Why Worcester Should Embrace Public Transit
The city of Worcester currently has an unfortunate relationship with cars. Most people who live and work in the city commute by car; very few Worcester residents travel by bus, bike or on foot. If Worcester hopes to become a successful modern city, they will need to ditch their love affair with cars.
The first argument to be made against driving through the city is that traffic in Worcester has become horrendous. This is a result of poorly designed roadways and too many drivers. There are neighborhoods throughout the city where streets can turn into carbon emitting parking lots for upwards of a half hour at a time. I have included a picture below of a particularly troublesome intersection. In this one area shown, there are about 5 - 8 traffic lights over short distances that halt traffic moving from any one point to any other point. I frequently have to drive from the bottom left corner of this picture to the top right corner. This distance is .5 miles, but will often take upwards of 10 minutes.
It also doesn't help that Worcester is bisected by I-290. When this road was originally constructed, urban planners believed that central artery highways were beneficial. Today we know that building an elevated highway through an urban core cuts cities into bits and encourages increased car use and congestion; this relationship plays out perfectly in Worcester. I-290 is a slow moving congested road right through downtown and it has essentially divided the city between it's eastern and western halves.
Worcester offers four publicly run parking garages in downtown. The city additionally has almost endless street and off-street parking. In 2013 the parking infrastructure in the city ran a deficit of $476,000. Despite the fact that the garages lose money each year, they remain in operation. Worcester should close some of it's parking garages and build something useful instead.
Now that I've bashed the city for it's failings, I want to point out a couple of areas of hope, the first of which is density. Despite it's large area, Worcester boasts a population density of about 4,600 people per square mile, which is actually quite high. Houston, TX, by comparison, has a density of only 3,500 per square mile, despite a population of over 2 million.
The denser a city is, the more effectively it can be served by public transit. Because Worcester is dense already, it could conceivably operate a successful bus or even light rail network. Worcester is already served by a bus system, but ridership is currently quite low. In order to encourage residents to take the bus, the city has to reduce it's parking friendly rules.
Fortunately, Worcester has taken the step of building a new Transit Hub downtown next to Union Station. This serves as a new central location for bus routes throughout the city, which hopefully will help to speed up transit adoption!
Despite it's affinity for cars, Worcester is showing signs of hope in the realm of parking. In November, the city proposed changes to zoning laws which would remove minimum parking requirements for new buildings. That would mean that as new buildings went up, they would not need to provide off-street parking. This could help to further increase density and encourage people to walk or take the bus, as over time it would reduce parking.
The proposal never actually came to pass for the whole city, but it appears that it will be adopted by at least the downtown core. In a city of cars, I am starting to see some signs of hope, but there is still lots of work to be done.