For anyone moving to Greater Boston, the distinction between the different suburbs can be confusing, especially if you have not lived here. There are subtle differences between Lexington and Winchester which are simply impossible to understand without insider knowledge. So, if this is the mystery that you are trying to unravel, you have come to the right place. Welcome! This site will ALWAYS be free but if you like it, please consider making a donation to The Dana Farber Cancer Institute or The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
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Boston is reached by highway from the west through I-90 the Massachusetts Turnpike, and from New Hampshire by I-93. All other automobile visitors come in through I-95 which enters from NY.
By plane, Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is one of the nations largest and a focus city for American Airlines, US Airways and JetBlue. For more in depth information about the airport, click here.
Bostons outer limits are also accessed by smaller airports, Manchester-Boston Airport (MHT) in Manchester NH and TF Green Airport (PVD) in Warwick (Providence) Rhode Island. These airports pale in comparison to Logan's size and options, but those trying to reach the suburbs can sometimes find less expensive direct flights, with shorter drive times and much much cheaper and quicker parking and access. Parking at Logan Airport costs about $25/day whereas you can pay as little as $10/day in Manchester. Logan does have several off site parking options such as PREFLIGHT, PARK & FLY and PAULS PARKING as well as their own new ECONOMY PARKING GARAGE. Do not expect these to save you any time or efficiency. They can add 30 minutes to your trip but will save you quite a bit of parking money.
Boston also has daily train service via Amtrak, loosely following the I-95 corridor North and South. Of particular use is the Acela Express train, which goes from South Station to New York's Penn Station in under four hours. There are two Amtrak stops for Boston, the first is at the Route 128 station in Dedham (RTE) and the second is South Station in downtown Boston.
We have the usual round of bus services such as Greyhound and Fox Bus Lines. What is perhaps more interesting is the bus service to Chinatown in New York which used to be operated by two companies "Fung Wah" and "Lucky Star". For $ 25 you could get from Boston to NYC, cheaper than the cost of gas and tolls if you drive. These bus services are heavily relied on by students. Recently, the Department of Transportation has clamped down on some of these bus companies, putting a few out of business. See more from ABC News.
Unlike virtually all other cities in the US except the LA Basin, the population of Boston's suburbs far eclipses the population of the city limits and the suburbs are not affiliated in any way with the City of Boston (other than being nearby). The city itself houses barely 600,000 people, yet the metro area contains almost 5 million. For this reason, people moving to Boston (unless they are just wanting to move to the downtown city) have such a dizzying array of choices, that its almost impossible to decide where to live unless you really have the kind of local 'feel' that I do. This list keeps growing and the explanations are broad stroke, but they can start you on your way to narrowing the choices. Once you've read these over, take a look at my BEST BETS choices to see some popular choices for different sets of town criteria but please don't conclude that these should be your you final choice. Each town has its own unique offerings and there are many possible matches for you to consider.
Arlington - Arlington has been up and coming for about fifteen years now and allegations of those living outside the Heights being solely a blue collar are outdated. It is adjacent to Cambridge, so if you work at Harvard or MIT it is an absolutely ideal location, close to Universities, museums and Boston itself. Arlington has a broad mix of housing from middle class single family homes on the hillside straddling Route 2, to multifamily dwellings in working class neighborhoods, to blue collar apartment boxes along Mass Ave. There are a variety of restaurants and subdivisions within Arlington as you move along the massively long Mass Ave corridor (with all of the lights it can take 20 minutes to drive it). The most upscale is technically Arlington Heights, but there is really a variety of housing throughout Arlington. One fact worth considering is that Arlington basically covers a stretch of land between Route 2 and Mass Ave. The stretch along Route 2 is located on a massive hill, which at some points looks directly out over an incredible vista of Boston. So, the closer to Route 2 you get, the more interesting the homes can become because of their proximity to the hill. Nevertheless, the distance between Mass Ave and Route 2 is a mile, so almost everything is within walking distance of the hill. In the past decade, Arlington has improved their school system quite a bit, making the town attractive for families looking to move out from Cambridge and Somerville. RESTAURANT TIPS: Flora, Blue Ribbon BBQ. RELIGION: Varied, mainly catholic. AIRPORT: 15 min/25 min
Belmont - Belmont has a significant Armenian population so if you are Armenian then you will love it here (or in Watertown) but unlike Watertown, which is primarily blue collar or young urban, Belmont can be quite affluent containing a substantial sized upper middle class. Some of Belmont's neighborhoods contain some of Greater Boston's choicest real estate, with Belmont Hill being the crown jewel. Belmont has a good school system and complex town politics. It is the home of Mitt Romney among other well known politicians and celebrities and while Belmont feels a bit like a city with a mayor and lots of big town services, the reality is that it is a bedroom community. Belmont is now home to the controversial Boston Temple (Mormon), an enormous building and campus, sitting on one of Belmont's highest hilltops and overlooking Boston. Belmont is a dry town, but certain restaurants have obtained special liquor licenses and its downtown is quite nice, with a wide variety of restaurants and shops. Belmont is very close to Cambridge, so it is ideal if you are spending alot of time in or near town. However, it is deeply inside the 128 belt which might not appeal to those who are regularly traveling the outer or belt highways. Belmont has repaired some of its horrendous roads over the past few years but, like neighbors Watertown and Cambridge still has many roads needing repair including the major commercial artery of Trapelo Road which is riddled with massive potholes throughout Belmont. RESTAURANT TIPS: Il Casale is highly rated and authentically Italian, with a lively bar and restaurant atmosphere. Kashish for Indian and Stone Hearth for Pizza. AIRPORT: 20 min / 35 min
Brookline - This affluent Massachusetts college town is completely surrounded by Boston, yet has a suburban feel similar to Newton and one of the best school systems in the state. Brookline is the home of Boston University and Fischer College. It also has a very substantial Jewish population, estimated at 35%. On any given Saturday, you will see Jewish families out together enjoying the town. It has several distinct villages, which have a semi-urban feel to them: Washington Square has several very fine restaurants and is decidedly suburban in feel, with a well established population of long term residents living amongst grad students and a fair number of Russian immigrants. Coolidge Corner is the quintessential college square, busy and bustling with BU students, intellectuals, and affluent immigrants. Brookline Village is a bit more South End, with a mix of families and young professionals. Yet each neighborhood is within a mile walk from the next. South Brookline on the other hand, running south of Boylston St (Route 9) is down right wealthy suburb, with massively expensive homes on some of the choicest real estate in the Commonwealth. The birthplace of President John Fitzgerald Kenndy, Brookline is the home to New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, several major professional athletes and many very wealthy Bostonians. It is also home to the oldest Country Club in the nation and is within a stone's throw of some of the finest hospitals in the world including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Joselin Center for Diabetes and the Beth-Israel Deaconess Mecial Center. RESTAURANT TIPS: The Regal Beagle, Washington Square Tavern, The Fireplace, The Public House, The Abbey, Super Fusion II (a hole in the wall with incredible sushi). RELIGION NOTE: Notably Jewish, and some very observant, but many others represented. AIRPORT: 15 min/20 min.
