For years, my wife has claimed that the traffic gets worse every September in Boston. Not worse compared to the admittedly low-volume summer traffic, when many residents are on vacation and the 300,000 college kids are away. But worse compared to the previous September.
Each year, I disagree, saying that it just feels that way compared to the summer, and that you can't really remember what it was like a year previous. But this year, I am moving in her direction. Something is going terribly wrong this September. There are massive traffic tie-ups, randomly assorted throughout the metropolitan area. The "secret" routes the locals would usually take to avoid these are also congested.
If the Center for Short-Lived Phenomena were still around, I would send the query to them. But they seem to have disbanded. So, being a trained urban planner, I looked for the answer in the data.
If the number of miles of roads has stayed about the same, perhaps the number of vehicles on the roads has risen. Alas, it is really hard to get those numbers. Here is what I found on the web:
Total vehicles in operation in Massachusetts
2000 -- 4,933,209
2001 -- 5,198,221
2002 -- 5,406,846
2003 -- 5,479,394
2004 -- 5,456,267
2005 -- 5,420,206
Not good enough. I'm looking for a recent uptick and the data aren't there. Maybe I could dig up the number of new vehicles registered more recently. Here are those figures:
New Cars and Light Trucks Registered
2004 -- 329,941
2006 -- 291,556
But as new vehicles are registered, others are scrapped. The two charts seem to indicate that these may cancel out in any given year. For example, even though there were 300,000 new registrations in 2004, the 2005 total number of vehicles really didn't change very much.
But perhaps the use of vehicles has gone up even if the number has stayed about the same.
Maybe there is a hint from transit ridership. If that has gone down, more people would be driving their cars more often. We sometimes read articles about a decline in ridership. Did it happen this year?
Again, official current data are hard to find. Here are the latest published numbers I found.
Average weekday ridership on the MBTA
2000 -- 664,000
2001 -- 697,000
2002 -- 663,000
2003 -- 664,000
Not helpful at all.
Well, enough city planning for a Saturday morning. It is time for me to go referee some kids' soccer games. While I am away, perhaps someone out there can submit a good answer to this question. Or even just suggest some other theories.