The truth is that Boston was never intended for commuting traffic. The city is a hodgepodge of oddly shaped roads that were all built around ox paths, Paul Revere’s house, and the harbor. You won’t see any sweeping avenues or grid patterns like New York and Chicago. This town likely endured an early kind of gridlock with the horse and buggy, which raced around Beantown long before Henry Ford cranked up the Model T.
Anxiety was hardly the term for my first experience in downtown Boston. My screams were withheld in the comfort of my own vehicle. I remembered the sage advice of my dad: “Always think of yourself as the smartest driver on the road.” Admittedly, that advice didn’t stick on the occasions when I drove like a moron. You can’t help screwing up once in a while. Boston traffic compels you to go with the flow, even if that flow is full of erratic vehicles. It took time to learn the natural behavior of particular automobiles and their drivers. It took time to learn the difference between offensive and defensive driving. Add all this to learning the lay of the land and you’ve got your work cut out for you! But here are some basic tips for getting around Boston with your skin intact. I’m sure I’ll come up with more!
1. The Tobin Bridge: A structure voted Miss Bridge USA in the 1982 World Bridge Pageant, which you obviously didn’t know. Every city seems to have a large bridge that stands against the skyline and fill up with cars. Who knows? Some of those commuters might end up in a movie, because dramatic scenes always take place on a bridge. (Think Pacific Rim, not Bridges of Madison County.) It’s a decent drive on weekends, but those who take the Tobin on weekdays would sell their souls to own a hovercraft or helicopter and skip the giant steel cage. TRIP TIP: Take the bridge north into Chelsea if you want a great view of the harbor!
2. Beacon Hill: The tricky part of Beacon Hill isn’t the hill itself, but Beacon Street. The eastern part from Charles Street to Tremont Street was painted with lines by city workers who don’t use Beacon Street. Two lanes up and one lane down. The downhill ride would be pleasant if not for the drivers who fear of sideswiping all the parked cars along the curb. Naturally, those frightened drivers edge to the left over the dashed line and threaten to pick off the mirrors of drivers going uphill. Naturally, everyone going uphill edges to the right. It’s more of a game of chicken between SUVs and taxis. TRIP TIP: Follow one of the northbound lanes with Boston Common on your right, and you’ll come right up to the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House.
3. Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue: These are actually nice roads. They have to be nice. The properties around here are very nice. Commercial starts in the North End and curves around the waterfront like a big “C” until it becomes Atlantic Avenue. Atlantic proceeds past Columbus Park, Long Wharf, the Aquarium, Boston Harbor Hotel, and every other piece of scenic real estate the city has to offer. Things tend to seize up as you reach South Station, but that’s not your problem: your cousin has to jump out and catch his train. All you have to do is double up by the cabs and push him out. TRIP TIP: Drop some money in a meter and stroll into the North End. Real cappuccino isn’t bought in Starbucks. You’ll find it here!
4. The Zakim Bridge: This is among the younger works of Boston architecture and named after the humanitarian Lenny Zakim. When the bridge was dedicated, Zakim’s buddy, some guy named Bruce Springsteen, showed up to play an unplugged version of Thunder Road. The Zakim has lots of cables and neat lighting and a wide span that earned it the nickname, “The Bill Buckner Bridge”. (Whoever cracked that gem has a bitter sense of Red Sox humor.) Spaces within the structure allow natural light to settle on the water, thereby not confusing local fish on their way to spawn in the Charles River. TRIP TIP: The Zakim is like a fun slide into the grand tunnel system that feeds I-93 under the city. If you’re moving southbound around 5 o’clock, expect 5 m.p.h. traffic. Pop in your iPod because radio doesn’t always work!
5. Boston Common and the Public Garden: So what if you’re lost? The streets around the Common and Garden take you around a lovely assortment of green space. The Common and Garden offer the comforting notion that the city is more than just frantic drivers and lofty buildings. Maybe the greenery is a blessing in disguise for weary motorists. All those park benches invite you to relax, don’t they? Fair enough advice for anyone going crazy in traffic. That’s why I like driving around downtown. I see the Common and Garden, take a deep breath, and keep on truckin’! TRIP TIP: Don’t worry about making a wrong turn: streets run counter-clockwise around the Garden, and clockwise around the Common. The public spaces are separated by northerly Charles Street, which leads to a convenient parking garage or deposits cars around either property.