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A breakdown in transportation theory

Traffic was tied up in knots for a few hours yesterday in Methuen, Massachusetts from a rather nasty traffic accident on Interstate 495 South. I haven't found any accounts online, but from what I heard on the radio, a pickup truck rear-ended a tractor trailer parked in the breakdown lane, and the pickup's driver was killed.

This reminds me of what HAS to be one of the most criminally insane policies in Massachusetts -- quite possibly worse than re-electing Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.

Every day, there are a LOT of people who drive into Boston in the morning, and out in the evening. More than the highways can reasonably handle. I'm most familiar with the northbound traffic, so I'll address that.

I-93 runs the length of New Hampshire, right down the center, and goes through Boston. Most mornings the traffic starts picking up about 10 miles short of the border, and clogs up at various points between there and the city. It's only 2 lanes here in New Hampshire, but widens to 3 at the state line and 4 halfway to Beantown. But that's still not enough.

Some time ago, some genius looked at the highways and saw a hunk of underused asphalt alongside the road, put two and two together, and came up with "rutabega." And thus was born that grand innovation of commuting, the "active breakdown lane."

Between 7 and 10 in the morning on weekdays, it's perfectly legal to drive along in the breakdown lane if you're heading into Boston on I-93. And between 3 and 7 in the evenings, the same is true heading out of the city. There are spots where it's not allowed, most notably near onramps, but the signs are universally ignored.

So, what happens if -- God forbid -- you should blow a tire or overheat or for whatever reason find you need to stop? Hope like hell that you can limp to one of the few and far between points where a second breakdown lane is laid out, a pull-off that ought to be safe. Otherwise, pull over, get out of the car, and get as far away from the road as possible until help arrives.

Now, I don't know if yesterday's crash was related to this policy. Although it was during the time when driving in the breakdown lane is permitted on I-93, this accident happened on I-495, about seven miles from where they meet. However, it's not unheard of on 495. Hell, I've seen it done in New Hampshire, and it's NEVER legal up here.

I've been aware of this policy of Massachusetts for years, and thought it was insane from day one. But the fact that there haven't been more horrendous accidents like this one seems, to me at least, proof of the old saying that "God looks out for fools, drunkards, and children" -- and Massachusetts has the first two in abundance.

Comments (17)

One of the worst uses of a ... (Below threshold)

One of the worst uses of a lane I have ever seen. I moved to Mass. in 2001 and I still refuse to drive in that lane. It is just stupid and dangerous.

As you stated, it's a miracle that there haven't been more accidents. I've always thought that the only way this inane practice will stop is when a family of 4 is run down in their disabled car while trying to change a flat by a speeding motorist oblivious to their situation. Of course then everyone will be crying foul about it.

This is even worse than wha... (Below threshold)

This is even worse than what I remember from the late 70s. I drove from Baltimore to Boston and found myself on a state route that had signs posted every so often that the road was officially closed. There was plenty of traffic on it and the people I went to visit said everybody ignored the signs because the feeling was that the state put up the signs to try to avoid liability for the lousy condition of the road. Sign being cheaper than fixing the road, I guess.

I'd have to say, though...<... (Below threshold)

I'd have to say, though...

Under just about any conditions, if you find yourself hitting the back of a parked tractor-trailer in daylight hours, you pretty much just screwed up on an epic level.

Hmmmm.I always tho... (Below threshold)


I always thought it was:

Fools, drunkards and Americans

The first time I visited Bo... (Below threshold)

The first time I visited Boston on business ( and therefore had to drive in rush hour ) I was almost KILLED as I had NO IDEA as I came up the on-ramp peple would be driving in that lane. And they just drive right thru the ramps, as if it's a lane. It's crazy.

Crazier still, here in the DC area, we make it totally legal - Rt. 66 in VA even has signs w/instructions, as well as light indicators indicating when it is 'ok' to be driving in the breakdown lane. From what I recall, the moron that invented this in our area fled the area after the first couple of fatal accidents. What is so sad, is that the traffic is so bad in our area, no one wants to change it.

