Driving in Boston – 12 Tips for Blending In

Angry man driving a vehicle

If you're traveling to Boston, the usual driving advice is “Don't do it.” With this in mind, searching for driving tips in Boston might make you leery to voluntarily share the city's narrow streets with its notoriously aggressive drivers. It's all very doable, though, if you learn to drive like a Boston local. Here are 12 tips for blending in when driving in Boston.  

1. Holy Cow! No Wonder It's a Mess

Boston Colonial Roads Painting
Image Credit: Federal Highway Administration – 1763 THE BOSTON POST ROAD, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

The city is a mere 46 square miles, so you'd think it's an easy-breezy metro to navigate. You'd be oh-so-very wrong, however. The roads in Boston are a jumbled collection of do-overs dating back to colonial times. Originally, the roadways were simple worn-out ruts created by carriages going to and from Boston Common.

 Over the years, the city made adjustments, but ultimately, the roads are just a slightly modernized version of what good ol' Paul Revere knew. In other words, be prepared for narrow streets with endlessly quirky twists and turns – the result of the original settlers navigating carriages and cows around large boulders. 

2. Frogger Arcade Game X Bruins and Dunks

Boston at night
Image Credit: Andrew Choy -CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Being smaller makes Boston a great walking city, but the roads are now jammed with residents, commuters, and delivery vehicles, making driving difficult. In fact, pedestrians are one of the challenges since they often cross whenever the whim grabs hold, crosswalk or not. Imagine the video game Frogger where the little green hero is decked out in a Bruins jersey, Dunks cup in hand. That's Boston, baby – only at warp speed. As a newbie driver in Boston, keep your head on a swivel to ensure your wicked good vacation stays that way. 

3. Cyclists Are Almost as Aggressive as Drivers

Boston Cyclists
Image Credit: BU Interactive News (photo by Hannah Klarner) – Flickr: Midnight Marathon 2013, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Boston is a compact city with a vibrant cyclist community, but a far cry from the wicker basket-clad bike-folk you might see at a farmer's market. Instead, the cyclist vibe in Boston is reminiscent of the bike-riding paperboy in the 1985 movie Better Off Dead; he's super aggressive and wants his $2 payment. Well, that kid grew up, cloned himself, and they've taken over the streets of Boston – back and forth to work each day to collect their hard-earned payday.

The point is, be extremely careful and don't drive or veer into the bicycle lanes.

4. There's No Shame in Taking Public Transportation

Boston Bus
Image Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.

If you're already noticing sweaty palms, this might be a good time to consider Boston's public transportation system. A quick visit to the website for MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) will help settle your nerves.

If you arrive at Logan International Airport, there's access to the Silver and Blue Lines and, by default, most of the city. For those coming via road trip, feel free to park your car at a subway station on the outskirts; you'll save money and the hassle of the Boston driving scene. 

5. GPS in Boston Is a Respectable Guess at Best

Man driving car, directions, GPS
Image Credit: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock.

Here's the thing. When you let cows engineer the roads of a city, modern-day tools like GPS sometimes struggle. Boston's roadways are jumbled, and there's a maddening number of one-way lanes and sudden forks in the road. Your GPS will likely muck it up now and again but don't panic. The last thing you want to do on the angry streets of Boston is to frantically try to correct your errors. Instead, find a safe place to pull over; put your hazard lights on and allow your GPS to readjust.

6. Always Allow an Extra 20 Minutes

Young businesswoman looking at wristwatch while checking email on laptop
Image Credit: GaudiLab and Shutterstock.

Although parts of Boston are grid-like (Back Bay, Dorchester Heights, and South Boston), the map view looks like a glorious mess of silly string. If you miss a turn, it's not as easy as circling around the block. Between traffic, double-parked delivery trucks, and the lack of a grid system, one wrong turn can add about 20 minutes to your travel time. Don't get nervous about it; use time management tips and allow extra time.

7. Directions From a Well-Intentioned Local

Man giving woman directions, lost, city, travel
Image Credit: Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock.

Bostonians are happy to help you with travel advice but be warned. Getting directions from a local might involve landmarks you won't see on a map.

Let's say, for example, you need to cross the Charles River. A local might tell you to cross the Salt and Pepper Bridge, and off you go to certain navigational doom. The actual name is the Longfellow Bridge, also called The Cambridge Bridge or the old West Boston Bridge. Bottom line, take a hot second to do a quick Google search for any landmarks a helpful local might mention. 

8. But There Are Road Signs, Right? (Don't Hold Your Breath)

Boston Street Signs
Image Credit: Universal Hub.

 One surefire way to fail miserably in your Boston driving adventures is to rely on street signs. They're usually small, faded, crooked, hidden, or simply non-existent. On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find approximately 5-gazillion signs haphazardly plastered to a single post. This, of course, is located at an intersection with a highway on-ramp, two one-way streets, and a terrifying question mark-shaped street that probably leads to a glitch in the Matrix. Basically, read the big signs and ignore the rest unless you're at a red light. 

9. Kick It Old-School With Printed Directions

Reading directions in car, road trip, travel, vacation
Image Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.

Additionally, there are a lot of times you need to execute back-to-back maneuvers , crossing multiple lanes of traffic to be successful. Essentially, you need to somehow teleport your car from the right lane to the left to make a turn – and you'll have only a few car lengths of distance. It's nearly impossible, even for locals. Plus, it happens so quickly, your GPS might not be able to utter the words quickly enough.

You can avoid stress – and missed turns – by printing the GPS instructions in a large, easy-to-read font. Use as few words as possible and double-spaced lines. A quick-glimpse version is a good goal. 

10. Rush Hour for Hours on End

Sleepy young man rubs his eyes with his right hand. His left hand is on the steering wheel. He is sitting at his car. Road safety concept.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Okay, the next step to driving successfully in Boston is knowing when not to drive. The morning rush hour is a solid four hours, from approximately 6:00 – 10:00 am. End-of-day chaos begins around 3:00 pm and lasts through 7:00 pm. Thursdays and Fridays, however, get extra spicy mid-afternoon as folks head to the nearby mountains, lakes, and ocean hangouts. 

11. Check The Game and Event Schedules

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

It's always best to check if teams have home games on any given day in Boston sports. If you end up in traffic associated with Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics, it's game over.

Likewise, checking the event schedule for TD Garden is a good idea. Once you have a sense of events, it's good to start checking Google Maps long before you plan to head out. Track any accidents or other traffic snafus and adjust your plan accordingly. Lastly, add WBZ NewsRadio 1030 to the radio pre-sets; the station updates traffic “on the 3s” (1:03, 1:13, 1:23 pm, etc.) 

12. Tricks of The Trade – Easing Out & Taking a Lane

What is the holdup here? Nervous unsafe driving
Image Credit: didesign021/Shutterstock.

You'll notice two common tactics once you've settled into a Boston driving groove. The first is called easing out. It looks like someone slowly entering an alarmingly busy road, casually and without looking. It looks like that because that's precisely what it is – so be prepared. 

Next up, a much-needed maneuver called “taking a lane.” Sometimes there's no break in the traffic, but you're trying to wedge yourself in there. You need to take a lane; this requires you to edge your car out bit-by-bit (and with safety top of mind) until, eventually, a car is forced to let you in.

Congratulations, you're now a legit Boston driver!