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March 08. 2014 12:48AM

Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Boston among worst cities for gridlock


 


Traffic crawls south on Interstate 93 through Manchester. Thousands of southern New Hampshire residents travel daily to jobs in metro Boston, which has been been ranked among the top 10 U.S. cities for having the worst gridlock. (UNION LEADER FILE)

A few weeks before I was hired by the Union Leader Corp. about 18 months ago, an editor at a Boston publication was kind enough to meet with me to discuss freelance opportunities, and I was grateful for his time.

During our talk he mentioned how awful his commute from the suburbs could be, even though by miles it wasn't much of a drive. I thought about that after our meeting as I walked back to my car, paid the $32 parking fee - at a rate of $8 for every 20 minutes - and wound my away around town toward Interstate 93 to head north back to Manchester.

It was about then I felt relieved my new business contact had no full-time positions available.

I had just entered the highway at 5 p.m. on a Friday. Only a fool would do that, and I had plenty of company when my car rolled to a standstill. Traffic stopped dead for as far north as I could see.

It didn't take me long to contemplate the implications of making this part of my daily routine. For many of the anxious drivers around me, this was just a typical end to a typical work week. Mine would be capped with return trip clocking in at close to two hours.

Nope. Not for me. Not this time.

During the five years I spent working for a business magazine in the Denver area, I spent at least two hours a day commuting, traveling about 40 miles each way, and spending 10 to 15 minutes of that time each way driving slower than I could walk. Like that car commercial where the driver sneaks off the highway to see if he can avoid the traffic jam by snaking through the city, I often exited those four lanes of sprawl just so I could keep moving, even if it didn't actually save any time.

While I was able to work at home during snowstorms, on more than one occasion I got stuck in a snarl that stretched the trip to two hours or more. All it takes to bring traffic to a complete stop is a single accident.

Boston is a great city for a bunch of reasons - world-class universities and medical centers, a thriving entrepreneurial climate home, IT and biotech companies, a bustling theater district, great music venues, fine cuisine and major league sports teams that can boast recent national championships.

You just don't want to spend much time driving around there.

Last week, Beantown earned the dubious distinction of being in the top 10 cities in the country with the worst gridlock, according to the INRIX Traffic Scorecard. Boston - where drivers in 2013 wasted an average of 40 hours a year stuck in traffic - was ranked at No. 9. It also ranked in the top 10, at No. 8, for cities whose traffic congestion grew the most over the past year, with a 22 percent increase. That's the downside of the economic rebound. People move to where the jobs are or drive to them, like the thousands of southern New Hampshire residents who travel south to Massachusetts every day to go to work.

Not surprisingly, California cities dominated the INTRIX list, with Los Angeles at the top of the traffic jam heap followed by Honolulu; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; New York City, Bridgeport, Conn.; San Jose, Seattle, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

Cities like Boston tend to attract a younger demographic. Recent studies of millennials show they would rather live in the city than the suburbs - the next generation does not want to commute. That may take some of those drivers off the road over time but means even higher rents for already pricy downtown apartments.

The managers of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport regularly book radio time for a commercial that touts the Queen City hub's convenience over Boston Logan International. (I love the guy from Haverhill who speaks with a conspicuous Massachusetts accent. Nice touch.)

That airport is 5 miles from my home, and I commute 2 miles to work, which takes me about seven minutes. So rather than spending 500 hours or more commuting every year, I have it down to fewer than 60 a year. Last week, I had to wait a couple of minutes on Industrial Drive on the way home to let a tractor-trailer back into a parking lot. That's a traffic jam for me these days. Unless I leave work early and have to wait at the stop sign on Holt Avenue when traffic backs up at 5, I've nearly forgotten what it's like to live with gridlock, and for that I'm thankful.

I call it my New Hampshire advantage.

Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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