Don’t even think of parking here

Experts share tips on navigating nightmare cities for driving

From Boston’s notoriously narrow, twisting roads to New York’s confusing parking laws to ever-unpredictable Washington D.C., motorcoach drivers must be ready for detours, delays and spur-of-the-moment decisions. As a prelude to a UMA Motorcoach Expo 2019 experienced driver panel, Bus and Motorcoach News asked some veterans what their toughest cities to drive in were and to share tips on how they navigate America’s most challenging cities for drivers.



Whether you put stock in the legend of Boston’s streets being remnants of meandering cow paths or not, navigating one of the oldest cities in America can be tricky for many reasons. Mainly, the Puritans’ idea of city planning didn’t transition well into the automobile age. Since the streets aren’t laid out in a grid, a driver may be going ‘west-ish’ and then ‘north-ish’ on the same street.

According to Allstate Insurance Company, Bostonians consistently rank among the worst drivers in the nation. They also have colloquialisms like “storrowed,” which means the driver of a large vehicle has ignored the signs warning of height restrictions and is wedged under a low bridge on Storrow Memorial Drive.

Mark Digiacomo, a veteran driver for Swarthout Coaches in Ithaca, N.Y., offers commercial drivers these tips for Beantown survival:

“If you don’t have a commercial vehicle GPS, those directions will always route you along the Charles River on Storrow Memorial Drive or Soldier’s Field Road. Avoid these main thoroughfares with low bridges. Boston is one of America’s oldest cities, and tour groups often want to see the historic district, which is in the oldest section of town. There are many streets a bus can’t go.

The Freedom Trail is a walking tour over old cobblestone streets and sometimes people will ask me if I can drive them around so they don’t have to walk. My car wouldn’t fit down those public alleys. Most of the historic places do have bus loading and unloading zones, but no parking. The groups are usually there all day, and if we don’t want to drive back to our hotel, we find a Home Depot or mall with big parking lots.

“The Mass Pike is the only road in from the west, and traffic back-ups can happen. Always do your homework and have a plan in case there are accidents or other delays. I’ve taken groups over the Fourth of July, and they didn’t need the bus. I was happy to take public transit in from the hotel and look at the other motorcoach drivers who were stuck in traffic.”



The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 was responsible for designing the grid of streets that makes the Big Apple logical. Drivers should remember that all avenues run north (uptown) to south (downtown). Streets always run east to west (crosstown), and even-numbered streets run one-way toward the east and odd-numbered streets run one-way toward the west. Still, the thought of negotiating the congested streets and of bounty-hunters looking for illegally parked buses and traffic jams can unnerve drivers.

Doug Hansen, of Paradise Travel, hails from Long Island. Hansen says: “Our drivers are more relaxed than most; they’ve driven in the city for years. We lease our drivers to other companies, especially Canadian companies. Parking is one of the major problems. I tell my drivers to go over to New Jersey or Brooklyn. We haven’t gotten parking tickets from bounty hunters, and whatever parking may be available is usually taken already. The parking signs are difficult to understand and they try to trick you. One says ‘Bus Layover Area,’ and at the very bottom it says ‘for Mass Transit Authority.’ Some out-of-town drivers wind up circling the city. The parking situation just keeps getting worse.”

Antoine Legrant, president of Silhouette Tours and Travel of Long Island, is another driver who is very familiar with the streets of New York. He advises drivers to go easy and take their time. He says: “Don’t let anyone rush you by blowing their horns. If you’re late, then you’re late, but get the people to their destination safely. It’s very annoying to be delayed by street closures after you’ve planned your route, and you wind up driving down a street that a Volkswagon could barely fit through.

“I also advise drivers to have a commercial GPS, and remember that in New York buses aren’t allowed on parkways, but they are allowed on expressways. For parking, if we drop off in the theater district, we go north to around 120th street in Harlem to a more residential area and try to park there, or in Queens.”

Driver Rory Burge, of Happy Trails Charter in Missouri, adds this advice for NYC survival:

“Compare your map to your GPS, because you can’t necessarily trust the GPS all the time. We don’t have the sound turned on for the GPS, it bothers some groups, but if I have another driver along, we use two-way radios. You have to really be on your toes in New York, and also to be able to take your shot when the opportunity comes or you’ll sit there forever, because those other drivers aren’t going to give an inch.”



Pierre L’Enfant designed the arrangement of streets that run north-south with a second wheel-and-spoke pattern of avenues. After 33 years of driving, Burge of Happy Trails Charter finds that the most difficult aspect of getting a tour bus around the nation’s capital is the unpredictability. “You never know if there will be a motorcade or a protest and the road is blocked,” he said. “Once I was trying to get a group across the Mall, but the road was closed because of a motorcycle show. Fortunately, I’d been to Washington many times and knew to go down to the Kennedy Center and up the other side. Drivers need to do their homework.”



San Francisco is famous for its hilly geography, and MTR Western driver Brock Litton advises drivers to know ahead of time which ones you can navigate without getting high-centered. Pedestrians in both cities are a problem. “People are always looking down at their phones and walking in front of you,” Litton says. “Seattle has about 13,000 homeless people who wander around half-out of it, and you really have to watch your blind spots.”

Litton also has concerns about Seattle’s huge construction project that will begin in January. There are only two north-south routes that lead into downtown Seattle—Interstate 5 and Highway 99—and they become an elevated highway, which is due to be torn down. This will detour 18,000 cars a day onto other streets.

“The Washington DOT has an app that drivers can download,” Litton said. “They will notify us of any closures, especially if it affects weekend tourism, like to the ski areas. You can look at the street views of the passes that go to the ski resorts, and they’ll tell you what exits are open, if you need chains or not, and other information. They do a pretty good job keeping us informed.”

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