How to drive in Boston: A survival guide

(Last significant change to this page: 10 December 1999.)

During my time in Boston as both pedestrian and driver, I’ve picked up a number of helpful hints for visitors about how to drive like a local and how to find your way around. Those who haven’t driven in Boston may think that I’m exaggerating; I only wish I were.

How to drive like a native Bostonian

  • Given a chance, pedestrians will take advantage of you. If you stop to let one pedestrian cross the street, they’ll all try to cross. Be firm. State law alleges that vehicles must stop for pedestrians, but state law is for wimps.
  • If you come to a four-way stop, everyone else has to stop, so you can ignore the stop sign and keep going (even if another car is waiting on one of the side streets).
  • If another driver doesn’t pull out in front of you given the slightest opportunity, he or she is a wimp, and therefore has no driving rights.
  • Treat every street as being as many lanes wide as the number of cars that can fit side-by-side.
  • Ignore stop lights whenever their presence is inconvenient.
  • If someone ahead of you isn’t moving fast enough for your tastes, attempt to pass them on the right. If there isn’t enough room on the right, pull across the double yellow line to pass on the left. If there still isn’t enough room, honk a lot.
  • You get bonus points for turning left across three lanes of traffic from the extreme right-hand lane.
  • Do not under any circumstances allow a parked car to pull out into traffic.
  • Signalling before a lane change or turn is for wimps.
  • Using headlights in driving rain is for wimps.
  • State law alleges that a car currently in a roundabout has right-of-way over a car not currently in a roundabout. Ignore this idea. In point of fact, you always have right-of-way regardless of other circumstances.

Useful navigation facts for visitors

  • No major street is allowed to have street signs identifying it. (This presents no problem to natives, who know where all the major streets are anyway.)
  • Most streets are one-way in the wrong direction, and most one-way streets curve around to complete a 270-degree turn to bring you back to the previous one-way street you tried to turn off of.
  • Corollary: no two streets are parallel, especially if they appear to be.
  • All signs indicating traffic rules (“Left lane left turn only,” for instance) are visible only when within ten feet of an intersection. (This presents no problem to natives, as such signs are invariably ignored anyway.)
  • Most pedestrians are out-of-town visitors, especially if you ask them for directions.
  • Adjacent houses have numbers no more than 2 apart, and often less. Some places in other states have a bizarre numbering system whereby each block contains numbers 100 higher or lower than the previous block; Boston city planners were wise enough to see that that practice would have the undesireable side effect of allowing non-natives to estimate how far they are from their destination.
  • It’s unclear whether Boston’s streets were really laid out by following wandering cows, as local legend maintains, but it would certainly not surprise anyone if that story were true.