It’s already a fact of life that there are few things less fun than driving on Massachusetts’ traffic-clogged interstate highways, where only the fastest and rudest motorists survive. Riding on the perennially troubled T is a close second.
And when Bay State residents look around for someone to blame for their white-knuckled rides down the Massachusetts Turnpike, or sluggish commutes on the Red Line, they’re looking squarely at Gov. Maura Healey and state lawmakers on Beacon Hill.
That’s the bottom line of a new poll concluding that few people feel “very safe” on the state’s highways; that mass-transit is a mess, and that traffic statewide is worse than it was before the pandemic, according to Boston-based MassINC Polling Group, with sponsorship by the civic-minded Barr Foundation.
Eleven months into her first term, Healey, a Democrat, got a “C” from about a third (32%) of the poll’s 1,390 respondents, while about a quarter (26%) gave her a “D” or an “F” for her management of all transportation issues.
But before Healey’s sometime antagonists in the majority- Democrat General Assembly take a victory lap, the poll’s respondents were just as harsh, with 37% awarding them a “D” or and “F” for their handling of the state’s wide-ranging transportation challenges.
“Residents are concerned about the state of the existing public transportation network, likely driven by successive problems at the MBTA,” MassINC pollsters wrote. “Traffic is back and now seen as worse than before COVID. And few residents say they feel ‘very safe’ on the state’s roads and rails, driven largely by the behavior of other drivers and riders.”
The poll, conducted from Oct 23 to Nov. 6, included over-samples of Black, Latino, and Asian residents, with an overall margin of error of 3% for all respondents. The results were first reported by Politico’s Massachusetts Playbook.
Pollsters acknowledged that many of the challenges facing the MBTA predate Healey’s tenure. The Democratic governor and the T’s managers have announced efforts to improve service and to boost safety. The agency said last week that it will need $24.5 billion to fix the system, the Boston Globe reported.
Even so, “it appears residents are not cutting the current governor much slack,” pollsters noted. Nearly 4 in 10 Greater Boston residents listed fixing public transit as their top priority Thirty percent of respondents outside the Interstate 495 corridor said fixing roads, bridges and tunnels was their top priority, according to the poll.
A Question of Safety
When it comes to their safety on the commonwealth’s highways and byways, 82% of respondents said they felt unsafe because of reckless or speeding drivers, while more than three-quarters (77%) pointed the finger at people fiddling with their phones. Six in 10 respondents said they worried about road rage incidents.
Strap-hangers on the “T” who said they felt unsafe cited crime and violence as their top concern (71%), followed by overcrowding (54%), and old or broken trains or stations (43% each). Two-thirds of pedestrians (65%) said they worried most about crime, while more than half said they felt threatened by distracted (55%) and reckless (54%) drivers.
The poll’s Black, Latino, and Asian respondents gave Healey and the General Assembly higher grades on transportation issues and said they feel safer on most forms of transportation, according to the poll.
Notably, however, only about a quarter (26%) of the poll’s Black respondents said they felt “very safe” walking around their communities, compared to 40% of white respondents; 38% of Latino respondents, and 44% of Asian respondents.
More than two-thirds (68%) of Black pedestrians who said they felt unsafe blamed distracted drivers, the poll showed.
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