Cambridge - Who hasn't heard of Cambridge? From Harvard University and MIT, to the Cambridgeside Galleria, to Harvard Square to Grendels Den, Cambridge is a happening place. Across the river from Boston and with a waterfront which is actually more impressive and more accessible than Boston's, Cambridge has a big city urban feel that is more diverse and eclectic than Boston proper, as well as more livable for all but the true Back Bay urban dweller. Cambridge has experienced many resurgences in several neighborhoods, the most notable of course if Central Square. It is very modern, yet with an earthy Bohemian side especially in the area between Harvard and Central Squares. Cambridge has several top notch private schools such as Shady Hill and Buckingham Brown and Nichols and many families live in Cambridge in spite of it having problems typical of any big city. Cambridge has its own subway line, the Red Line, which runs from its outskirts at Alewife, through the big squares and then finally into Boston itself. Cambridge is full of art museums, unique restaurants, big and small box stores, and residents from all over the world. Its proximity to Universities, mean Cambridge has a fair number of foreigners, who are visiting professors, giving it a very intellectual feel. The truth is that if you like city, Cambridge has something for everyone. However, what it does NOT have, is the big skyscraper feel of Boston and the fashionable feel of Newbury Street shopping. Cambridge is Birkenstock and dreadlocks rather than high heels, and the only tuxes you will see are probably worn at Harvard functions. RESTAURANT TIPS: Tons of great places. Salts, Henrietta's Table, Bambara, Rialto, East Coast Grille and many many more. AIRPORT: 15 min / 20 min.
Chestnut Hill - What exactly is Chestnut Hill? Chestnut Hill is an affluent unincorporated suburban village. While Chestnut Hill has its own zip code, it lies within the borders of three different municipalities: Boston, Newton and Brookline. Children living in Chestnut Hill attend school in one of these cities (or towns) therefore. Chestnut Hill is best known for the Chestnut Hill Mall and the Atrium Mall across the street. Both overlook the busy Route 9 corridor. Chestnut Hill is also the home of Boston College. There are several fine restaurant outposts in Chestnut Hill including the MET BAR, The Capital Grille and Aquitaine. Each of these has an original restaurant location elsewhere, yet all three (and many more) Chestnut Hill restaurants are always busy and active, especially among affluent locals and divorcees. AIRPORT: 20 min / 30 min Mark Snyder
Lexington - Lexington Massachusetts is steeped in history giving the town alot of character. Lexington has a great town center with several decent, but not exceptional, restaurants and a great brick sidewalk that makes for enjoyable summer strolls. Although Lexington is an affluent town, with an excellent school system, Lexington has a high percentage of dual income families who depend on two incomes to live in the town. It is diverse and liberal. Additionally, a very large percentage of those who raise families in Lexington, stay on into their golden years and so the town has a substantial elderly population as well. Droves of tour buses arrive in the summer to learn about the Lexington Battle Green where the first shots of the revolution were heard. Only in Lexington (and perhaps neighboring Concord) do children count FIFE AND DRUM CLUB among their extra curriculum activities. Lexington has many beautiful neighborhoods, most lying inside the Route 128 beltway but with a few lying outside. Land plot sizes tend to be small compared with Weston or other affluent suburbs located further outside of the city, but homes are beautiful and often have a touch of colonial New England spirit. The wonderful Minuteman bike path also runs right through Lexington. RESTAURANT TIPS: Dabin (Japanese food) RELIGION: Notable Jewish population, protestant population and quite liberal. AIRPORT: 25 min / 40 min
Medford - Medford is a diverse city north of Boston. It has good highway access to I-93, commuter rail service, and MBTA buses. West Medford is somewhat upscale and affluent, whereas the rest of Medford is quite middle class. Medford is Catholic territory, and its public schools are just ok but it has alot of parochial schools within its borders, some of which are quite well known in the area. RESTAURANT TIP: Bistro 5. RELIGION: Strongly Catholic. AIRPORT 15 min / 25 min
Melrose - Neighbor to Medford but otherwise quite different, Melrose has blossomed recently due to excellent town leadership attracting restaurants and family desirables just North of Boston. Far less expensive than its neighbor Winchester, Melrose has decent schools (not awesome) and a community feel that has given middle class families a nicer alternative than some of the surrounding choices. Expect to hear more about Melrose in the future. AIRPORT 15 min / 25 min
Somerville - Somerville has affectionately been dubbed "Poor man's Cambridge" and while it truly is less expensive than Cambridge, Somerville has tons of appeal all its own. Officially, Somerville is the most densely populated community in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has an urban feel with several interesting urban squares, Davis being the largest. In this tightly packed city you will find lots of great restaurants, eclectic neighbors, rail and MBTA access and none of Cambridge's snootiness. On the other hand, good luck finding off street parking or getting down half of Somerville's narrow streets in the middle of winter. RESTAURANT TIP: Dali (Spanish Food). AIRPORT: 15 min/20 min
Newton - Newton is really several different towns all under one umbrella yet expressing vastly different qualities. Newton is essentially a suburb, with excellent schools and a comprehensive program of recreational, educational and social programming serving the needs of everyone from families, to college students, to the elderly, to the yuppie. Newton is extremely well located along the Mass Turnpike, just a few miles closer to Boston compared with Waltham. But Newton is decidedly affluent - unlike Waltham, and Newton Centre boasts some of the most expensive real estate in greater Boston. Auburndale is an affordable middle class area, Waban and Chestnut Hill are quite affluent with large homes and Newton Corner is young urban working class, like Watertown to which it is adjacent. A special note: Chestnut Hill is actually annexed partly by Newton and partly by Brookline. RESTAURANT TIPS: Appetito (Italian) and BOXX109. RELIGION: Very notable Jewish population. AIRPORT: 15 min/30 min
Saugus - Saugus is practically synonymous with US ROUTE 1. As the legendary truck route winding from Florida to Ft. Kent gradually evolved from truck stops and motels into suburbia, restaurant landmarks such as Hilltop Steakhouse and Kowloon took route along its rolling hills. While none of Saugus restaurants really top chef's lists for haute cuisine, Saugus restaurants along with its non-stop retail plants and aggressively priced gas stations have a staying appeal. Beyond that, Saugus is a working class suburb very close to the airport and the city, and a step safer than Malden or Chelsea. AIRPORT: 10 min/20 min
