Riding herd on Boston's impatient, rambunctious drivers
OFFICER William Draicchio does not merely direct traffic. He conducts it, with all the flair and fury of the legendary Arthur Fiedler. Each weekday morning Officer Draicchio strides to the center of ``his'' intersection and, with gloved hand raised high, takes charge of some of the most cacophonous commuters in the nation.Skip to next paragraph
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Known simply as ``Boston drivers,'' motorists here have a reputation that commands respect even from highway-hardened Californians. Trouble is, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what that reputation is.
Boston-area motorists have been called aggressive, unruly, sneaky, and impatient, but none of those words do them justice, say people who have lived and motored in other cities. Stephen Coyle, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, who has been a commuter in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, attributes Bostonians' behind-the-wheel behavior to the as-yet-undiscovered ``chromosome A,'' for anarchy.
It's a small wonder, then, that Officer Draicchio is able to maintain order at his intersection, located in Quincy, six miles south of Boston along one of the most notorious commuter corridors. He says it's a feat that comes with experience -- almost 30 years of it.
Motorists pay him heed, ``because they know exactly what I'm going to do next. I never change my [traffic] pattern,'' says Draicchio, who is known to local residents and commuters simply as Officer Bill.
But lest a driver try to pull a fast one, he warns: ``I go after people who try to run the intersection.'' One time, after a motorist refused to back his car out of a crosswalk used primarily by schoolchildren, Officer Bill instructed a student to climb over the car's hood.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, traffic cops haven't been seen on the streets since 1976, when the city decided its officers had more important things to do.
But that may be changing. For the past month, 59 officers have been stationed ``at gridlock areas'' during rush hours to try to improve the traffic flow, says Boston Traffic Commissioner Richard Dimino.
``We believe it's working pretty well,'' says Detective Robert O'Toole of the Boston Police Department, who heads up the experiment. For years, motorists here have believed ``you can do anything you want and you won't get nabbed,'' he says. ``But we are starting to crack down, and we're determined to make them believe it.''
Boston drivers, however, also have their champions.
Doug Erdman of Chelmsford, Mass., says he's had enough of the whining and complaining. In defense of Boston drivers, he recently sent a letter to the editor of a local newspaper: ``What others call offensive or obnoxious driving is very often the impatience that a skilled craftsman has when he is delayed by the bumbling of amateurs. My bet is that the majority of the complainers are occasional commuters, new to the area, or people who don't own cars.''
And he concluded, ``Restrictions that force us to lower our level of expertise just to suit the occasional novice won't work (good Boston drivers will ignore them).''
Motorists, police, city officials, and pedestrians all agree on one thing: If there's chaos in the streets, it's usually the streets that cause the chaos.
``It's an old city,'' explains Detective O'Toole, a lifelong Boston resident. ``It's got great history, but, boy, it's sure got small streets.''