Driving in the Vicinity of Boston, MA, USA

3 Conversations

Still here? All right, you have chosen of your own free will to attempt driving through the city of Boston. Please keep this choice at the front of your mind while reading this Entry.

Although your choice is not advisable (see Hint #1), it is possible that you may have a Legitimate Reason to Drive In Boston.

Legitimate Reasons to Own a Car in the Vicinity of Boston

(1) Wishing to explore rural New England. If you wish to go less than fifteen miles from Boston Common, you have no need to have a car to explore. However, there are times when a city dweller may wish to see true wilderness, or a quaint New England town, or other things that cannot coexist with a high population density. You, lucky driver, are fortunate in this respect: your travel route will lead you away from central Boston, the Center Of All Traffic Delays.

(2) Living too far away from a T station to walk. This is a marginal reason to have a car, but one that thousands of Bostonians use. I personally would never use this Legitimate Reason, as there are thousands of potential living spaces that are available, affordable, quiet, spacious, pleasant, in a good place to raise children, and (most importantly) within several blocks' walk of an MBTA (or "T") stop.
If you exercise this Legitimate Reason, I strongly advise you to seek the nearest T stop and obtain a parking permit at the lot there. This will save you money, tires, time, and expense, and make you daily commute much more pleasant.

(3) Waiting for a buyer for your car. If you have recently moved to Boston and the Legitimate Reasons listed above do not apply, any cars in your possession should be immediately sold or loaned to a trustworthy relative in another state. I am serious. Owning a car in the state of Massachussetts is significantly more expensive than in any other state, with the possible exception of California. A car is a liability. Do not have one. (See Hint #1.)

Poor Excuses to Own a Car in the Vicinity of Boston

Be aware that many of the normal reasons to own a car do not apply in the vicinity of Boston. Among these Poor Excuses are the following:

(1) I need to get groceries. Grocery stores are liberally sprinkled throughout the Boston metro area. It is doubtful that you need walk more than ten blocks to find a good one. Small grocery carts (not "grocery store carts" per se but small, two-wheeled, steel-wire contraptions) are for sale and are quite convienent for weekly shopping trips. If you run a large household, groceries can be convienently and cheaply purchased via the Internet for home delivery. Several companies offer delivery service in the Boston area.

(2) I need to take the kids to Point X. Chances are, you can reach your destination quickly and cheaply using the MBTA. Please consult these Entries for information on:
The MBTA systemThe MBTA subway system.

(3) I need it to get around town, or to the next town. Trust me, you are likely to reach your destination more quickly by walking. The probablility that walking is your best best increases rapidly as you approach Boston Common. Thus, in suburbs near I-495, the outer freeway ringing the Boston area, this Poor Excuse may not apply.

(4) I need it to carry {random heavy object}.
Borrow a friend's car or hire a mover. You will have less heartburn that way.

(5) I need to justify paying Allstate. Surprise! You are not covered by Allstate in Massachusetts. Drop your policy and see Hint #1.

Surviving the Driving Experience in the Vicinity of Boston

If you still insist upon driving into Boston, you should be aware of the status of the local streets.

Jaywalkers are everywhere

Boston is truly a walkers' town. However, neither the layout of the streets nor the streetlights are conducive to an speedly and orderly flow of pedestrian traffic. Boston is therefore known for the highest rate of jaywalking in the USA. Drivers from elsewhere should be particularly careful to watch for jaywalkers, who will take any possible opportunity to cross either a congested or a supposedly clear street.

There is no grid in Boston

While small areas such as Back Bay may have a small, orderly pattern of streets, the standard pattern for street orientations in Boston is utter chaos. There are historical reasons for this:

(a) Central Boston originally sat upon very hilly land, and the streets oriented themselves to the landscape.
(b) Boston was originally approachable by land on only one or two roads; as landfill was applied to the swamp surrounding the roads, the streets grew outward from these thoroughfares.
(c) Massachussetts was established as a series of villages, and direct roads were built between these villages. As a result, numerous 'centers' and 'squares' exist where many roads converge at haphazard angles. While conducive to the formation of communities (even in the twenty-first century), these intersections are a driver's worst nightmare.

Thus, be aware that the road you are on will not stay straight for very long, and that grid patterns typically last only a few blocks before altering. Orient yourself often; it is easy to get turned around.