Waltham - Waltham is not known for its great school system, but what it might lack in that area it makes up for in numerous other ways: Waltham has one of the best locations in greater Boston for commuters, being within minutes of 128 (which is I-95 to outsiders), the Mass Turnpike (I-90) and Route 2. It is in the dead center of the 128 belt making the commute north or south a breeze. It has a long strip of town center along Route 20 with lots of businesses and restaurants (albeit none of which are particularly high end), but also has a pretty renowned restaurant district down a perpendicular street, Moody Street. Moody street is totally different from the rest of Waltham, reflecting something more like the South End restaurant district than this quasi-suburban city and Cronin's Landing, a combination condominium and retail complex, has substantially revitalized the riverfront area. Waltham also has some neighborhoods in its northern corner which are quiet and spacious, with some very nice suburban plots. Families should keep in mind that while your money may go farther in Waltham, you will not find schools of the caliber found in the neighboring towns. On the other hand, Waltham has several Universities such as Bentley College and Brandeis, and also has a number of very well known private schools including the newly build Jewish High School known as Gann Academy. The highway areas contained within Waltham are lined with business hotels such as the Westin, the Doubletree and a Holiday Inn Express, and also with massive business parks. However, poor highway development (well it is Massachusetts so don't act surprised) has made access to commercial buildings off Winter Street painfully difficult to get to at rush hour. RESTAURANT TIPS: Thanks to the restaurant boom along the Moody Street corridor, Waltham has lots of decent choices. Solea for Spanish Tapas, Il Cappricio or Campagna for Italian, Carambola for Vietnamese just to name a few. Parking is along the streets parallel to Moody Street. AIRPORT: 25 min/ 35 min.
Watertown - Watertown has a superb location, similar to Newton but without any portion south of the Mass Turnpike. It is very close to the Mass Pike, as well as Soldiers Field Rd and Boston itself though any transit down Arsenal Street will take a while due to the lights and businesses along the route. Watertown consists of four square miles, but this small city is packed with malls, stores, restaurants and even frontage along the Charles River. In addition to plenty of strip malls, Watertown has numerous car dealerships and the greatest concentation of ceramic tile stores in the area. Old buildings have been converted to condos, creating a semi-urban living environment.
Watertown's neighborhoods have a large and hard working Armenian population and although it has a young urban component, it is somewhat working class suburban in populace. Watertown does not have the greatest schools, but it does have a unique mix of culture and location that makes it a good choice for many families and its schools are decidedly better than neighboring Waltham. Currently Watertown roads are in very bad condition, sporting some of the worst accumulations of death trap potholes in the area. RESTAURANT TIP: Porcinis. AIRPORT: 15 min/25 min.
Acton - If the location works for you, Acton is a beautiful town. It has a top rated school system, one of the best in the state sharing its renowned High School with the smaller town of Boxborough. There is a huge range of housing, from inexpensive apartments along the main road, to sprawling multi-acre estates. Homes of every shape, size and cost exist in Acton, yet you still have a fantastic school system at your access plenty of open space and a newly renovated outdoor pond and park offering hiking and swimming in the summer. On the negative side, Acton is far from Boston. It does have good access to Rt 2 or I-495 so if you work in Worcester or Lowell, or Marlborough it is a great choice. If you want to go catch a movie in Harvard Square though or you fly out of Logan often, expect to spend alot of time in the car. RESTAURANT TIPS: None to date. AIRPORT: 35 min/60 min
Bedford - Just a few miles from Lexington, and lying completely outside of Route 128 is the town of Bedford. Bedford is a bedroom community with decent schools, a few notches below neighboring Lexington and Concord, but with far lower home prices. Bedford has quite a nice town green and system of parks with reasonable proximity to shopping in nearby Burlington and to several highways. It is a good value and nice neighborhoods to choose from make Bedford a good family choice even though it is generally considered to be a working class town and it does have a Whole Foods, unusual given its middle class demographics. AIRPORT: 25 min / 45 min
Beverly- One of several towns located on Cape Ann, Beverly is an upper middle class suburban town in the quiet neck of greater Boston accessed primarily after 128 north splits from I-95 in Danvers. Just beyond blue collar and commercial Peabody, Beverly is far quieter and includes the neighborhood of Beverly Farms which contains some of the most affluent waterfront properties in the Commonwealth. AIRPORT: 20 min / 50 minBillerica - Billerica is a middle class town with several sections containing decent sized homes and others containing quite small homes and small plots of land. It was traditionally a working class suburb but has a lot of families taking advantage of its location in between Lowell and Burlington, and its relative value compared with its neighbors. Billerica has an 'ok' school system, not great. Still it is a safer place to raise a family than the city and your money will go fairly far in Billerica. AIRPORT: 35 min / 65 min
Burlington - Just nudging the outskirts of what is commonly known as Metrowest, Burlington is the beginning of the long stretch of towns that make up the north shore of Boston even though it is really quite far from the north shore. One of the most characteristic aspects of these towns, is that they are heavily Catholic and are far more conservative than their neighbors. Although Burlington abuts Lexington, they have little in common. Burlington has a massive and beautiful town green, but without the walkable town center and is most noted for being the home to the Burlington Mall which is located right off the highway and nowhere near a single Burlington home. Surrounding the mall are large category killer stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond and Barnes and Nobles. Burlington also has a substantial number of office parts and commercialized zones. Burlington is decidedly middle class, with decent scholastic athletics and the characteristic mix of Irish and Italians which make Boston area towns so very New England. RELIGION: Mostly Catholic. RESTAURANT TIPS: Landana is owned by the Mistral Group and is an upscale, urban quality restaurant with a somewhat New Yorkish suburban environment. AIRPORT: 25 min / 45 min.
