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.
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).
Average Commute Time by County
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 minutes, although commute times vary across counties. The longest average commute is experienced by residents of Norfolk County, at 34.6 minutes, and the shortest is experienced by residents of Nantucket County, at 13.5 minutes.
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. The overall primary mode share of commute types for the Commonwealth is as follows:
- 68 percent drove alone, with an average commute of 30 minutes.
- 9.5 percent used public transportation, with an average commute of 48.3 minutes.
- 7.3 percent carpooled, with an average commute of 29.3 minutes.
- 4.8 percent walked.
- 1.3 percent took a taxicab, motorcycle, bicycle or used other means.
- 8.3 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
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.