This past extended July 4 weekend had, by all accounts (I don’t have personal knowledge, never having strayed more than 2 miles from home the entire time) the traffic of which legends are made. If traffic feels worse to you, it is. There are reasons why that go beyond the traditional factors like increased development and old inadequate bridges.

Second home rentals have made a huge impact on the economic, social and transportation fabric of Cape Cod. More second home rentals have removed housing stock from the market from which year-round residents (meaning workers) can rent, so roughly a quarter of our workforce commutes onto Cape Cod to provide the services people visiting want and expect. That increased traffic burden contributes to the over-crowding of marginal roadways and helps create delays we all deal with.

In addition, second home rentals often foster an intensity of use that greatly exceeds the use typical of a year-round family. A new home rented weekly across the street from our office had 10 cars in the driveway one weekend last year. When 10-15 people are renting a house, they arrive in not one car like a family would but in 5, 6 or 8 cars. Add that up and it’s easy to see why the traffic (and water quality) is worse.

So, what is the response we need? First and foremost, the Cape needs to think hard about the way it develops, and protects, the undeveloped land remaining. Think hard about the traffic the past few days next time you hear the argument “we have enough open space on Cape Cod”. Trees and open land don’t add cars to the road. We have land that can and should be set aside as protected open space and you should push for that with your town.

The remaining development, for a variety of economic and environmental reasons, should be focused around village centers and away from open spaces. The environmental, water quality and traffic impacts of concentrating development in town centers are far less than more of the type of development we have seen over the years. Vibrant town centers keep people off the road for routine activities, bring life and economic activity and create housing options that will meet our future needs better than the current development model does.

Lastly, in the ongoing discussion about modernizing the bridges, we also need a transportation plan that creates concrete options to the single car trips over the bridge. One that will help reduce carbon emissions and help preserve the quality of the Cape Cod experience, the latter of which is turning sour.