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The One Rule on Traveling Around Boston

This is a public service announcement for the approximately 3 million people to live in the Greater Boston area to all those who are visiting our wonderful communities

Boston Green Line Train. By Peter Van den Bossche from Mechelen, Belgium – Boston streetcar, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

I have lived all my life (except for four years in college in Upstate NY, one summer in Germany, and one year in Taiwan) in the Greater Boston area.  In addition to that, I’ve worked in fields where I deal with people who move to the Boston area, and one of the big things that comes up is about how difficult it is to travel in Boston, and how Bostonians are such bad drivers.  I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think that one of the main reasons is a big misunderstanding about people from other parts of the US and assume that they can drive/bike/walk here exactly the same way they do in other parts of the country. I’m here to give you my view on how it really works here.

The Greater Boston area was founded many years before the car, and we have highly compact cities and towns where it takes a long time to get between places which are relatively close. (Try going from Arlington to Roslindale.  There’s really no good way to do it and will take you approximately 40 minutes no matter which way you go, and it’s only about 8 miles.) Everyone is trying to get around with narrow streets and limited parking. The only way we can manage it is if everyone looks out for each other.  This will manifest itself differently than in other parts of the country.  I’ve seen people who have caused accidents and didn’t know they were at fault and just drove away, because they were doing what was right when you live in a small city with 8 lane roads. That doesn’t cut it here. We have to do a lot to keep the flow of movement going.

It’s rather simple.  There is really only one rule about getting around, and if you follow it constantly, you won’t have a problem. It is:

  1. Get out of the way.

This might seem very simple, but it manifests itself in many ways, and people from other parts of the country (especially tourists and incoming students to our many colleges and universities) fail on this miserably all the time, and it creates tie ups. The general rule in other places is to look out for the people in front of you.  Here, you need to look out for the people behind you. Let me give you some examples.

  • In driving, if you are both stopped at a light, the person making a left turn should go first, otherwise it creates a backup behind the car and no one might be able to get through the intersection.
  • If you are making a left turn, make sure that you pull over to the left side of the lane so that other people can get by you on the right.  Again, it’s to keep the flow of traffic moving.
  • If you see someone wanting to make a left turn who is coming at you, don’t stop to let them go.  I was almost in a rear end collision because someone did that.
  • If you see a pedestrian trying to cross the road not at a crosswalk, don’t stop for them. They have (or should have) checked the traffic and know that it is clear to go once you pass, so you are making it more dangerous for them to get across.  They would only go across because they know you will clear the roadway.  That again will cause problems for people in both lanes.
  • In walking (and yes, we are very walker friendly here), don’t take up the whole sidewalk talking with your friend of being on your cellphone and block the entire path.  Allow for there to be room for someone to get by who is walking faster than you.
  • On an escalator, the right side is for standing, and the left side is for walking.  Do not, under any circumstances, block the entire width of the escalator to keep people who need to get somewhere because you want to have a conversation and don’t have the courtesy to make room (again, see Rule #1).
  • And a final rule of thumb: Don’t drive into downtown BostonTake the T or take a taxi, but don’t drive yourself.  If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll be a menace in a car there, as you’ll get confused, not know where you’re going, and you’ll stop and create either a traffic jam or an accident.

I hope this helps you get around our fair city. Just remember, don’t get in the way, and walk if you can!

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