A friend of mine once share... (Below threshold)

A friend of mine once shared a theory of his that you could tell a city's favorite sport by the way they drive.

His conclusion was that Bostonians must really love ice hockey.

How to make these persons d... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

How to make these persons drive better start showing those old grafic drivers ed films the ones that show the depatations,and bloody scenes of wrecks and acedents they ones that will make them think twice before deciding to race on the street again

That's nothing, I don't kno... (Below threshold)

That's nothing, I don't know if they've put a stop to it in NY yet, but many years ago I was going out from NY City to a meeting at Brookhaven National Labs on the Long Island Expressway. I was stuck in traffic in the fast lane and happened to notice that there were two parallel dirt trails in the grass on each side of the medial divider. I was puzzling over this when I saw a cloud of dust in the distance coming towards me. The traffic on the other side was also backed up. As the cloud came closer, I noticed that the source of the cloud was a white Ford panel van traveling in the median at about 60 mph! Instantly, I realized source of the two parallel trails in the grass. Now, when I go out there, I take the Ferry from Connecticut.

I never drive in those lane... (Below threshold)

I never drive in those lanes. I just don't like not having a breakdown lane. Ain't safe.

Likewise, I hate the commuter hours when cars are permitted legally to drive in the breakdown lane. The jerks usually *pass* in them.

Mass. has the first two in ... (Below threshold)

Mass. has the first two in abundance....

and in the Senate.

Breakdown lane?Her... (Below threshold)

Breakdown lane?

Here in fly-over country we call them "shoulders". Do they really allow traffic to drive on the shoulder during rush hour??

My Midwestern mind is boggled.

Yeah it is very weird.... (Below threshold)

Yeah it is very weird.

I commute from framingham to weymouth and alone I 95 and I 93 from route 9 to route 24 they let you use the breakdown lane. On the ride home I occassionally use it and it is very weird to pass lots of stopped traffic on the right.

Most people do not like to use the breakdown lane to travel as they instinctively know that it is dangerous. You have to really pay attention as people are exiting and merging from on and off ramps.

It is fun to wizz alone though and I have come upon a few stopped vehicles and moved over a lane. Last year an inattentive idiot killed some guy from NY who was stopped and the driver was convicted of negligent homicide

Pay attention or dont drive there. I shudder to think of doing it in the dark, ouch

After the Revolution was ov... (Below threshold)
Mrs. Davis:

After the Revolution was over Washington took a victory lap around the country. When he got home all he did was bitch about the roads in boston having been laid out by cows. Nothing has changed in 2250 years.

KobeClan, they don't have street signs either. But who needs them when the street name changes ever mile? And ask for directions some time.

Iceman,Are you kid... (Below threshold)


Are you kidding? Once daylight savings ends this month, the evening commute around Boston occurs in the dark!!! And those lanes remain open. It is just plain old stupid.

That's why we in Rhode Isla... (Below threshold)

That's why we in Rhode Island have to have signs on highways near the Mass. border saying "ILLEGAL TO DRIVE IN BREAKDOWN LANE!" -- but there are enough who don't pay attention to make it worth your life to actually break down and need the breakdown lane. Rhode Island drivers are, on average, no more competent than the Rhode Island government, but they're not as insane as Massachusetts.

Georgia 400 (in Georgia, ob... (Below threshold)

Georgia 400 (in Georgia, obviously) has a similar policy -- they just redid the shoulders (practically destroying the sensor and camera network in the process) so that buses could drive on the shoulders, speeding through horrible traffic (and 400 truly has horrible traffic, the worst in the city). That not only takes away the breakdown lane (otherwise known as the shoulder in the south) but it messes up traffic even more when a vehicle does break down and has to sit on the shoulder, because the bus has to merge back into traffic.

GDOT has also been exploring the shoulder-driving-in-rush-hour policy, but I doubt they're going to do it. After all, we already have 24-hour HOV lanes, which may eventually become HOT Lanes (HOV lanes that you can pay a fee to drive in while you're alone).

Oh, and it's "Fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise." *grin*

Nobody from Boston calls it... (Below threshold)

Nobody from Boston calls it 'Beantown' dumbass






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