The two worst US cities for drivers are both in Massachusetts

Boston: visit at your peril. Image: Rick Berk at Wikimedia Commons.

Massachusetts, besides being the hardest US state to spell, can also boast another dubious honour: it contains both the US’s two most dangerous cities to drive in.

The 10th edition of Allstate insurance’s “Best Drivers Report” surveyed insurance claims from 200 different cities (this year, it took other factors, such as population and weather, into account too). It found that Boston, and the nearby city of Worcester, had the most collisions and worst driving conditions out of the lot.

On average, explained Allstate spokeswoman Kari Mather, a Boston driver will have a collision “every 4.4 years”, which does seem a little high. By contrast, in Fort Collins, the Colorado city which ranked safest in the country, the average driver would expect an accident only every 14.2 years; nationwide, the average is just once a decade.

One explanation, besides things like weather and city size, could be differences in road layout. Fort Collins’ major roads have the classic grid structure, beloved of US city planners and familiar to most drivers:

Boston, on the other hand, has what urban physicists would call an “amorphous” street structure:

And here’s Worcester, MA, which is similarly disordered:

A ranking by author Bert Sperling named Boston as the hardest city in the US to navigate, blaming crowded roads, missing signs, and the sprawling street layout. (This happens in cities that are nearly 400 years old.) On the other hand, a regular grid structure like the one in Fort Collins – a relatively young city, which has grown 10-fold in just 60 years – has less complicated intersections and easier navigation. 

Another factor is the number of intersections per length of road. Civil engineers Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall researched the issue of Californian street patterns and car safety in 2011. They found that cities with a greater number of intersections actually had less road fatalities overall, as constant intersections make drivers travel at slower speeds and made cycling or walking more appealing. Their research, however, found that both Boston and Worcester had a high volume of intersections, so would receive a high safety rating. Garrick commented that while "fender benders" and other small incidents might have a high incidence in these cities, fatalities and injury levels were low.

Luckily for Bostonian drivers, Allstate doesn’t intend to use the ranking information to determine their insurance premiums.  An interactive map of the data is available here.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget is hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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