Boston: America’s 3rd Snobbiest City?

Beacon Hill, Boston, Travel+Leisure

Beacon Hill — Snobby and Proud of It

Travel + Leisure has issued its ranking of America’s Snobbiest Cities and Boston is Number 3, right behind San Francisco and New York. Here’s what @TravelandLeisure said about us:

“In this college town steeped in history, visitors may detect a certain air of superiority: after all, the locals rank near the top for their Ivy League-worthy brains and for supporting old-school culture, such as the symphony. On Harvard Square, you can tap into that brainpower by browsing high-concept bookstores—from Grolier Poetry Bookshop to Schoenhof’s Foreign Books. But there is one realm where Bostonians falter: their driving, which ranked near the bottom of the survey.”

Is Boston really America’s 3rd snobbiest city?

I guess the first part of the article means that it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it. And one could note that Cambridge (Hahvahd Squayuh) isn’t Boston at all. We call it the People’s Republic of Cambridge and it has a totally different vibe from the city across the river.There is no excuse for our driving habits, though, except to point out that the Boston Police don’t really pay much attention to traffic violations—or pedestrian infringements either.

Three Things to Ponder

There are three things to keep in mind about Boston traffic:

First, this gives Boston drivers a sense of Yankee independence, one might even say immunity, that fosters bad driving. If, for example, one turns right on red when the sign clearly says not to, it doesn’t really matter because no one is going to give you a ticket. Or even notice. I mean, a cop could be standing right there and he won’t even look at you.

Boston, traffic, jaywalkers, pedestrians

How Jaywalkers Look to Boston Drivers

Second, a big part of the bad driving is defensive. Boston pedestrians feel the same sense of entitlement when it comes to jaywalking. Sometimes this is OK, as when the street is empty. But it’s pretty frustrating when you’ve been waiting through several changes of a light and it finally turns green, only to have a pedestrian step off the curb and walk right in front of your car.

Around South Station at rush hour, it can be impossible to get through an intersection because streams of pedestrians just walk across the streets in front of the cars, regardless of what color the light is.

The first time I visited Los Angeles, I tried to jaywalk in the middle of a block. I put one foot in the street and four lanes of traffic screeched to a halt. Wow, that’s power. I pulled my foot back, the traffic resumed, and I walked on to the crosswalk.  Years later, a cousin made me wait for the light in Santa Monica even though it was 11 p.m. and there was no traffic for at least a mile in either direction. Joel explained that getting caught meant a hefty ticket so we waited. In Boston, you would be regarded as a wuss for doing that.

Boston, street sign, traffic

Which Way?

Third, the lack of street signs and directions confuses and frustrates everyone. The ones that exist are often unintelligible, hidden behind something else, or turned the wrong way.  Here the snob attitude says that you should already know where you’re going. If you don’t know where the street is, you probably shouldn’t be going there anyway.  

 After you have driven around in circles a few times with the GPS scolding you for making it recalculate the route, you start feeling a tad hostile toward the city. Is it so difficult or expensive to mark the streets with legible signs? Or to post some signs that say Fenway Park this way and Boston Garden that way?

And don’t get me started on bicycles, whose riders seem to follow traffic rules from Mars.

MYOB in Boston

Aside from the bad drivers, one thing that can be considered snobby—but really isn’t—is that Bostonians tend to mind their own business. Visitors from more open, friendlier cities can perceive this as snobbery when we think of it as good manners.  But it does give us a pass on helping strangers and that’s not good.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Even before I joined Boston By Foot, I tried to keep an eye out for tourists in need of help. This spring, my husband and I were on our way to the Museum of Fine Arts when I noticed a couple consulting a map and looking around them. I went over and asked if I could help them find what they were looking for. It turned out to be the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I showed them where it was, just a block away, and hoped that I made Boston a little friendlier for them. Given the city’s dearth of directional signs, that’s something easy we all could do. 

BTW: Think of all the money Boston could make if it really enforced the traffic laws.  If drivers and pedestrians alike got hefty tickets for violations, it would bring in a fortune—for a while at least. That would pay for all the signs and then some.

Is Boston really the third snobbiest city in the country?  Well, I lived in New York City for four years and I don’t think we’re even close. Unless @TravelandLeisure used a base-10 logarithmic scale.

2 thoughts on “Boston: America’s 3rd Snobbiest City?

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  2. Aline,
    You are right on target with jaywalking in Southern California. When I lived and worked in LA our office was in a building complex on a hill in the middle of a block. The deli was directly across the street. You had to walk either to the top of the hill and then down or vice versa. One day I darted across to get a sandwich and what to my surprise — LA’s finest had set up a jaywalking trap – not out catching criminals – handing out hefty jaywalking tickets. I think I was told it was “for my own protection.” I think it was to generate revenue!

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