We live in the state that is consistently rated the most highly educated in the country. In the Boston-Cambridge area you can choose among 35 colleges and universities. One of those is MIT, home to the best and brightest in STEM fields. Massachusetts sparked the computer revolution, network and security companies, as well as many other technology innovations.
Yet somehow, despite that concentration of brainpower and expertise, we can’t stop trucks from hitting bridges on one of Boston’s most-used roadways.
Shame on us.
Trucks on the Parkway Getting Storrowed
The road is Storrow Drive, a parkway that runs along the Charles River. It goes under bridges and through a tunnel, all of them low. For that reason, trucks are not allowed on Storrow Drive. They don’t have enough clearance to make it under the bridges or into the tunnel.
That doesn’t stop the trucks from coming, however. Boston.com tells us that, by August 29, an over-height truck had struck a Storrow bridge or had to back out of Storrow Drive more than thirty times since the beginning of the month. I wrote about this two years ago in an informational way, explaining how and why it happens. Today I’m expressing my frustration that so little has been done to prevent trucks being “Storrowed,” and traffic from being jammed.
What “systems” exist to keep these accidents from happening are, to be generous, low-tech. Signs at the roadway’s entrances warn “Danger: No Trucks or Buses,” “Low Clearance,” and “Cars Only.”
Somehow, the hordes of college students driving box trucks laden with all their essential furniture and gear miss these signs. Or maybe they think the warnings don’t apply to their truck.
Some delivery drivers come from out of town and don’t know the road with its restrictions. Others probably don’t speak English well and miss the signs. A few simply don’t pay attention to roadway signs at all. Perhaps whatever navigation app they are using fails to mention that Storrow Drive is restricted to automobile traffic.
The smart ones stop before they actually hit a bridge. They have no way forward so they have to back all the way to the closest ramp. The “back-up of shame” prevents damage but it takes a whole lane out of circulation and creates a traffic jam.
The not-so-smart ones keep right on going, often scraping the top right off the truck, jamming the truck under the bridge, or ripping the whole box wide open.
The Way We’ve Always Done Things
Why can’t the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees Storrow Drive, do a better job of keeping trucks off the parkway? I guess that it’s because they probably haven’t thought beyond “The Way We’ve Always Done Things.” That means road signs.
The DCR told Boston.com that, “… they continue to work with MassDOT and Massachusetts State Police to inform drivers of restrictions, such as summer and fall campaigns that align with area college moving days. Height-restriction signage is posted at all Storrow Drive access points.”
The Dig reports the DCR is soliciting bids for a $75,000 contract to create new signs that are somehow going to be more effective than the current “CARS ONLY” signs in preventing oblivious truckers from getting Storrowed.
I hate to tell the DCR but those signs aren’t working. The new ones won’t work, either. And we all know the definition of insanity. In this video, you can see a large box truck drive right underneath a Danger: Low Clearance” sign.
The “Cars Only” portion of the sign hangs down to the bridges’ height level. That means if it hits your truck, you’re going to hit the bridge. The problem is it hits the truck after the cab has passed underneath it, which means the driver can hear it but not see it. If he’s listening to loud music, he won’t hear it, either.
My Modest Suggestion
Now if you argue that the DCR doesn’t have the money to hire expensive traffic engineers, I offer a simple solution to keep trucks from being Storrowed that’s even cheaper than $75,000 for new signs.
The DCR should create a contest with the winner receiving a prize worth one year’s tuition at MIT ($55,510). Or add $11,550 for room and board for a total of $67.060. The contest’s goal is to develop a cost-effective and fool-proof system—given the number of fools we’re dealing with, that’s very important—to keep trucks from getting onto Storrow Drive. That’s it. Easy peasy.
Dangle the bait and the STEM geniuses will come. They will brainstorm the problem, diagram solutions, work in the lab, pull all nighters, build prototypes, and test them.
Then, in a demonstration of their talents and intelligence, they will present their solutions at a well-publicized event where a panel of expert judges will choose a winner. After that, the DCR only has to implement the winning solution.
The Wicked-Smaht Minds
Trust me, that’s all it will take. If we can put men on the moon, edit genes, look into distant galaxies, predict hurricanes, build electric cars, and distribute cat videos on the internet, we can keep trucks off Storrow Drive. All we have to do it put our minds to work on it. Well, maybe not our minds but, you know, the wicked-smaht ones.
Alaska has oil, Iowa has corn, and Maine has lobsters but Massachusetts has smart people. They’re a resource. Let’s use them.
Can the Department of Conservation and Recreation do that? Who knows? I throw the idea out for their consideration.
Because if we don’t, the problem will just keep getting worse. The bridges might not sustain significant structural damage but people stuck in Storrow Drive traffic will continue to feel the impact. They will get to work late, miss appointments at Mass General, arrive at the wedding after “I do,” and end up at Logan when their flight has already left. That has to be worth something—at least one year of tuition at MIT.
How about it, DCR? Whaddaya say?