Crazy street names

Boston was laid out in a time of horses and buggies, when identifing a specific locale by street name was more important than being able to find that locale efficiently. Thus, street names were diverse and were liable to change whenever a major thoroughfare was intersected. Thus, for instance, Winter Street becomes Summer Street upon crossing Tremont. Boylston Street becomes Essex Street becomes Altantic Avenue, which becomes Commercial Street. Jersey Street is miraculously transformed into Yawkey Way, and so forth.

Worse, several street names were re-used in different towns without linking them. It is impossible to predict without a map which streets are or are not contiguous between one town and another. For instance, Commonwealth Avenue and Massachussetts Avenue are the same street no matter what town you are in. But there are at least five known Washington Streets, and at least three Boylston Streets. Main Streets and Broadways will simply not be discussed in this Entry.

Furthermore, Boston now comprises the territory once occupied by the townships of Boston, Charlestown, Brighton, Roxbury, and Dorchester. As a result, is possible to have two streets with the same name in the same city! The Post Office avoids this problem by requiring the former town name in addressing letters. I suggest you do the same.

To remedy the recurrent problem of street name mutation, I recommend a detailed street map, pre-planning, a slow pace, constant awareness of your exact position, and Hint #1.

The agony of the rotary

A horrific device imported from England, rotaries have been installed in several locations in New England, supposedly to aid the flow of traffic. They often do the exact opposite. All rotaries should be avoided, particularly the one guarding the bridge to Cape Cod on Route 3. However, if you should be unlucky enough to meet a rotary, do the following:

(a) Crawl slowly up to the edge of the rotary.
(b) Endure the interminable wait for a slot to open in the flow of traffic around the rotary.
(c) Insert the front of your vehicle into the slot, clockwise. Ignore any horns that blare; now that you have the front of your vehicle in the rotary, the back must follow.
(d) Be ready for your turn out of the rotary. I have once circumnavigated a rotary three times trying to escape.
(e) Never enter the left lane of the rotary. It is pure holy hell to even attempt to leave.

The Big Dig

In 1985, a coalition of city planners, construction conglomerates, corrupt Democratic politicians, and idealists pushed a plan through the Massachussetts legislature and the U. S. Congress that would forever be derided by the inhabitants of Boston. Although officially known simply as the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, this plan came to embody the very essence of Big Government excess, corruption, overplanning, underconceptualization, and hassle. As a result, the longest and worst intentionally caused traffic jam in history resides in the very heart of the City of Boston. Its name is the Big Dig.

As originally proposed, the Big Dig promised to make downtown Boston a paradise for both pedestrians and motorists. It would remove the eyesore known as the Central Artery, Interstate 93, completely from the center of Boston, and replace it with a beauteous, 1.5-mile-long park through the heart of the city. It would divert traffic to a roadway below the city, with plenty of room for expansion later, and thoughtfully chosen entry and exit points for maximum efficiency. It would reunite sundered neighborhoods, speed commutes, and become the model for twenty-first-century civic planning.

The planners obviously did not consult their Blake. The best laid plans of mice and men.... The Big Dig may yet become all that its proponents envisioned. But at the moment, the Big Dig is universally cursed. Gaping holes exist throughout central Boston as the Dig works its way into the city's heart. Traffic lanes and exits on I-93 change almost daily, making route planning impossible. Traffic, merely horrific before, slows to a maddening standstill for nearly three hours every morning on the Central Artery. The Dig has overrun its prodigious $11 billion dollar budget by at least $1.2 billion already, and is expected to cost even more. Tolls continue on the Massachussetts Turnpike, not to pay for the Pike itself, but for the Dig. Pike lands have been sold to Harvard University; federal monies have been blocked off; officials have been hired, fired, and hired again in the effort to staunch the bleeding.

And the Dig continues.

This disaster is, at this writing, still four years from completion (i.e., in 2005). What impact will this project have on your driving, dear reader? Please note the following suggestions:

(a) Never, ever, ever use the Central Artery as a north-south traverse from South Boston to Charlestown, or for that matter, from any point south of the Charles River to any point north of the Charles River. It just is not worth it.
(b) Avoid, if possible, crossing the Dig from east to west.
(c) If you are approaching Boston from the west, exit the Pike before encountering the Dig. The Pike/Artery intersection is a major construction site within the Dig itself.
(d) Likewise, do not use the Ted Williams Tunnel's access to I-93. Use an overpass instead to reach Mass. Ave. or Dot Ave and proceed north or south, as desired.
(e) Did I mention that you should avoid the Dig?
(f) See Hint #1.