Carlisle - Carlisle shares a school system with Concord but is different. It is a bit less expensive and a bit less optimally located. There is not much to Carlisle other than a few intersections, but considering the excellent school that it shares with Concord, it is a good value if you do not mind the location. AIRPORT: 35 min / 50 min
Chelmsford - Chelmsford was a quiet semi-rural town only twenty years ago. Like many of its peers along the I-495 belt, Chelmsford was barely considered a suburb of Boston. However today, as the I-95 belt has become clogged with pricey suburbs, towns like Chelmsford have come into their own. With a respectable school system, quick access to not just I-495 but also Route 3, reasonable home prices, and lots of land, Chelmsford is a reasonable choice for a middle class family who is not looking for quick access to the city. AIRPORT: 35 min / 60 min
Concord - Just up the road from Lexington, Concord also is deeply historical but the similarities end there. Concord has far more land than Lexington, being located somewhat off the beaten path outside of the Route 128 beltway and accessible via only one single highway, Route 2. On any given commuter morning, Route 2 is a parking lot, and Concord residents have few other choices. This has made Concord a very tough city for Boston bound commuters to live in, but for those working out along I-495, at home or in nearby Burlington, the Concord location is not that bad. On the plus side, Concord does have a stop along the Fitchburg commuter line, so if you do commute by train, access is no longer a problem. Aside from being difficult to access by car, Concord is wonderful. There is plenty of land in Concord, so your money goes much farther than in Lexington and having several acres of land is more plausible. The schools are top notch, the town is safe and beautiful with biking trails (including a portion of the Minuteman bike path) and some neighborhoods stretching into hilly countryside that you would imagine couldn't possibly be as close to Boston as it is. Concord has a wonderful town center, is liberal and welcoming to people of varied opinions, and has great town services. Concord is also the home of WALDEN POND where Henry David Thoreau lived a simple life while writing his famous book WALDEN. Today Walden Pond is a protected treasure, encompassing woods and walking trails around the pond, as well as a small beach nearest to the Route 126 entrance. RESTAURANT TIPS: The Colonial Inn has great food but also that old fashioned Inn feeling that will bring you back to another place and time. For great Irish folk music, check in on Thursday nights to hear John "Fitz" Fitzsimmons. AIRPORT: 30 min / 65 min.
Dover - Officially the number two most affluent town in Massachusetts, Dover is a quiet suburb filled with beautiful homes and rolling country lanes. Dover shares a high school with adjacent Sherborn and has one of the top school systems in the state. Dover is full of expensive homes, with far larger plots of land than you would find in Weston or Wellesley, but Dover is located farther south than both towns, giving up that five minute commute to the major highways. The Charles River, which ultimately flows out in Boston, trickles through parts of Dover, giving it a feel more like that of Northern New England than a metropolitan suburb, but be sure that Dover's wealth is made in Boston. AIRPORT: 35 min / 60 min Essex- A quiet rural and affluent community by the sea located on Cape Ann. RESTAURANT TIPS: Woodmans of Essex. Airport: 25 min / 50 min Framingham - To begin with, Framingham is the home to one of the most successful retail strips of land in the world. The GOLDEN MILE along Route 9, is home to the very first open air shopping mall in the world, SHOPPERS WORLD. The narrow stretch of land where Route 30 and Route 9 meet in Framingham is home to a phenomenal lineup of chain and independent stores, from big names like Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Macys, Home Depot and Target. While a portion of the actual stores lie in Natick, not Framingham, the area is typically associated with Framingham. Beyond that, Framingham is a very very large town in land area. It boasts some beautiful country setting neighborhoods spread over many miles of suburban land about 20 miles from Boston. Framingham has good schools,a large urban downtown area which tends to be more ethnic than the outskirts, and numerous villages such as Saxonville which add to the rich diversity that is Framingham. On the Sudbury line, Framingham feels much more like a quiet suburb. On the Ashland line, Framingham has a large ethnic population - mostly Brazillian. Framingham has access to Route 30, Route 9, the Masspike and I-495, and boast such a wealth of different services that it really contains as much as any city might contain. Although the schools are not as good today as they were 25 years ago, they are still average and for the money spent to live in Framingham, are a very good value. RESTAURANT TIPS: Big name chains such as Legal Seafoods, have outlets in Framingham or neighboring Natick AIRPORT: 35 min / 65 min.
Essex- A quiet rural and affluent community by the sea located on Cape Ann. RESTAURANT TIPS: Woodmans of Essex. Airport: 25 min / 50 min
Framingham - To begin with, Framingham is the home to one of the most successful retail strips of land in the world. The GOLDEN MILE along Route 9, is home to the very first open air shopping mall in the world, SHOPPERS WORLD. The narrow stretch of land where Route 30 and Route 9 meet in Framingham is home to a phenomenal lineup of chain and independent stores, from big names like Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Macys, Home Depot and Target. While a portion of the actual stores lie in Natick, not Framingham, the area is typically associated with Framingham. Beyond that, Framingham is a very very large town in land area. It boasts some beautiful country setting neighborhoods spread over many miles of suburban land about 20 miles from Boston. Framingham has good schools,a large urban downtown area which tends to be more ethnic than the outskirts, and numerous villages such as Saxonville which add to the rich diversity that is Framingham. On the Sudbury line, Framingham feels much more like a quiet suburb. On the Ashland line, Framingham has a large ethnic population - mostly Brazillian. Framingham has access to Route 30, Route 9, the Masspike and I-495, and boast such a wealth of different services that it really contains as much as any city might contain. Although the schools are not as good today as they were 25 years ago, they are still average and for the money spent to live in Framingham, are a very good value. RESTAURANT TIPS: Big name chains such as Legal Seafoods, have outlets in Framingham or neighboring Natick AIRPORT: 35 min / 65 min.
