Close to the edge

The first eight miles are easy. And then the highway ends. Governor Sargent killed it in 1970.

The remaining mile and a half to work is about the limit of my tolerance for urban commuting. They are paying me enough to put up with that much, but the east half of Cambridge might as well be on the moon.

For my carless coworkers the story is reversed. The east end of the highway is the west end of the subway system. The office parks along Route 128 might as well be on Mars.

That little strip along the west edge of Cambridge and Somerville is the ecotone, the edge habitat between the urban and rural ecosystems. It’s thriving because it attracts both kinds of people. And it’s endangered.

Cambridge lowered the city speed limit to 25. So far that’s only a public relations move. The main road still carries 35 mph traffic when it isn’t jammed. Side streets move at 30, same as always, with no enforcement at nuisance stop signs that everybody rolls through.

But cities have been asking for ticket cameras for decades. Camera companies have been bribing politicians for much of that period. One day they may win.

Urban politicians have been asking for more tolls, because tolls will be collected from suburban residents and spent on urban projects. One day they may win.

When the cameras go on in Cambridge, when the plate readers appear over Route 2, that’s the day I stay out in the suburbs. They are paying me enough to put up with 15 minutes of city traffic. They are not paying me enough to put up with theft cameras. They are not paying me to fund Boston’s slush fund.

Will anybody care? When I decided to stop going to an annual convention in Columbus, Ohio I made sure the organizers knew why. Columbus put a lot of ticket cameras around the convention center. They’re gone now. Probably impossible to rank convention revenue among the several other reasons. One camera-plagued Ohio city did cave in to pressure from businesses, but many more did not.

It takes a lot to convince government officials that they are wrong. Boston’s speed limit reduction was proved to be a failure, yet it is repeatedly called a success. Traffic obstruction measures are declared successful without measuring safety or traffic flow. Does the new red octagon make you happy? Great, we’ll keep it.

Because ultimately what policy makers want is to feel in control of the situation. They don’t do that by leaving well enough alone.

Like with targeted tax breaks and tariffs, each little traffic regulation may have an unmeasurably small impact. Just one small favor for a reliable voter. Over a lifetime, they add up to real burden.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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