Only one characteristic of Jamaica Plain keeps traffic from becoming ensnarled in gridlock all over town every day. It’s not the street equipment: lights, crosswalks, signs, etc. It’s not the police or other law enforcement. And it’s certainly not the haphazard way many of the narrow streets are laid out.
Jamaica Plain’s traffic moves because people here are a combination of courteous, empathetic and practical when it comes to sharing the troublesome roads. Although local residents and business people may have gotten used to this quality in JP drivers, visitors from other Boston neighborhoods and out of town comment on this frequently.
Don’t tell the authorities, but Peter Parley Road in Parkside should not be two-way. When cars are parked on both sides of the street, as they are many places, there is room for only one car to pass. So, what happens when drivers see one another coming toward each other? One of them quickly parallel parks, so the other can pass. Which one? Whichever one can. And the other always waves or headlight-flashes “thanks” going by.
Like Charlie and the MTA, in Jackson Square, shoppers at JP Plaza and JP Center where Stop & Shop and Martha Eliot Health Center are located might never return (or get into the parking lots) if drivers on Centre Street did not stop to let other drivers make turns. No lights or signs there tell them to stop. They just do it—maybe because they know they themselves will need someone to let them in or out of JP traffic soon.
Speaking of letting people in and out, how about the Burroughs and Centre streets intersection! During the day, no car would ever enter Centre Street from Burroughs, especially if they are turning left, unless another driver stopped to let them in. Traffic would be backed up to the Jamaicaway.
The best illustration of human instinct working better than laws and machines occurs at the busy corner of Amory and Green streets next to Green Street Station. During evening rush hour, traffic at the lights can get very backed up both ways on Amory because there are no left turn signals or lanes.
Not when there’s a power outage! Once or twice a year when the electricity goes out and the traffic lights don’t work there, the drivers manage all by themselves, using a principle they learned in kindergarten. They simply take turns stopping and going. So, only when the traffic lights don’t work, there are no rush-hour back-ups on Amory Street.
Left to their own devices—which JP people often are in so many ways—they have figured out how to get around the neighborhood and let their neighbors get around, too. Congratulations and a windshield wave to all of them.