As a general rule, passenger trains in North America don’t make money. That’s been true for a lot longer than people realize – it goes back to the 1930s and even the 1920s. All those streamliners before and after WW2? Railroads trying to get travelers back from the automobile. By the time the Post Office Department (as the USPS was called then) pulled most of the railroad mail contracts in 1967, it’s was pretty much all over, with all but three railroads relieved of their common carrier passengers obligations by Amtrak a few years later.
But I digress. The Northeast Corridor has lots of trains, the fastest of which are Amtrak’s Acela which spends most of its time running at 120-135 mph with gusts to 150 up in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. With hourly service most of the day between Washington, DC, New York, and Boston, it’s very popular. So popular that it’s now covering its “above the rail” cost. “Above the rail” means labor and other operating costs but not the capital costs of replacing the trains (usually) or, most importantly the cost of the 456-mile-long right of way. This is kind of new for Amtrak and it’s not clear that they are equipped to handle it.
This is a pretty interesting solution to a problem seen in older areas. Here in Oklahoma, where we really, really like our PLSS grid, this type of thing happens only rarely but back east — say in the Boston area — it’s common. And, in fact, several stills in the article are of Boston and Cambridge. Cambridge has even legally declared some streets as “shared streets”.
What’s interesting to me is that it’s counter-intuitive, that taking out signals makes things better for the motor vehicles as well as the pedestrian. It is possible that some motorists have changed their route to avoid this intersection, but I only have this film to judge from and certainly don’t have before and after vehicle counts to show what’s happening regarding vehicle movement.
I lived in Massachusetts too long to call them anything but rotaries. Their prevalence there is likely due to their roads being laid out by wandering cows and not by surveyors from the Public Land Survey System. They are not always the right choice for an intersection but please note the results of their testing.