JP Observer: Could someone please block cars from blocking our intersections?

How many minutes does it take you to drive off your street onto a bigger street in the morning and later, head home for the night? Do you get stuck there at that intersection and others along the way, blocked by cars stopped in front of you—after your red light turns green?

These are not questions on a detailed survey, but they could be in JP these days. A few signs tell drivers not to block the intersections, but people do it anyway—not just in notorious Forest Hills and at other construction sites.

Gridlock plagues this neighborhood’s major and side streets at rush hour. (OK, I’ll use the correct term here: rush hours. Commuters crowd our streets more than 60 minutes in mornings and evenings.) But nobody in authority seems to care about the overall congestion gridlock causes us.

They should. Heavy traffic and slow commutes have lowered Boston’s ratings as a livable city, and JP is part of that. The fourth annual INRIX [a national organization that compiles numbers about traffic] National Traffic Scorecard ranked Boston as the eighth-worst US city for traffic.

I knew things had gotten really out of control when drivers behind me at several JP intersections over recent months honked and gestured that I should move forward to block the box just because the light ahead was green. I didn’t move, of course. I let them honk. They obviously don’t know any better or don’t care.

About 20 years ago, Boston Police from District 13 here in JP posted themselves at crosswalks that had no traffic lights in JP Center. Police mostly just issued warnings to drivers who didn’t stop to let waiting pedestrians cross.

After police did that for several weeks, the problem was reduced considerably. Spot checks showed that many more drivers were stopping for pedestrians than before. Just being told they should seemed to have helped.

Ah, what a period of enforcement might do for frustrating, nerve-wracking gridlock we experience now!

One of many traffic traps here is the intersection of residential Williams Street and busier Forest Hills Street that runs along Franklin Park.

So many commuters going south/north on Forest Hills Street can’t get through the green light, but that doesn’t keep drivers from plowing ahead to stop inside the “box” to wait. This, of course, blocks the Williams Street cars from going when the light turns green for them.

Gridlock situations like this often becomes a figurative two-way street. Cars that were blocked through a change of lights (or two or three) start cramming the box themselves as soon as they can. The result is a strange revenge that does nothing for anyone.

Since no real traffic authorities seem to be posted at JP intersections unless construction is nearby, I have taken to pretending to be one at smaller intersections—a kind and educational authority like the police at the crosswalks in the business district were.

No matter the weather, if I find myself stopped by gridlock, I roll down my window and put my arm out so the next driver who might block the box can see it. I make the universal flat palm gesture to halt.

That’s when a miracle frequently occurs: Rather than give me a less polite gesture in response, the driver usually does the universal head shake that indicates coming out of a trance. Then he or she stops short of entering the box, even on green. Cars in my line can then go when our light says we can. Wow!

It’s a beautiful thing to experience, and I’ve done it dozens of times. I can only remember once when a driver obviously saw my hand but went ahead to stop in the middle of the intersection. I have used this technique successfully at Washington, Lamartine and Centre Street intersections, too—traffic lights or no traffic lights.

But I’m just one person. And we shouldn’t be having to take the law, literally, into our own [left] hands to go somewhere. I don’t recommend what I’ve been doing as a real solution to what’s a neighborhood, not an individual, problem.

Dear Authorities: Could we please have some more signage here? And some enforcement for a while at troublesome intersections to alert drivers that they’re not supposed to drive into the box even if their light is green. We all have better things to do than wait in traffic burning fossil fuel. And we could all benefit from a little less stress caused by foolish competition.

Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.



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