Lincoln- Lincoln shares a top notch school system with neighboring Sudbury. However, Lincoln is quite small, extremely well located and very quiet. It tends to be earthy and liberal, and has beautiful rolling hill roads and wide swathes of residential property. Only in Lincoln you will find deer, fox and peacocks sharing space with 25 to 30 soccer coaches and real estate agents. Yet Lincoln is only 5 minutes away from both Route 2 and Route 128 (I95) given it top marks for being a suburban oasis from noise and over development. To top off Lincoln's appeal, there is a commuter rail station in town right on the Fitchburg line. RESTAURANT TIP: Locals are rejoicing at the introduction of an actual top quality restaurant in Lincoln this year! AKA Bistro is part sushi bar and part French restaurant and yet, despite that cliche mix, is reputed to be quite good. AIRPORT: 25 min / 40 min
Lowell - The City of Lowell is a true example of urban revival. This once dead mill town has invested millions in attracting downtown businesses. They have renovated the grid of brickstone mill buildings, refacing everything, maintaining high standards for signage and storefronts, and yet have permitted tax breaks that make the city a very attractive place to do business. Lowell has a wonderful mix of Asian, Hispanic and European decent populations. However Lowell is still generally a poorer income city, with lots of big city problems. But Lowell has been on the rise for a decade now, and is pro-business. Additionally, the Tsongas Arena in downtown is the largest stadium of its kind in metro Boston. Lowell even has its own minor league baseball team, the Lowell Spinners, and for a very cheap ticket, you get a really fun night of baseball, hot dogs and community fun at LaLecheure Stadium. RESTAURANT TIPS: Life Alive is a totally all natural/organic earthy crunchy lunch spot that will blow your mind. Totally delicious healthy and original. AIRPORT: 45 min / 70 min
Lawrence - Lawrence has looked on Lowell's resurgence with envy. I have wonderful friends in Lawrence, yet their city has not yet been able to find its bearings in this century. Plagued by vacant buildings, aging residences, a large population of immigrants and welfare families, Lawrence shares many of this nations small city urban problems. Yet there are several dedicated employers in Lawrence and with a heart of gold in its people, Lawrence may still soon find its new day. It is just not today. AIRPORT: 35 min / 60 min
Lynnfield- An upscale bedroom community on the North Shore, Lynnfield may be the farthest north that you can go for the quintessential beautiful, affluent, top school suburb while still staying close enough to Boston to commute in under 30 minutes. Well situated off I-95 near both I-93 and Route One, this top tier town has beautiful neighborhoods and town greens. Airport: 20/35 min
Maynard - Maynard is completely sandwiched by some of metro Boston's most beautiful and affluent towns. Yet Maynard is much more like a rural New England small city than a Boston suburb. It is far more working class than its neighbors, with schools which did not make the same charts as its peers and far lower house prices. It has a busy downtown which resembles many of the towns in Western Mass such as Milford, Northhampton or Taunton. Maynard is home however to several large employers, particularly in the world of technology and for that reason, Maynard draws in a fair number of commuters each day. Maynard is not located near any major highway and thus does not make for a good commute into Boston. However, some commute to Worcester from Maynard and the lower housing costs do make for an affordable alternative to neighboring Concord, Sudbury and Framingham. AIRPORT: 40 min / 65 mi
Medfield - Medfield lies significantly outside of Route 128, southwest of Boston but inside Route I-495. I mention Medfield for several reasons. It has good schools, beautiful rolling hills and neighborhoods and is relatively affordable compared with its peers closer to Boston. Medfield is a cut above the bedroom communities surrounding it (except perhaps for Holliston) and a fine choice for those who do not need a quick commute. AIRPORT: 50 min / 75 min
Natick - Sharing access to the GOLDEN MILE with Framingham, the majority of Natick is actually quite different than its renouned occupancy by the Natick Mall and the uber-fashionable Natick Collection. Beyond the corner where Route 9 and Speen Street meet, Natick has a large and busy center which was rebuilt after a devastating fire many decades ago and it does cover a fairly large and diverse area. But Natick is much more a suburb than Framingham is. Natick has typically played the role of poor cousin to neighboring Wellesley, yet Natick in recent years has come into its own. Natick real estate has become much more expensive and its schools have improved substantially. Natick has many suburban districts, the most notable of which is Wethersfield, a grid of homes encased by Route 9, Oak Street and the Mass Turnpike that are consistently zoned for residential life and which have remained quintessentially middle class for decades. South Natick is so upscale, it is virtually indistinguishable from Dover and Wellesley, both of which abut South Natick. Once the home of local superstar Doug Flutie, Natick has a lot going for it but is no longer the value choice in metrowest that it once was. AIRPORT: 30 min / 50 min
Needham - Needham is an nice suburb just south of Route 128 from Newton and Dedham. Needham has a fairly large commercial downtown district and good schools. While most known for the antenna farm in Needham heights which transmits the majority of Boston Area TV and radio signals, Needham is also a popular destination for transplanted NY suburbanites. Needham is mostly upscale and affluent, but lot sizes are smaller than in neighboring Dover (except in extreme south Needham) making it a popular choice for families, especially given its very good school system. Being the most affluent inner suburb in the southeast, it is a good place if you go to the Cape & Islands in the summer or enjoy visiting Providence. Needham is on the commuter rail as well. On the minus side, it is not a great location for airport or northern skiing commutes. RELIGION: Large Jewish contingent. AIRPORT: 25/45 minSherborn- Now the wealthiest town in Massacusetts, Sherborn has a similar feel to Dover if somewhat more suburban and less rural in feel. Sharing a top notch school though with Dover has not hurt this town's leap into first place. AIRPORT: 35 min / 60 min
