Having a car in Boston may be convenient if you're planning day trips outside the city limits, but driving within the city should be avoided, as it's often confusing and stressful. Roads are congested, traffic makes maneuvering difficult, and signage is cryptic (or nonexistent). Parking spaces are often hard to come by, especially during major events like the Boston Marathon and Red Sox games, or even large conventions.
If you must drive and you’re unfamiliar with the city, it's important to plan your route in advance. Traveling with a GPS unit or smartphone, or renting one from your car-rental agency, can be a real help.
Boston motorists are notorious for driving aggressively. Pay extra attention to other drivers, and watch out for those using the emergency breakdown lanes (illegal unless posted otherwise), passing on the right, failing to yield, or turning from the wrong lane.
Unlike most of the USA, Greater Boston uses many traffic circles, also known as rotaries. The law states that cars entering traffic circles must yield to cars already in the circle, but don't expect all drivers to obey this rule.
There are few gas stations in Downtown. Try Cambridge Street (behind Beacon Hill, near Massachusetts General Hospital), near Logan Airport in East Boston, along Commonwealth Avenue or Cambridge Street in Allston/Brighton, or off the Southeast Expressway just south of Downtown Boston.
Cambridge service stations are along Memorial Drive, Massachusetts Avenue, and Broadway. In Brookline, try Commonwealth Avenue or Boylston Street. Gas stations with 24-hour service can be found at many exits off Route 3 to Cape Cod, suburban ring roads Route 128 and Interstate 95, and at service plazas on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90). Most offer both full- and self-service.
Parking on Boston streets is tricky. Some neighborhoods have strictly enforced residents-only rules, with just a handful of two-hour visitors' spaces; others have meters, which cost 25¢ for 12 minutes, with a two-hour limit. On-street parking is free before 8 am and after 8 pm, and all day Sunday. Keep $5 in quarters handy, as some city meters take nothing else. Newer meters accept credit cards and issue receipts that you leave on your dashboard, on the street side. You may also be able to pay with the ParkBoston app on your smartphone.
The parking police are watchful and ruthless—it's not unusual to find a ticket on your windshield five minutes after your meter expires. Repeat offenders who don't pay fines may find the "boot" (an immovable steel clamp) secured to a wheel.
Major public lots are at Government Center, Quincy Market, beneath Boston Common (entrance on Charles Street), beneath Post Office Square, at Prudential Center, at Copley Place, and off Clarendon Street near the John Hancock Tower. Smaller lots and garages are scattered throughout Downtown, especially around the Theater District and off Atlantic Avenue in the North End. Most are expensive; expect to pay up to $12 an hour or $40 to park all day. The few city garages are a comparative bargain, such as the large one beneath Boston Common. Theaters, restaurants, stores, and tourist attractions often provide patrons with some free parking; ask your establishment to validate your receipt. Most Downtown restaurants offer valet parking, $10–$20.
Bostonians are notorious for driving erratically and aggressively. These habits, coupled with inconsistent street and traffic signs, one-way streets, and heavy congestion, make it a nerve-wracking city to navigate. Many urban roadways are under constant reconstruction or are roughly surfaced. Potholes and aboveground manhole covers are common hazards. Better to err on the side of caution: give yourself extra time to arrive at your destination.
Dial 911 in an emergency to reach police, fire, or ambulance services. If you're a member of the AAA auto club, call its 24-hour help bureau.
Rates in Boston begin at about $40 a day on a weekly rate for an economy car with air-conditioning, automatic transmission, and unlimited mileage. This doesn't include gas, insurance charges, or the 6.25% tax and $10 surcharge. All major agencies have branches at Logan International Airport, even Zipcar.