lanes for automotive traffic to use by buses and bicycles. I rarely see busses in these lanes, but I see midday congestion levels far worse than pre-pandemic rush hour. I can appreciate the city’s desire to reduce car traffic, but these changes will not improve our public transportation system nor the climate patterns that limit bike lanes to only seasonal use.” — Bryan, Boston
“My job was considered essential during the pandemic and I have been commuting into work the whole time. I loved the quiet roads shortening my commute! Now the people clogging up the roads have become feral and have forgotten how to drive. Attempting to merge without looking, texting, driving 50 in the fast lane, you name it, I’ve seen it!” — O., Plainville
“During COVID I did very little driving. Maybe 2,000 miles in one year. But those few trips on the highway were both nice and peaceful, not many cars. But then sometimes there would be these yahoos driving at a real high rate of speed, like 90 mph. Plus changing lanes, hard braking when all the lanes had normal speed drivers. Flipping you off if you dared to drive the speed limit. Cutting off large trucks. Just a few crazies but enough that I wished for traffic to return to slow down these yahoos. Now that COVID is mostly over and traffic is back in full, the yahoos find it impossible to race anymore. Oops, traffic is stopping their God-given right to drive like a crazy person. One last thing, have you ever seen a Ford 150 doing 90 MPH? I have. Now that is the definition of crazy!” — Michael, Norwell
“I have had two almost-accidents from people pulling out right in front of me on Rt. 117 Bolton to Weston just in one week. Everything on the seats of my car went onto the floor. I have commuted all through the pandemic and usually do about 500 miles a week. I have never had as many close calls.” — Debbie, Leominster
“I did not stop commuting during the pandemic in 2020. I never experienced a delay due to an accident for close to a year. Now, with people returning to ‘normal,’ my commute has doubled from the 2020 commuting times due to accidents on 128/95, Rt. 3, 495 and Rt. 93. Can’t argue this difference now with a Salem to Lexington commute going from 35 minutes in 2020 to 70 minutes on average now.”
“More often than not drivers are ignorant of the rules of the road in addition to those who think they are the most important on the road and their needs trump all others. Common courtesy and common sense have been declining for years.”
“I have sat back for the last 16 months and watched my fellow Americans grow dumber and dumber. I see more and more people, the majority of them snobby elitists in their Lexus or Mercedes SUVs, running stop signs, failing to yield the right of way, unsafe lane changes … These entitled losers need to go back to driver’s ed!”
“People are forgetting that Massachusetts has passed the hands-free cell phone law. It seems like everyone is on their phone and not paying attention to the road. Was behind someone on her phone, as she was talking I could see her arms and hands waving all over the place, blew through a stop sign, came to a red light, turned green, still talking on her phone, had to lay on my horn. Still seeing people texting and driving also, they are the worst, texting and all over the road. By the way, has the pandemic given people brain fog in forgetting to use their directional to make a turn?”
“I’ve seen more people actually stop when merging on highways, riding their brakes, driving slow in the left lane, not using turn signals, or letting people merge in (remember, like a ‘zippah’).” — Joe, Westford
“It seems as though — on every roadway, no matter the time of day or day of the week — people are driving faster and more maniacally than ever. Driving in the center lane of 495, I regularly get passed and tailgated while (shh!) driving 80 m.p.h. Now that folks have a place to go, it seems as though they want to get there as quickly as possible.” — Katie, Southborough
“It’s Massachusetts: There’ll always be the self-centered drivers who believe everyone else yields to them. Coupled with higher volume of cars and semis on the road now, these careless drivers make it that much worse and dangerous for everyone.”
“Was involved in my first ever collision, and I have witnessed or driven past more accidents in the last week alone than I can ever remember experiencing — highways, confusing intersections, distracted drivers.”
“People are passing me on the right to get to the left-most lane then move over three lanes to the exit — all within a half a mile. It’s a disaster.”
“128 North from R.t 9 to Rt. 20 is a nightmare every afternoon. Hoping that we’ll have that annual summer decrease just to get a break until Labor Day. What happened to everyone wanting to work from home?” — Mary Beth, Arlington
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.
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