During my first experience driving in Boston I was waiting at an intersection on campus (Vassar and Mass Ave), my co-pilot, a fellow grad student, turned and said to me: “Watch out for the Boston left.”
When the light turned green and I immediately gunned it (I’ve always been irrationally proud of my reaction time to greens, probably a latent effect from playing video games in my youth) and next thing I knew, the person in the oncoming lane almost T-bones me after attempting to turn left, followed by furious honking from all directions.
“That’s the Boston left.”
Turns out people in Boston regard the “Yield on green” turn sign on traffic lights as a more of a guideline than a rule, busting a left just as the light turns to avoid waiting, usually blocking traffic (it’s a thing.) With time I’ve adjusted to Boston driving, and distilled a few tips for both driving and parking in the city I now call home.
Boston drivers make sudden movements
The Boston left is just one example of sudden movements drivers make in Boston. Others include randomly cutting people off for no reason or pulling a Jersey Slide at any moment.
The key here is to always be on your toes and give people plenty of space - you may get cut off more often (it’d probably happen anyways), but you’ll be much safer when it happens.
Boston has many “only” lanes
By “only” lanes, I refer to lanes that say left only, right only, or straight only. These will pop up often while driving in Boston, and will cause much frustration at the beginning; stay calm young padawan and accept your detour with grace lest you become the one to make sudden movements.
Get used to hazard lights
Parking in Boston is hard to find sometimes and there are times when you’ll just need to pick or drop something up. In these moments, do as Bostonians do and just hazard light near your destination. As long as you’re somewhat quick (debatable as to what constitutes as quick), you’ll avoid a ticket. Just try to avoid blocking traffic.
Street Parking is rarely free
Parking can be difficult in Boston, as most parking is on the street with few stores in the city having dedicated lots. There are several things you should be aware of when looking for parking. The first is that most street parking in and around Boston is resident (permit required) or metered parking, with few truly free spots. Avoid parking in resident spots without a permit, as you’re almost guaranteed to get a ticket. In Cambridge, this rule is generally waived on Sundays or holidays. For metered parking, it helps to have quarters but for most spots in Boston you can pay by an app (specific app depends on the location). Furthermore, most metered parking has a 2 hour limit and you’ll have to move after this 2 hours (even if you refill the meter, you’ll get a ticket in Cambridge). Finally, most meters run from 8 AM to 6 PM or 8 PM and are free overnight.
Check street cleaning times
The second, and I cannot emphasize this enough, is to check the street cleaning times when you park. If you park in a spot during street cleaning times, you will get towed 100% of the time (I speak from experience). I think the record time around me from park to tow is 5 minutes.
Buy a shovel
In the winter, you’ll need a shovel. Without one, you will get snowed in if your car is outside.
You may be thinking that all of this sounds terrible and that no one would want to deal with driving in Boston. This is partly true, but I can say that having a car has greatly enriched my life as a graduate student. It has enabled me to take much needed breaks from research during the most stressful times (nothing like ice climbing the day before quals).
Just remember, if you do bring a car, don’t forget your wits and get ready for that Boston left.