Highway Customer Experience

As residents and visitors travel across the Commonwealth to where they need to go, whether by transit, automobile, walking or bicycle, it is MassDOT’s goal that the trip is safe, convenient, and reliable. However, in recent years, congestion has become an increasingly pervasive issue in Greater Boston area and areas across the state. Congestion affects travel times and reliability, and therefore the experience of those traveling in our state.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed travel patterns in the state, leading to a decrease in travel and congestion. However, as the Commonwealth  continues to reopen, much of that congestion has returned. MassDOT and the MBTA are monitoring the situation and planning for a variety of recovery scenarios. A part of that planning process is adapting our roadways to support more transportation options to decrease single-occupancy vehicle trips. A few examples of such programs are the Shared Streets and Spaces grant program (MassDOT grants for municipalities looking to improve plazas, sidewalks, curbs, streets, parking areas, and other public spaces in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce), rapid recovery bus lanes (accelerated efforts to effort to implement up to 14 miles of bus lanes throughout Boston, Chelsea, Somerville, and Everett), and Complete Streets.

Mode Share

MassDOT’s goal is to provide transportation options to give people access to opportunities and to where they need and want to go. Additionally, MassDOT’s goal is to help make modes of travel with social, health and environmental benefits available and attractive options. One of the ways we can track our progress towards these goals is by looking at mode share – the percentage of trips taken in the state by the various transportation modes. MassDOT’s goal is to increase the mode share of people using sustainable modes of travel (biking, walking, and public transit).

Two years ago, MassDOT acquired access to a new data source, Streetlight, which uses Location Based Services data to help us understand mobility patterns across the state. There are some caveats with the data, but in general, it is the first time that MassDOT has been able to calculate and report a mode share number that accounts for all types of trips, not just all commute trips.

Overall, Streetlight data shows that 45% of all trips taken in Massachusetts are taken by bicycling and walking. This is a significant increase from last year, when one-third of trips were taken on active modes. This change is a reflection of the pandemic, and the drop in driving and increase in active mode travel and recreation during this time period. MassDOT is tracking this pattern as we return to the “new normal.” While vehicle travel has risen again, programs like Shared Streets and investments in infrastructure can help the Commonwealth maintain increased levels of biking and walking post-pandemic.

The Statewide Pedestrian Plan defines a short, walkable trip as a trip under a half-mile, and 97 percent of short trips in the state are taken by pedestrians. The Bicycle Plan states that an everyday, bikeable trip is one that is six miles or shorter for commute trips, and three miles or shorter for non-commute trips. Today, 2 percent of trips between a half-mile and three miles are taken by bike, and only 1 percent for trips between three and six miles. To meet our goals for reducing emissions and improving public health, MassDOT is working to make sustainable modes comfortable, convenient and safe for people to take in lieu of driving single-occupancy vehicles for short trips.

Distance Buckets Percentage of all trips Bicycle Pedestrian Vehicle
0 – .5 mi 27% .5% 97% 2%
.5 – 3 mi 34% 2% 48% 50%
3 – 6mi 13% 1% 5% 94%
All trips  ——— 1% 44% 55%

There are two primary issues with this mode share measure currently. The first is that Streetlight data cannot yet be used to differentiate transit travel – a key mode in the Commonwealth.  Second, is that Streetlight likely overestimates pedestrian travel in the way that people typically think of a “trip.” In the data, if a person takes multiple modes for a trip, it’s broken up into two trips taken on two different modes. While this leads to a much higher percentage of trips taken by pedestrians than one would expect, it does reflect a key truth of mobility: everyone is a pedestrian for at least some portion of most trips. You have to walk from your car once you park at your destination, or walk to the train station, or you may park your bike and walk between multiple stores to run errands. While we may not typically think of those as trips, it’s important that we plan for those moments so that roadway users are safe and comfortable at all times.

Average Commute Time (in Minutes)

The time it takes Massachusetts residents to travel to work is the outcome of many factors, including roadway congestion (which itself is the product of economic conditions and infrastructure capacity); land use patterns that influence where residents live and work; and the travel modes that people can choose from. While many of these factors are outside of MassDOT’s direct control, average commute time is a useful indicator of how efficient the entire transportation network is. Because this measure is situational, MassDOT has not defined an optimal commute time; a downward trend is desirable (from the standpoint of the health of the environment and quality of life for residents), but the average commute time has steadily increased for the past five years. The most recent estimate for the average commute time for the state is 30.2 minutes, although commute times vary across counties. The longest average commute is experienced by residents of Norfolk County, at 35 minutes, and the shortest (of non-island counties) is experienced by residents of Nantucket County, at 12 minutes.

Commute Time by Mode

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[Data Table]

This measure shows how commute times vary by mode choice. On average, public transportation commuters spend the most time traveling to work. Most research indicates that approximately 15-20 percent of trips are work related. Commute mode share data come from the US Census’ yearly American Community Survey. This data is on a two-year lag, so we are currently reporting on 2019 commute patterns. Next year’s Tracker will contain information on how commute mode share changed during the pandemic. The overall primary mode share of commute types for the Commonwealth is as follows:

  • 9 percent drove alone, with an average commute of 28.7 minutes;
  • 4 percent used public transportation, with an average commute of 48.5 minutes;
  • 5 percent carpooled, with an average commute of 29.4 minutes;
  • 9 percent walked;
  • 7 percent took a taxicab, motorcycle, bicycle or used other means;
  • 2 percent worked from home.

While a person’s mode choice is determined by numerous factors, MassDOT can impact some of the variables that affect the commute mode choice decision. For example, improving reliability and frequency of key public transit routes could compel more people to choose public transit over driving, which in turn decreases congestion. Because of the year delay in Census data, Tracker 2022 will have information about commute times during the pandemic. As the Commonwealth is recovering from the pandemic, we continue to monitor how major employers are handling the reopening of their offices and the potential impacts this will have either on the percent of people working from home or the mode they use for their commute.

ACCESS TO BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN INFRASTRUCTURE

A key strategy to shift mode share towards active modes is to provide safe and comfortable infrastructure across the state. This means that MassDOT has a responsibility to increase the amount of high-comfort infrastructure on their roads, and also to provide municipalities (by far the largest road owners in the Commonwealth) with guidance and resources on designing safe roadways that enable active modes.  MassDOT is the steward of federal transportation funding in the Commonwealth and distributes these funds to other road owners. Through this process, MassDOT sets standards and approve designs for non-MassDOT owned roads.

Living within walking distance of a facility is not enough – you must be able to use bicycle facilities and sidewalks as part of a complete trip to get to your destinations. MassDOT is working on developing measures that take network quality into account and report how many desired trips can take place on the high-comfort bicycle or sidewalk networks.