By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Traffic has ruined Watertown Square — and other urban crossroads as well

Not visible by car: Near Watertown Square along the Charle River bike paths. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

Has any urban area in Greater Boston been harmed more by our cultural addiction to cars than Watertown Square?

I come through the square semi-regularly by bike; sometimes I turn around in the square, sometimes I keep going to Waltham. Today I drove because we needed an oil change and our garage is there. Not only is the volume of cars and other motor vehicles nightmarish, but the traffic pattern is insane, and the lovely architecture you see in older homes and other buildings is all but obliterated.

Sure, there are plenty of other places where car culture has had a harmful effect. I live in Medford, and the constant crush of traffic is a real obstacle to efforts to revitalize Medford Square. But I can’t think of any place that’s worse than Watertown.

We need a different way of thinking about cars, both for the environment and for our sanity. I’d start with fleets of electric buses and widespread bans on private passenger vehicles.

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  1. Yes, indeed! I also bike almost everywhere I travel locally. Every gallon of fossil fuel that we burn now helps to create a more hellish future for our children, grand children, and great grandchildren.

  2. The good news is that Watertown and their newish City Manager George Proakis and city council have prioritized reimagining Watertown Square as a priority as part of its Comprehensive Planning process. Proakis has allocated $200,000 for a study of the square that will begin as early as this summer.

    It will be important for anyone who shares the desire to see the square become more multi-modal friendly to be heard during this process, which will also include a rezoning discussion as part of the MBTA Communities Act.

    Greg Reibman
    Charles River Regional Chamber
    (serving Watertown as well as Newton. Needham and Wellesley)

  3. I think Somerville is far worse, I drive thru Watertown a lot (not bike) and there are lots of parallel side roads, where as, Somerville is always under construction and streets get closed randomly without warning and to get to some spots you have to go in one particular direction else you drive in circles… (I live in Belmont but identify as Watertownian)

  4. Ilex

    It would really help if the T were better. If you could count on getting on a moving train within 3 to 5 minutes of arriving in a station, it would be viewed as a reliable and appealing method of travel (you could even sit down with that frequency) and might actually get people out of their cars. Instead, friends who drive into Boston tell me that even with traffic it’s faster than walking to the station, waiting 15 minutes for a train, and then suffering through slow zones — all while being forced to stand the entire time because the car is packed.

    I live in Malden, where the Main Street traffic often backs up several blocks from traffic lights, despite this being a great place to live without a car (I don’t own one). There’s been a lot of anger over the addition of bus/bike lanes here. Maybe the value of bus lanes would be better appreciated if buses ran more often and were seen in those lanes, but there’s only one per hour or so on many routes during most of the day.

    I work in Boston, and on Wednesday nights when everyone has come in to their offices, the traffic is so bad around South Station and along the Greenway that driving just looks to me like an exercise in frustration. But is it worse than taking the T?

    But we can’t fix the T, and we can’t fix traffic if we can’t fix the T first. There has to be a genuinely timely alternative to driving, not just an alternative way to suffer.

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