Sudbury - Sudbury has always been one of my favorite towns. Maybe it is the long winding roads through hills and forest, maybe it is the historical feel permeating the town, or maybe it is the Wayside Inn, the oldest in the nation, about which Longfellow wrote his book of poetry. Sudbury shares its highly rated High School (Lincoln-Sudbury Regional HS) with the nearby town of Lincoln, and all of its schools boast low teacher to student ratios and high marks on education. Homes in Sudbury are almost always Colonial Style and are sparsely sprinkled across the many acres of beautiful neighborhoods. Sudbury's only drawback is that it has no highway access whatsoever. It is accessed primarily through Route 20 which is just a two lane state road running to Wayland in the east and Marlboro in the west. Other than that, you are on long winding back roads to get to Sudbury, but once you are there you might not want to leave and to Sudbury's credit, it has attracted a substantial retail base providing quite a bit of shopping right along Route 20. RELIGION: Notable Jewish population. RESTAURANT TIP: Lotus Blossom (Chinese) AIRPORT: 35 min / 65 min
Tewksbury - Tewksbury is a working class suburb of Lowell. Wedged between I-93 and Route 3, and south of I-495 Tewksbury offers an inexpensive alternative to neighboring Andover and a more rural setting than Billerica. AIRPORT: 30 min / 60 min
Wellesley - Wellesley is a beautiful professional town located near Natick and Weston. It is almost as close to the center of metro Boston as Weston and Waltham are, but slightly further south and west. Wellesley has arguably the best downtown of any suburb in metropolitan Boston. It has far more restaurants and stores than Lexington being a much longer stretch of land, but is equally quaint and upscale. Unlike Lexington, Wellesley has far more old money and far fewer dual income families than Lexington. Its schools are excellent and some of Wellesley's neighborhoods are among the most exclusive around Boston. Wellesley is also home to the college of the same name, located right behind the downtown area and the much larger Babson College located somewhat further south. Given all of these benefits, Wellesley is expensive, and if you are looking for alot of land and a beautiful home, your money may go farther somewhere else. But you will give up the proximity and the downtown, which help make Wellesley so desirable. RESTAURANT TIP: Blue Ginger. AIRPORT: 25 min / 45 min
Weston - Now the second most affluent town in Massachusetts, Weston locates all of its schools right in the center of town. The school districts radiate out like slices of a pie to the various areas sandwiched between Route 117 in the north and Route 30 in the south and its High School is one of the top in Massachusetts. Weston has fabulous homes on multi-acre lots of land, mostly south of Route 20, valued anywhere from 2-10 million dollars a piece. Weston has several prestigious golf clubs, is home to Regis College, and oddly enough, to the National Postal Museum. Weston is extremely well located in the center of suburban Boston, adjacent to Waltham but miles away in terms of feel. Weston has the reputation for being homogeneously wealthy, but north Weston has older homes which have a more typical upper middle class suburban feel. It has a top rated school system and great town services, making it an excellent choice for those who can afford it. On the other hand, Weston has one of the dullest town centers I have ever seen. There is nothing to do in Weston really, other than enjoy the finer things in life. You will also not find a very diverse population as it is far out of the reach of starving artists and college grad students. RESTAURANT TIPS: Drive somewhere else. AIRPORT: 20 min / 35 min
Westwood - One of the best school systems south of Boston, Westwood has remained one of the top choices for the discerning buyer in this area. Beautiful neighborhoods ranging from middle class to world class, newly renovated recreation facilities and proximity to Gillette Stadium and retail in nearby Dedham, this town's only drawback is its commuting challenges into Boston by car. Airport: 30 min / 45 min
Winchester - Being in a traditional Catholic parish area (shared with Medford and surrounding towns) Winchester is a beautiful town north of Boston, but decidedly more conservative than its neighbors to the west (which are quite liberal). Winchester has great schools, a pretty and walkable downtown, very good commuter rail access with limited but free parking and outstanding neighborhoods. Like Lexington to its south, Winchester is affluent and expensive, but is an excellent choice for those who would enjoy this location. RESTAURANT TIP: Local great CATCH has moved and the location has been replaced by a new restaurant called PARSONS TABLE. No reviews yet but worth a try. RELIGION: Some Jewish population, but otherwise mostly Catholic like most towns in this region. AIRPORT: 20 min / 35 min
Woburn - Woburn is a working class suburb, well located where I-93 and I-95 (Route 128) intersect north of the city. Because of its excellent location just 15 minutes north of Boston and highway apex, Woburn has experienced a commercial boom somewhat similar to its more upscale neighbor, Burlington just a few miles away. Full of big box stores and strip malls, Woburn has also seen an influx of decent chain restaurants making it a very reasonable choice for many. Beware though that the ramp designs for I-95 cutting through this town are a disastrous example of poor planning. The I-93 cloverleaf is a horrendous bottleneck at rush hour, and getting off at Washington Street can involve a ten minute wait of lights and crossovers, just to get to the other side of the highway where the stores lie. But if you avoid Woburn during peak hours, you will get alot done. RESTAURANT TIP: Beacon Grill, Joe's American Grill. RELIGION: Mostly Catholic like most towns in this region. AIRPORT: 20 min / 30 min
My expertise is the suburbs, not Boston itself. So, some of this information may be from stereotypes that are outdated. I will do my best to be as accurate as I can and will update this section where needed. I have provided this section to insure that readers know that many people choose to live in Boston proper and that there are wide ranges of opportunity within the city limits. However, it must be clearly understood that the majority of people who live in Greater Boston do not live in Boston. The Boston Metropolitan area consists of dozens of cities and towns with a total population of about 4.4 million people as of the 2000 US Census. The population of the City of Boston was just under 630,000 in 2008:
DOWNTOWN - Like any major downtown area, this is dominated by commercial interests and urban attractions, not necessarily by housing. However, virtually every building has an upstairs that is habitable, and as such, Boston's downtown has thousands of apartments and lofts.
BACK BAY - I can speak authoritatively on the Back Bay. A beautiful, gas-lit, brick-stone neighborhood behind the river of classic brownstone homes and condos, the Back Bay is home to thousands of families, professionals and young urbanites. Fashionably close to Newbury street yet quiet and unpretentious, the Back Bay neighborhood is reminiscent of parts of London, the Georgetown area of Washington as well as being quintessentially Boston.
