How To Boston: Navigating the Pike Like a Champ

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On a scale of one to ten, how good do you feel when driving the 3.5 mile stretch between Exit 18 and Exits 24 A-B-C on the Massachusetts Turnpike? Like a pro? Like your life is in danger? Completely confused that the ride could take either four minutes or 40?

Rush hour or waking hour, there are still some key things to know that can make your Pike commuting experience in the city much easier. We’ll go one piece of advice for each mile of that ever-so-lovely Interstate.

The Pike is Not for Inner City Travel – You can get on the Pike in several locations throughout Back Bay to head west (Newbury St., Back Bay Station, Chinatown), but remember that you can’t get off anywhere until you hit Exit 18. If for some reason you are traveling in from the airport, 93 or 1A and you need to get to, say, Copley, you’ll have to go to the U-Turn in Brighton and then come back past Fenway and off at Exit 19. Save yourself the confusion and stick to Storrow Drive for Downtown locations, and you can always use the Albany St. exit from 93 to cut through the South End to get to Newbury, the Common, the Pru and the like.

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Make EZ Pass Easy – It doesn’t really need to be said, but I’m bringing it up anyway: it’s time to get EZ Pass, already, people who don’t have it. Anyway, with that out of the way, we can talk about one pain point on the Pike drive: approaching the Allston/Brighton tolls at Exit 18 from either direction. You have lots of choices; eastbound gives you the left side exit to Allston or Cambridge, while westbound offers the right side exit in addition to the U-Turn. The middle lanes on both directions are cash only. The hidden trick is to always go right. Ok, this is actually normal protocol on the eastbound side (especially if you’re lining yourself up for the Exit Only lanes to Copley), but it is never taken advantage of on the westbound. At peak times, it isn’t surprising to see the left side EZ Pass lanes backed up to Nickerson Field, whereas you can fly down the right.

Know Your Merges – I’ve actually touched on this one before, but in the sake of bringing it all together, there are at least three merges you need to absolutely be aware of on the Pike (and probably courteous of). The first is actually a series, so I guess we are cheating, on the westbound side in Back Bay. For crissakes, get out of the right lane coming through Back Bay – there are three quick right side entrances that are straight merges under the station, at Copley and then at Mass Ave. The other two come from the eastbound side. First, once through the tolls, the two-lane on ramp from Allston/Brighton comes in as a merge and a new lane (which then disappears at Copley as the Exit Only lane); it’s a blind add from underpasses and overpasses, so check mirrors and avoid the far right lane post-toll unless you have to get over to get off. The other is after the split toward the airport – you have right side merges right before Exit 25 to Southie. Treat that with respect.

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Your Half Point of Advice. Time of year makes a difference because of the sun angles playing havoc with your mirrors and line of sight. Don’t even get me started on Pikehenge (again).

“How to Boston” is an arbitrary series, in which we talk you through those important Boston habits and help you fit in. Next up: finding the walking bridges to cross Storrow Drive to get to the Common.