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Paths, Trails, Roads, Streets, Then Highways

"Long ago, the automobile became practical, fashionable and in common use in America.  Americans fell in love with them.   Americans took to car and car stuck to the Americans.   The motorized machines began their invasion.  Times have changed. Most large cities and metropolitan areas have become congested, difficult, some are almost impossible to deal with." 


Boston is the worst.  It's unpleasant.  Anyone who has driven here knows the experience to be a major challenge, exasperating, crazy.  It is the most difficult place to drive in the United States.  Those from other lands, cities like Rome, Sao Paolo, Mumbai oft claim to have worse traffic.  Undoubtedly, however we're in Boston.

Locals - everyone who lives and works here - hate driving in Boston. Visitors who have in the past observed and recognized the Boston driving experience as undesireable prefer to not drive in Boston.  All others don't, won't or can't whatever the rationale.  To be clear, Visitors are everyone else.

You may be asking: "Whats to like about driving in Boston"?  Not much.  It is possible to appreciate Boston's beauty.  You're on Memorial Drive driving but traffic has ground to a halt, jerking forward and stopping.  You are slowly approaching  the  view of Backbay and Beacon Hill.  That's a nice view.  But that's about it.  Site seeing is for the driven not drivers.

Difficult?  Yes, for all of the reasons above but also because Boston's inhabitants - drivers, pedestrians and others - react poorly to it's arterial configuration and the other motorists.  Tempers flair, red lines approached.

Massholes:   Basically, the Masshole is someone else. Which could be any other Massachusetts driver at any  time or place based on the conditions.  How they drive and what they do is covered in detail elsewhere.  Suffice it to say now is that the Masshole can be aggressive, rude, inconsiderate and dangerous.  Here are a couple of examples of self-proclaimed Massholes.

Masshole 2.jpg

Patience:  Nothing about the Boston driving experience engenders patience.  Sure, many drivers here have become better at being patient with other drivers and road conditiolns (spontaneous construction, congestion, weather).  Yet, most will fume from time to time.


The picture of Davis Square Cambridge is an excellent example  of modest congestion entering Davis Square from the Southeast highlighted by a typically confusing but accurate road sign.  A reasonable person might ask: "Which left turn can't I make?" This is so Boston.  Confusing. 


Boston 1776

Davis Square.jpg

Boston Now

Boston 1776.jpg
Boston About Now.jpg

In Boston's  earliest automotive days mud, pebbles and stones  covered cow paths, horse and carriage trails.  In the 1920's cars  appeared everywhere, just like  other American cities.   However, what was different here was that there just was no logic to it.  Paths then roads simply followed the geography of the land, avoided water which was everywhere, or simply curved around homes that were established long before the automobile  arrived.  And, much of what is Boston today was water then.  

The terrain forced the directions of things, and eventually roads to go in certain directions without regards to an overall plan.  There was no plan.  Where they came together (intersections, crossroads) was a matter of chance.   Unlike most American cities intersections here came together from multiple angles and directions. Street often feel like they are of marginal value.

Dorchester Ave. vs Dorchester Street.jpg

One of the results was the invention of the Boston rotary, the roundabout.  The earliest ones had no signals, lights or signs suggesting driver behavior

Early Rotaries.jpg

As you can see from this old Boston traffic jam, there were no street signs to guide victims as to how to enter a rotary, and then what to do once in it. This situation persisted until the late 1970s when authorities recognized that something had to be done. Sometime in the late 20th century, signs indicating that you are entering a rotary as well as Yield sign were added.


There was/is no logic to any of it and for the truly experienced Boston driver there is nothing that can be done about it.  The situation is hopeless.

Most American cities are based on a Grid.  Roads are parallel and perpendicular.  Often time based on a North-South, East-West logic.  Excellent examples include Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Manhattan (Queens NY gets a little dicey but it like Brooklyn has lots of mini-grids).  Even Boston has a few mini-grids - in parts of the city that were once water but now landfill:  Backbay and Southie.  Both are landfill.  Try as they might City engineers could not figure out how to make new streets like the old streets - not straight.  So they settled on what looks like a grid.

Chicago is a perfect example of a city that is a grid.  Anyone flying over Chicago on a clear night would see comething like this.  In this example you are looking North.  Lake Michigan is to the East, to the right.  It is a beautiful and nicely organized city. 


Chicago Grid at Night.jpg

Compare Chicago to Boston.  As you can see there are no observable grids; there is no obvious logic as to how the roads and highways.  It really is no one's fault.  It just is what it is.  In this image taken from an aircraft, probably at 30,000 feet, the view is sort of to the North with the Atlantic Ocean to the right.  If you imagine yourself in a car driving in this morass, you would be vard pressed to tell which way is North or East.   The GPS is necessary.


Aerial Boston at Night.jpg

Now lets look at a few examples maps of Boston.  The North End is some times referred to as the Italian section, Little Italy (only those not from around here would say that), or where you can find decent Italian restaurants and good cannolis) .  This map depicts the street configuration but lacks the details showing which streets (there are many) and which way they go.  Hanover Street is also famous for the cars and trucks that double park in both directions making passage  irritatingly difficult and sometimes impossible. 

And if you are plan to park in the North End, fuhgeddaboudit, it ain't happening.  Unless you live there and have a Resident Parking Permit and could possibly find an available space.  Otherwise, there are parking lots but you have to figure out the best and worst times.  Chances are that the times you want to go there are the worst and best times to go there are not when you want to be there.   Take an Uber or Lyft.

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