The Great Traffic Escape: Winding My Way Through Boston’s Clogged Streets

Clayton Anderson

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It’s seven o’clock on a summer night and I’m trying to get from Boston University’s East Campus to the Museum of Fine Arts. A religious Google Maps user, I naturally punch in my location and destination to figure out the quickest and easiest way to get there. I was baffled with what it told me. 

Car: 7 minutes

Public Transport: 23 minutes

Walking: 24 minutes

Bike: 9 minutes

Um, what?

In a slight panic, I refreshed the app to see if it was working correctly. It was.

Could it really be possible that there is only a one-minute difference between the time to walk and take the T? 

I’m a visitor from San Antonio, a city famous for its lack of transit options, so I was stoked to get to Boston. I thought I’d be able to zip by car traffic on a train. But it turns out that it takes less than half the time to travel around town via Uber.

Searching for an explanation to this crime against mass transit, I clicked on the public transport option to do a little investigating. Two roughly parallel lines leading to Arlington Station popped up on my screen. I figured out the problem: I have to take the B train on the Green Line in the opposite direction of the museum, get off, and then wait for an E train to take me back to the museum. 

This must be the least efficient thing I’ve ever done. 

Reluctant and slightly shaken, I sucked it up and decided to try out Boston’s public transit system to see if it is really as bad as it seems. I wanted to find out the best form of “cheap”  public transportation in the city. In this experiment, I would be testing the T, walking, and Uber Pool. 

Entrance to the Green Line of the MBTA.

I started my timer, tapped my Charlie Card, and set off on my journey. 

The train jerked away from the station, and a constant deep buzzing soon ensued. The T’s screeching brakes sang a noisy lullaby that seemed to put half of its passengers to sleep. With no seats available, I grabbed onto a metal bar next to me and held on for dear life. 

I thought I was in a zero-gravity simulator. The conductor fully braked and then floored it — all within the span of three seconds. It was as if the rapid acceleration stopped my fall.

“I’m going to die on this train,” said Jiyn Shin, a passenger standing next to me. I felt the same way. The cars bounced so violently that I seriously thought that the train might derail.

I thankfully got to the Copley stop, emerged from the station, crossed the street, walked downstairs to the E train, and then tapped my card again. While it must be a problem to pay twice for local Bostonians, it wasn’t for me because I had a seven-day pass. I waited, once again, in the hot, but not too uncomfortable station, and then boarded the E train. 

After many unplanned stops in pitch-black tunnels, I arrived to the Museum of Fine Arts in 44 minutes, a grand total of 21 minutes more than Google Maps had estimated.

Wow! Suddenly, I wish I had walked. So, the next day, I did. 

I laced up my tennis shoes, started my timer, and walked from Warren Towers to the Museum of Fine Arts.

Walking alongside Fenway Park.

It was a nice day: warm, a little humid, a cool breeze. Birds chirped, tandem bicyclists pedaled past me. Besides the occasional car, it was quiet. 

The tall buildings shielded me from the blazing sun, but I started to get a little hot when walking through intersections. The scents of cigarette smoke and exotic foods whirled through the air.  

Four minutes into the walk I was sure I was having a therapeutic experience. There was something peaceful and almost meditative about walking alone in this tree-lined part of town. I felt relaxed.

I stopped looking at the sidewalk to glance at the view over the Brookline Avenue bridge. and I almost face planted. A loose piece of concrete had tripped me. Maybe it was the city’s fault, or maybe I should pick up my feet a little more. 

I recovered and walked through Fenway Park into Justine Mee Liff Park where instead of high rises, large bushy trees  protected me from the sun. As I crossed the Fens, I smiled at the fish and ducklings swimming below. I was at peace. Sure, I almost got hit by a bicycle, but that’s the trade off of walking in a park, I guess.

Google Maps’ walking route takes you through Justine See Life Park.

I arrived to the MFA in 19 minutes, five minutes less than Google’s estimate, and 25 minutes faster than the T. 

I was so shocked that I had to sit down. 

Yes, I’m a rather fast walker, but I’m not quick enough to shave off an entire five minutes. I’m only slightly above average height, 5’10”, so my strides aren’t gigantic or anything. It was strange that this commute was both the fastest and the most enjoyable.

Next, I tried the Uber Pool, which cost me $3.80. It took my driver six minutes to get to my pickup location, the exact time the app presented me. I rode shotgun with two other strangers in the back, and one driver in the front. 

We were absolutely silent the entire drive…and it was glorious. The car itself was brand new and smelled like flowers. Soothing Puerto Rican music played softly in the background. We were all chilling. One by one, the other passengers got dropped off at their locations.

“Thank you so much honey,” the driver said as I got out of the car. 

It took me 18 minutes including the 6-minute waiting period; one minute less than walking and 26 minutes less than the T. 

There’s a lot to think about here. 

I know I make the T out to be some kind of death trap that will ruin your life. But it really isn’t that bad. Yeah, it obviously wasn’t made for my route, but look on the bright side: at least it doesn’t smell like piss. 

The teal, green, and gray interiors of the Green Line were uninspiring, but, they were spotless. It took me a lot more time to take the T to the MFA, but I still only had to walk about six minutes to get to the building. 

For its price, $2.25 a tap, it’s not a bad deal. Riding it, however, is not a good experience, and its inconsistency has the potential to destroy your schedule. 

Walking really impressed me. It’s fast, reliable, and free. I know that Boston has some pretty intense weather, especially during the winter, so I can see how this might not be doable all the time.

The best part of walking is that you can people watch. I saw old friends drink coffee, a father and a son walk home, and small business owners tidy their patios—just slightly different from watching people drool on the T.

My thoughts on Uber Pool are complicated. If you’re tired, on a tight budget, and don’t have a strict schedule (times can be unpredictable for Uber Pools), go for it. All you have to do is sit there. You don’t even have to use your mind to figure out when to get off. Be a vegetable. Do nothing. If you want to get somewhere faster, though, spend the money on an Uber X. 

The biggest thing I learned from this experiment was that Boston should spruce up its public transport system. It would be great if it could build more lines to create a grid system, so commuters wouldn’t need to waste so much time traveling downtown to change trains. 

But alas, Boston would need a serious chunk of change to do that. So, while I’m waiting for money to rain down from the sky, I think that my favorite mode of transportation in Boston will be my feet.