If it takes you half an hour to get there, it’s too far

You’ve seen those all-seeing, all-knowing signs on the highways, the ones that tell you how far it is to a certain destination, and how long it will take you to get there, based on current traffic — like “113 Newburyport: 14 mi, 13 mins” or “NH State Line: 20 mi 18 mins.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reportedly has 160 such travel-time signs on 351 routes across 675 miles of the state. (You can actually visit Mass511.com online, click on “Go Time Boards” button, and see them all at once.)

I confess to puzzling over this entire enterprise. What exactly is the point, for someone driving through Burlington, in being advised that it’s 7 mi 13 mins to I-93 Woburn and 10 mi 11 mins to Rte 20 Waltham?

Certainly there is no one more time-conscious than me. I’m somewhat efficiency-obsessed. Maybe not just “somewhat.” But if I’m heading home on that east-west section of 95 through Wakefield, and I see that going 2 mi to Lynnfield is going to take me 2 mins, how will this change my plans? Perhaps I’m expected to say, “Aw, heck, I’m not going to spend 2 whole mins just to get to Lynnfield! I’m going to bounce my little car off the interstate into the woods, and go through Middleton!”

But I won’t. I’m sticking with 95, whether it takes 2 mins or 4. Or, heaven forbid, 5.

Yes, I tend to be a hopelessly liberal tax-and-spend guy, rooting for government to make life better for people; but the cost of setting up the Go Time Boards, and maintaining them, is a government expenditure I don’t quite understand.

And aside from the money issues, I admit to wondering about the surveillance. How does MassDOT come up with this info? Are there government-owned-and-operated drones, invisible to the naked eye, hovering over our road system and reporting back to mad scientists in a secret bunker where nefarious computers crunch the numbers and continuously feed data to the Go Time Boards?

Well, yes, sort of. Except there are no drones. The informants are … uh … us. Yes, you and me. According to a Boston.com article by Heather Alterisio, the system is reading drivers’ phones and Bluetooth devices.

Is this “Big Brother” scary? Let’s agree that it’s not. No personal data is stored in the system, according to a MassDot spokesperson.

So since we have this solid assurance of the government respecting our personal privacy — and it’s highly unlikely that the Go Time Boards are going to be decommissioned and torn down anytime soon — let’s go with it.

I would recommend that the travel-time signs could help us even more. Yes, more! By offering even more practical information … to truly improve our lives, in the moment.

A few sample suggestions:

  1. “Rowley Dunkin’ Drive-Thru Wait Time: 14 mins.”
  2. “Lord’s Square Backup While NH Toyota Stops at High Street Turn: 3 mins.”
  3. “Hazard Ahead — Dead Squirrel: 1 min.”
  4. “Line Inside Ipswich Post Office: 42 mins.”
  5. “Market Basket Deli Delay (Run on Honey Roast Turkey): 17 mins.”
  6. “Linebrook Road School Bus Garbage Truck Mail Delivery Marini Tractor: 22 mins.”
  7. “Hazard Ahead — Dead Raccoon: 2 min.”
  8. “Brown Square Bistro Parking Space Available in: 38 mins.”
  9. “Days Without Structural Failure at Brendels’ House: 13.”
  10. “Next ‘Nice People of Ipswich’ Facebook Post: 45 Secs.”
  11. “Hazard Ahead — Deer (Status Uncertain): 3 min.”
  12. “Chance of Fisticuffs Over Upcoming Select Board Election: 14%.”
  13. “Days Since Elementary School Location Conflict: 0.”

I humbly submit these ideas, and welcome others. Government of the Bluetooth-enabled, by the Bluetooth-enabled, for the Bluetooth-enabled. That’s what I’m for.

Reach out to me via GoTimeBoards@DougBrendel.com.

Doug Brendel may talk big, but he’s a coward, rarely departing his appalling hovel on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich. Let’s face it: He’s desperate for Go Time Boards. On those rare occasions when he leaves his home, he’s calculating every second till he can get back home to safety. Such a sick soul. Pity him. Okay, just kidding. Reach out to him via GoTimeBoards@DougBrendel.com. —Editor

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