Boston MA Driving & Parking
It's not wise for a visitor to drive much in Boston. Its colonial layout of narrow streets (said to follow cattlepaths) is confusing enough on foot, let alone in a car.
Boston drivers, once famous throughout the USA for their careless maneuvers, are no longer so careless. They're agressive instead.
Now the major sin is commited by the guy behind you who honks his horn because you didn't do what he wanted you to do—usually get out of his way.
Parking in Boston is difficult to find and often expensive when you find it.
Arriving in Boston by Car
The easiest and fastest way to enter Boston by car from the west is via the Massachusetts Turnpike ("Mass Pike," Interstate 90), which goes right through Back Bay to the center of the city, all the way to Logan Airport via the Ted Williams Tunnel.
You may approach Boston from the south on MA Route 3 (the Southeast Expressway) as it comes up from the South Shore (Cape Cod and Plymouth). It's the main commuter route from everywhere south of Boston, and is traveled very heavily. At morning and evening rush hours there are frequent traffic jams.
From the north, the approach to Boston is by Interstate 93, which crosses the Charles River before going underground.
Once downtown, Boston's warren of winding, confusing streets, many of them one-way, will try your patience. Make your way to your hotel, park the car and try to forget it for the rest of your visit. Driving downtown makes little sense, and driving to Harvard Square even less sense (the parking problem there is worse).
Cambridge & Harvard Square
Two divided highways skirt the Charles River toward Cambridge, the faster and busier one being Storrow Drive on the southern (right) bank, the more scenic being Memorial Drive in Cambridge on the northern (left) bank of the Charles. Take either one to go between Boston and Harvard Square, and go all the way to the Larz Andersen Bridge and Cambridge's John F. Kennedy Street, then turn right (north) for Harvard Square.
Day-trips from the City
Parking in Boston
You can pay for parking at any metered spot in the city of Boston using your smartphone, laptop or tablet computer, or even a flipphone. Here's how:
Go to the ParkBoston website, or download the ParkBoston app, set up an account with a credit or debit card, Apple or Google Pay, PayPal, or a pre-funded ParkBoston "wallet," and then—the most difficult part—find a vacant legal parking space in Boston. Remember, you must still observe all parking rules, including resident-permit only, street-cleaning restrictions, snow removal, etc. Look for all restriction signs on the street before parking, just as you should if paying with coins.
When you find a legal space, enter the zone number of the space, your vehicle's license plate number, and your length of stay. You can extend the length later if you wish, but not beyond the legal limit, usually 2 hours. When your time is up, you must move your car to a different parking space in a different zone.
You'll be charged a 25¢ to 35¢ "convenience fee" (!) for using the ParkBoston app, and you'll receive an electronic receipt for your parking-time purchase.
Note that the coin or credit card parking meter at your spot may read Expired, but this shouldn't matter—you've registered and paid for your use of the parking spot, so the meter doesn't apply. There's also no need to pay at a sidewalk parking receipt machine or to put a receipt beneath your windshield.
Also note that the ParkBoston app applies only to the City of Boston, not to neighboring cities such as Brookline, Cambridge or Somerville. So you can use it to park near Boston Common, but not near Harvard Square (Cambridge) or Larz Anderson Park (Brookline).
If you don't want to pay by smartphone, you can always still use a coin or credit card parking meter.
Parking meters in Boston charge between $2 and $3.75 per hour, and parking lots charge much more, about $12 for the first hour or portion thereof. You pay by depositing quarters in the meter—no other coins accepted—or, for some meters, you can use a credit or debit card. Maximum parking time is usually 2 hours (the limit is shown on the meter), and it's enforced. After 2 hours, you must move your car or risk a violation and fine (see below).
Parking Receipt Machines
Some Boston streets have parking receipt machines instead of parking meters. You insert money in the sidewalk machine and receive a paper receipt displaying the parking time purchased, which you place visibly beneath the windshield inside your car. You can use the ParkBoston app in these zones as well.
Residential side streets are often dedicated to Resident Parking, for which your car must have a special permit sticker. Do not park on Resident Parking streets if your car lacks the proper sticker, or you are liable to having your car ticketed (fined) and towed away.
In many Resident-Only zones, restrictions are suspended on Sunday and holidays, so you may park then. Check signs on the street.
—Expired meter: $40, also charged for staying longer than the meter time limit, even if you've added money to the meter
—Loading Zone: $90
—No Stopping zone: $90
There are lots of $100 fines, including for parking in a bus stop, bike lane, handicap ramp, or at a fire hydrant. Parking in a HP-DV (Handicap) space without the proper permit displayed will cost you $120. Here's the full list.
Boston parking enforcement officers issue roughly 1.5 million parking tickets per year, earning about $60 million for the city.
If you stay for some time in Boston, do not accumulate a backlog of unpaid parking tickets: your car may be towed and impounded, held hostage until the tickets, interest and late penalties are paid.
Central Boston Parking Garages
My favorite app for parking in Boston is SpotHero, which uses legal private parking spots. For example, a resident of a downtown Boston apartment has rights to a private parking spot, but doesn't own a car. The resident can register the parking spot with SpotHero, and you can rent it by the hour, day or month on the SpotHero website, or by using the SpotHero smartphone app. More...
The MBTA owns more tha 50,000 off-street parking spots in 102 locations in New England. You can park at many MBTA transit and Commuter Rail stations and ride the train or subway into the city. In most lots and garages, you can PayByPhone. More...
If you have only a few people, and want to visit Boston or Cambridge for a full day or more, the combination of MBTA parking fee and transit fares may not be as high as if you park in a commercial parking lot or garage in the center of Boston. More...
For example, the fee for parking up to a full day at the MBTA garage above the Alewife Red Line terminus off MA Route 2 in Cambridge (map) is $9 on weekdays, $3 on weekends. Add round-trip Red Line subway fares ($2.40 per adult per trip with a Charlie Card), from Alewife to the center of Cambridge or Boston, and for two adults the total cost of parking and public transportation, round-trip, would be $18.60. (Children 11 years and younger ride the MBTA subways for free.) That's less than the $24 parking fee for up to ten hours' parking at the Boston Common Garage—without the hassle of driving in Boston.