BEACON HILL - Although in some ways it resembles the Back Bay with brick streets and gas-lamps, yet perched on a very steep hill, Beacon Hill represents one of Boston's most upscale and affluent neighborhoods. Downright wealthy, beautifully restored and updated and modernized brownstone homes climb the perches of Beacon Hill up from Charles Street where upscale restaurants and bars vy for the disposable income of residents and visitors. Beacon Hill is home of some government homes, athlete second homes and retirement retreats for wealthy urbanites. Not only is it quinessentially Boston, Beacon Hill is about as upscale as Boston gets, and it has absolutely no low rent district to speak of.
FENWAY/KENMORE - Although officially this is one neighborhood, it really refers to several distinct areas of Boston, all crammed into a small space. Kenmore Square is a completely revitalized urban plaza with a mix of upscale and casual restaurants and bars. It has several completely new or redone hotels which have an international flair to them. Backed up to Kenmore is Fenway Park, home of the World Champion Boston Red Sox. The few streets behind Kenmore by Fenway are filled with pool halls, nightclubs, bars and souvenir shops. Further behind is a neighborhood in transition. Home once to lower rent apartments and some stores, new restaurants and residential areas are starting to fill in, launching off the already revitalized Kenmore Square. On the other side of Kenmore, the Back Bay sort of fills in and then the area transitions right into the eastern end of Boston University.
LONGWOOD MEDICAL AREA - Backing right up to Brookline, Longwood is primarily a large network of some of the finest hospitals in the world. Included is the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, The Joslin Center for Diabetes, The Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital, just to name a few. Longwood is also home to several universities including Wheelock and Emmanuel Colleges and Northeastern University.
JAMAICA PLAIN - Locally known as JP, this is a large residential neighborhood which may as well be its own suburb of Boston. JP is a middle class area where thousands of families and others share tight knit neighborhoods and a myriad of different housing choices. It is diverse and ecletic and although urban, it is a place where many grow up and pass through the generations.
ROXBURY - My best understanding is that Roxbury remains Boston's poorest neighborhood.
DORCHESTER - Although Dorchester was often associated with Roxbury as being poor and urban, Dorchester was once a Brooklyn NY style neighborhood for well educated immigrants. It lost its original spendor in the middle of the last century, however recent stories tell of a rebounding of parts of Dorchester. It is very diverse and some of the old brownstone homes could resemble the Back Bay. Still Dorchester has a long road to come before being anything like the Back Bay.
WEST ROXBURY - Although officially annexed by Boston, West Roxbury lies south of Brookline and might as well be a fairly affluent suburb. It has single family homes with yards, beautiful winding avenues and plenty of money - if not the best schools compared to neighboring Brookline and Newton.
The following two neighborhoods I acknowledge being less familiar with. For that reason, I have included Wikipedia links about each.
MATTAPAN - Mattapan is a small neighborhood which was once a part of Dorchester. Because I have limited knowledge of Mattapan, I am including a link to Wikipedia's description of the neighborhood:
HYDE PARK - Similar to JP, but a step down in affluence. Here again is Wikipedia's information on Hyde Park. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyde_Park,_Boston
Here is a brief synopsis of the satellite cities, sitting within 40 or so miles along the spokes of the hub. Generally speaking, these cities are economically poorer, but not all of them are necessarily places to avoid.
Lawrence - Located along the I-93 spoke - A mill town, Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in the Commonwealth and thus an inexpensive place to live. Heavily Hispanic, Lawrence is located alongside the Merrimack River. With good management, Lawrence could become one of the hottest opportunities in the city. Brimming with ethnic culture and diversity, and perhaps the easiest to get to of all of the satellite cities, it might just be a diamond in the rough.
Lowell - Located along the Route 3 spoke - Also a former mill town, Lowell has experienced a renaissance of sorts due partly to the plethora of urban activities. Home to minor league ball team the Lowell Spinners, to the Tsongas Arena, to UMASS Lowell, and an annual BBQ festival, Lowell never runs short of things which keep locals here for city life. Secondly, Lowell has strict building codes and incentive programs for its downtown, which resulted in an interesting and eccletic influx of stores and restaurants, as well as businesses. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has created alot of vacancies, but the opportunity is there for these lots to refill.
Fitchburg - Located along the Route 2 spoke - Fitchburg is a bit farther away and thus not necessarily part of Greater Boston, as much as a nearby cousin of Worcester. Nevertheless, Fitchburg anchors this spoke with urbanization of companies, jobs, restaurants and hospitals. Nearby Gardner is a self proclaimed local furniture capital, with numerous outlets and mill stores for those willing to come get their own furniture.
Marlborough - Located along the Mass Turnpike Spoke (I-90) Marlborough is somewhat a big suburb. Thus Marlborough has gotten a bit bigger, with quite a few hotels and conference centers drawing businesses as well to its central location. Being close to both Worcester, a city in its own right, and Framingham's massive shopping opportunities, Marlborough has begun to anchor its own little metropolis.
Brockton - Located along the Route 24 spoke - Brockton probably has the toughest position right now of the satellite cities. It is somewhat not on the way to anything much, quite poor, and while full of retail, most of that retail is stores like Walmart and the Home Depot where people shop but don't hang out.
Taunton - Located along the Route 24 spoke - Taunton has managed to live a bit larger than Brockton even though it is just a bit further down the road. It has a reasonable little downtown area, outer big box stores, and a decent sized shopping mall right at the Route 24 junction. Taunton is far enough from Boston to not necessarily just be a nearby suburb, and lies at the intersection of Route 190 which splits off to New Bedford.
NORTH VS SOUTH VS WEST
The northern cities of Fitchburg, Lowell and Lawrence are all mill (or former mill) towns. Thus they have a longer history and more original buildings in their downtowns. They also have more highway networks through and around them. This has given them the best shot really so far and possibly the best potential.
The west has the advantage of being along I-90, the big corridor west to Worcester, Springfield, Hartford and New York. So, while they got their boost from simply being "along the way" it has worked to their advantage.
The south has had two disadvantages: The first is that they have been on the way to former booming fishing and whaling cities of New Bedford and Fall River, both of which have lost alot of their original job base. The second is that the south has typically not had nearly as well developed a suburb and retail boom as the north. This has changed significantly over the past decade. From the Comcast Center (formerly the Tweeter Center, formerly Great Woods) to the Wrenthem outlets, to big box store influxes, this area has some of the greatest growth potential in Greater Boston.
