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Having a car in Boston if you're planning day trips outside the city limits can be convenient, but driving in the city can be stressful. Roads are confusing and difficult to maneuver on, signage is confusing (or nonexistent), and parking can be hard to come by (especially during major events like the Boston Marathon and Red Sox games).
It's important to plan out a route in advance if you're unfamiliar with the city. There's a profusion of one-way streets, so always keep a detailed map handy. Traveling with a GPS unit (or renting one from your car rental agency) is an even better idea.
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 the rest of the country, the Boston area has many, many traffic circles. Follow one simple rule, and you'll be fine: cars entering traffic circles must yield to cars that are already in the circle.
Gas stations are not plentiful downtown. Try Cambridge Street (behind Beacon Hill, near Massachusetts General Hospital), near the 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 can be found 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 Route 128 and Interstate 95, and at service plazas on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90). Many 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 usually cost 25¢ for 15 minutes, with a one- or two-hour maximum. Keep a few quarters handy, as most city meters take nothing else.
Parking-police officers are ruthless—it's not unusual to find a ticket on your windshield five minutes after your meter expires. However, most on-street parking is free after 8 pm in the city and on Sunday. Repeat offenders who don't pay fines may find the "boot" (an immovable steel clamp) secured to one of their wheels.
Major public lots are at Government Center and Quincy Market, beneath Boston Common (entrance on Charles Street), beneath Post Office Square, at the 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 $8 an hour or $24 to park all day. The few city garages are a bargain at about $7-$11 per day. Theaters, restaurants, stores, and tourist attractions often provide customers with one or two hours of free parking (always ask if the establishment validates). Most downtown restaurants offer valet parking.
Bostonians tend to drive erratically (to say the least). These habits, coupled with inconsistent street and traffic signs, one-way streets, and heavy congestion, make it a nerve-wracking city to navigate. Many roadways in the city are under construction or in need of repairs. Potholes and manhole covers sticking up above the street are the most common hazards. In general, err on the side of caution, and give yourself a few extra minutes travel time whenever you're driving anywhere in the city.
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.
AAA (800/222-4357. aaa.com.)
Rates in Boston begin at about $40 a day and $200 or more a week 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 listed have branches at Logan International Airport.
Alamo (877/222-9075. www.alamo.com.)
Avis (800/331-1212. www.avis.com.)
Budget (800/527-0700. www.budget.com.)
Hertz (800/654-3131. www.hertz.com.)
National Car Rental (877/222-9058. www.nationalcar.com.)
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