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Commuter Patterns Mark Snyder

When the big dig began, some 20 years ago, many large companies moved their headquarters outside of the city. Additionally, Route 128 (now mostly I-95) had already begun blossoming as one of the leading technology corridors in the nation. Then, as the metro area grew further outward, the I-495 beltway also became a bit of its own corridor for businesses, particularly in areas like Chelmsford and Andover. 

Traditional patterns of morning commute IN and afternoon commute OUT, dissipated. To one degree or another this has occured in most American cities, and particularly in decentralized urban areas such as San Jose, CA and Los Angeles. While there are still more people going into Boston and out of Boston in the morning for their commutes, the patterns of commuting can vary, especially along the beltways of 128/95 and 495. For instance, traffic can back up in any directions along 128 near the I-93 split and this is because the intersection is poorly designed and so traffic going in any direction will get busy here at rush hour, not just into the city.

Route 128 also encounters traffic wherever a lane is dropped or the road gets narrower or curvy. This occurs around Route 9 in Newton where a lane is dropped as much as it does near Bedford and Lexington where the road curves considerably and you are wedged in between two more highway intersections, those with Route 2 and those with Route 3.

Learning The Commute

On my front page you will see some estimated commute times, at least to the airport which gives you an idea of the commute into Boston. However if you are commuting between suburbs, which most people do, there is really only one way to predict the commute: Drive it. I have spent years studying traffic patterns and commuting tricks and this was long before I had GPS to help me. In order to make your commute enjoyable, you will have to make some decisions: Mark Snyder

1) Must I take the highway? - If you are commuting a fair distance, let's say from Attleboro to Boston or from Amesbury to Boston, there is a portion of your commute where you really need to be on the highway. So, the remaining commuter tips should be applied to the non-highway portion of your commute.

2) At what point am I better off on backroads? - If you are commuting up a major highway towards Boston, at some point you will get off the highway. The question is where. The answer is of course, at the point where the traffic starts to back up such that continuing the commute off the highway would be better. Now if you are commuting from Worcester to Boston, and the traffic backs up in Framingham on the Mass Pike, it is unlikely that you will get off there and finish your commute on back roads. You have too far to go. However, if your commute is to Wellesley, then it is possible that you will be better off exiting at Route 30 and using some secondary roads.

3) Once I am off the highway, which roads do I use? - This is the biggest key to learning to commute, whether in Boston or any other city. You must experiment. You must try a different route every day until you have cut out the slower parts. This is the only way to truly cut out commuter nightmares. Listen to others who are in that same area and fox your way around intersections that are too slow. Your co-workers all commute to the same place and some will know some tricks to avoid certain congested areas. Your neighbors all commute to where you live too, so they will know other tricks. By trying people's tricks and further experimenting yourself, you will find amazing short cuts to reduce your commute time.

As you fine tune your route, you will find certain intersections to still be problematic. Try avoiding just those intersections, by turning off a side road earlier and seeing if you can circumvent them. Another trick is avoiding left turns. As silly as this sounds, you will be amazed at how many circuitous routes are faster because they do not require you to wait at a light for a left turn. If you must turn left, see if you can find an earlier left before the light which others will not be waiting for. Some left turns will be across a large stretch of road where you just wait for the oncoming traffic and then take your turn. These lefts cut out long lines at traffic lights. Don't be afraid to try going way around. In commuting, the shortest distance between two points is often NOT the straight line but the clear path. Try finding routes that are not busy, even if they seem too circuitous.Mark Snyder Lexington

4) Learn the timing - Your commute IN and your commute OUT should almost always vary slightly. Traffic patterns change every minute and it is rare that you would take the same route in both directions. Furthermore, if you commute at varying times, you should find routes that work well for different times.

By following these strategies, you will learn how to cut your commute down to the minimum and avoid spending any more time commuting than you need. If you cut just 2 minutes off of your commute, that would add up to 14 minutes a week. Multiply that times 50 work weeks and you could be saving twelve hours a year.

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