Thursday, August 08, 2013

Unprotected Space


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A disproportionate amount of my life is spent in the area framed above. It is just a mile of pavement, about halfway between our home and our daughter's boarding school. Although I live adjacent to my workplace and am therefore not a real commuter, I find myself traversing this space a couple of times a week -- or occasionally four times in a day -- for family errands or while transporting EarthView.

Although it looks innocent enough from satellite elevation, in real life this space is fraught, as it brings drivers from the two worst-driver states (MA #49, RI #50) into a high-speed (technically 55 but never patrolled -- too dangerous) area that requires daunting lane changes, and bewildering signage. A few dollars saved on ramp construction has most drivers entering this zone from the wrong side, while geographic oddities mean that driving from east to west here means going north and south at the same time, on several different highways -- 1, 93, 95, and 128.

At the western edge of the scene above is a rail station, serving both Amtrak and MBTA. Until this morning, I never realized the importance of something I see every time I pick someone up at this station -- open space. Much of the land surrounding University Avenue (named for I know not which of dozens of universities in the region, none of which is on this road) is as-yet undeveloped. Bulldozers are idling at the edges of fields, though, ready to turn "empty" space into dollars.

I was not in the area today; rather, I read the article Boston Globe article I-93, I-95 interchange project to benefit Westwood. Here the word "benefit" is used very narrowly. I considered the recent construction at the interchange of Route 24 and I-93 to be providing a benefit in that is reduces the danger involved in merging from the former onto the latter. The article describes further construction projects that would create more congestion in the short term but improve safety and reduce travel time in the medium term. The article cites greater access to the University Avenue lands as one of the "benefits" of ongoing construction in the area.

In the long term, however, just as nature is said to abhor a vacuum, investment capital abhors accessible, undeveloped space. It is for this reason that improving highways does not necessarily reduce congestion.

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