Navigating in the Vicinity of Boston

Now that you have full knowledge of the street environment in Boston (and I am relieved of all responsiblity thereto), you may study the Ways that one Should and Should Not Take to reach your destination.

Massachussetts Avenue, known commonly as Mass Av

Mass Av is a wonderful pathway. It extends north from a little-known intersection in Dorchester past the least-impassable section of the Artery (the Melnea Cass interchange), under the Boston Medical Center, through the historic South End, and past the brownstones of Back Bay. It passes Symphony Hall, the Mother Church of the Christian Scientists, and the Berklee College of Music. It spans the Charles at the Harvard Bridge and bisects the exquisite campus of MIT. Past Central Square and Harvard University it winds, through Porter Square in Somerville and up the Arlington Heights. Following the trail of Revere and Dawes, it veers past the Battle Green and wanders the ways of Lexington, bridging I-95 near the border of that town. Past Hanscom Field it winds, now in fell and Park Service-protected forest, until it last it dead ends at a two-hundred-year-old inn on Concord Green.

If you think I like Mass Av, you wouldn't be wrong. But I praise Mass Av not only for its location and history. Mass Av is, without question, the best north-south route in the Boston area. Don't bother trying to go north-south within the city on the Artery! Mass Av is the way to go. It has good interchanges with other major routes, and is almost always clear of heavy traffic. The major exceptions are rush hour (but no street will be unclogged at rush hour), and when work is being done on some portion of the highway. Otherwise, Mass Av is a dream boat.

How to get on and off Mass Av

The "Mass Av" exit from the Artery actually puts you on Melnea Cass. Mass Av is the first major intersection. Go left for Dorchester, straight for points west, right for points north and east.

Newmarket Square is actually a huge rotary. Bear slightly right, then left to get on Southampton Street to go to Andrew Square, South Boston.

You cannot enter Storrow Drive westbound from Mass Av northbound. You cannot enter Storrow Drive at all from Mass Av southbound. Fortunately, this is not a big problem. For northbound travelers, see directions for Memorial Drive below. For southbound travelers, take a right on Commonwealth, then proceed one block to Charlesgate and take another right. Charlesgate has exits for Storrow west and eastbound.

There is a concrete barrier preventing you from turning left from Mass Av onto Memorial. Don't panic! Take a right, then wait about five hundred feet. Memorial has plenty of U-turns built-in.

If you are in a car, NEVER EVER EVER leave Mass Av in the Harvard Square area. If your destination is Harvard Square, go back home and take the T. Otherwise, proceed through the square. NOTE: Mass Av southbound travelers are temporarily re-routed one block over to Mount Auburn Street. Don't panic! Mount Auburn will run back into Mass Av in about four blocks.

From Mass Av To Anywhere

South suburbs: enter I-93 at the Melnea Cass interchange and go south. DO NOT go north, as you will enter the Artery and the Dig.

Dorchester: head south. You'll hit Dot Av in no time.

South Boston: Round the Newmarket Square non-rotary rotary and take Southhampton Street east. In ten blocks, you're at Andrew Square. Take Dot Av north to Broadway station; head east for City Point and the old fort.

South End: on Mass Av, between Harrison and Columbus Avenues.

Downtown: take Tremont, Boylston, or Commonwealth east.

Roxbury (God only knows why you would go there): Washington
Street west.

Brookline: take Huntington Av or Beacon Street west.

Kenmore Square, Brighton: Take Comm Av or Beacon west.

West suburbs: Memorial or Storrow west to the River Street bridge, then go south to the Pike interchange.

Charlestown: Take Memorial east to Land Boulevard.

Somerville: Memorial or Cambridge east, or stay on Mass Av and turn at Porter Square for the Tufts area.

North and East suburbs: Memorial or Cambridge east to Lechmere, then Msgr. O'Brien (becomes McGrath) north. You will run into I-93: take it north (NOT south), or stay on McGrath until it intersects 16 (across the Mystic River). 16 east will take you to Revere, Winthrop, East Boston, and the roads to the North Shore, including US 1.

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written and Edited by


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more