Unlike almost all other states in the nation, Massachusetts and to a lesser degree, its neighboring New England States, makes very little use of counties. The court system is county based but almost nothing else is. Many residents of Greater Boston cannot even tell you what county they live in, an unthinkable scenario for out of town visitors or newcomers to the area.
For this reason, dividing Greater Boston into regions is difficult to do. Each community has its own school system, and adjacent towns can have vast and substantial differences in everything from education, to police and fire to land values and to tax rates.
Generally, there are some 'areas' which are loosely understood to be regions of Greater Boston. They have no authority whatsoever, but are generally used as a broad description of what part of the metro area a person actually is describing when a specific town is not known. The dividing lines are not clearly drawn, and thus certain towns can often be considered to be in more than one area. Additionally, not everyone uses the terminology, so be careful that you don't presume that everyone in Framingham will understand that they live in Metrowest:
GREATER BOSTON/METRO BOSTON - This general area is usually known as the towns closest to Boston. Loosely, it is the towns which sit inside the I95/Route 128 beltway (see below) including Brookline, Cambridge, Sommerville, Newton, Dedham, Milton and Medford.
NORTH SHORE - This describes the suburbs which extend close to the coast from north of Boston up to Cape Ann (which finishes in the seaside town of Gloucester [pronounced GLOH-STERR]). Included towns are Lynn, Swampscott, Marblehead and even Reading which lies further inland.
SOUTH SHORE - This generally describes the suburbs which extend close to the coast from south of Boston down to Plymouth. These towns include Hingham, Hull, and Marshfield. Often included are towns which are further inland in this southern region such as Braintree and towns closer to Boston such as Quincy [pronounced QUIN-ZEE]).
METROWEST - These are towns straight west of Boston along the Massachusetts Turnpike, starting with Framingham and extending to Marlborough. Wayland, Natick, Ashland and Westborough all are included in Metrowest.
MERRIMACK VALLEY - This area generally includes cities and towns close to the Merrimack River, which flows through Lowell and Lawrence. It includes Tewsbury, Methuen, Dracut, Andover and North Andover and Haverhill.
BLACKSTONE VALLEY - Further from Boston, running south east from Worcester is the Blackstone Valley area which includes towns such as Grafton and Milford.
SOUTH COAST - This is generally the area near New Bedford and Fall River, along the south coast of Massachusetts (ie - the coast between Cape Cod and the Rhode Island border).
Be judicious when using these areas in conversation because not everyone agrees on either the names or what actually constitutes each area. You are much better off just reading and understanding them, so that when you hear them spoken you will not be completely unprepared.
Massachusetts is called "The Bay State" because the city of Boston splashes out into the huge Bay that is Boston Harbor. Boston itself is therefore called "The Hub" as would be the hub of a wheel. The roads that radiate out from that hub were former cow paths and thus all radiate directly away like spokes but which zig and zig with no logical rhyme or reason.
Surrounding the hub are two ring roads (or beltways). The inner belt was originally US ROUTE 128, but is now Interstate 95 (aka I-95). Locals still call this road 128 and many of the old white 128 signs still sit on sagging sign posts throughout the area. Although US Route 128 officially begins in Gloucester, the portion which is considered to be part of the beltway around Boston begins where I-95 and 128 split, in the northern town of Danvers and ends where 128 intersects Route 3 in Braintree (the Braintree split). Click here for my highly sought after section called Life Along 128 for restaurant, shopping and travel information along this important roadway.
The outer belt is I-495 which was once a far reaching detour around the city. Today however, it is the link between and among many outer suburbs which have come into their own, starting in Salisbury on the northern border with New Hampshire and ending at Route 25 just a few miles before reaching Cape Cod..
Going North-South right through downtown Boston is the Southeast Expressway, which forms the southernmost portion of I-93. It is never called I-93 though until you get out of the city. The expressway used to be elevated but after a 20 year project dubbed "The Big Dig" which was one of the most controversial, expensive and over-budget public works projects in the history of the nation, the expressway has been sunken below ground. Once you cross the Zakim Bridge going north, I-93 shoots straight north through Medford, Woburn, Andover and into Southern New Hampshire's town of Salem and the Derry's.
There is only one highway running West out of the city. Now originating at Boston Logan Airport itself, I-90 (aka The Mass Turnpike) runs directly west through Boston, Newton and then out to I-95, I-495 and further west towards Worcester, Springfield and eventually New York. As the only toll highway in Massachusetts, the Mass Pike, collects enough funding to actually stay relatively well maintained compared to other roads around Boston.
The Charles River separates Boston from its sister city to the north, Cambridge. Cambridge is a diverse town with a kaleidoscope of ethnicities, museums, restaurants and of course the major universities of Harvard and MIT. Soldiers Field Road/Storrow Drive run along the Boston side of the river and Memorial Drive runs along the Cambridge side. Memorial Drive has lots of lights, whereas Storrow Drive is generally controlled access like a highway until it ends at Leverett Circle (where you find I-93 entrance ramps). Both roads, like many Boston thoroughfares, have frustrating restrictions on ramps and access. For example, there are some intersections where you can only enter Strorrow Drive east bound and cannot go west. Memorial Drive is generally accessible, but the myriad of lights make progress slow. Still, both 'river roads' as they are sometimes dubbed by traffic reporters, have absolutely beautiful views of the Charles River, both during the day and at night.
Other main roads flow out from Boston's hub, but none of them offer clean and efficient access directly into the city. Route 2 actually starts from western Cambridge, Route 1 begins after you cross the Zakim Bridge, and Route 9 is slow going until you get past the Longwood Medical Area and Hammond Street in Chestnut Hill. Route 24 begins at the southernmost portion of I-95 and goes directly to Fall River, New Bedford and Newport, RI. Bostonians take these inefficiencies for granted and often find their favorite routes based on years of learning traffic patterns and shortcuts. In fact it is almost a given that the fastest route between two places has nothing to do with distance and more to do with lights, traffic and construction. Completely apart from grid cities found in most of the nation, there is never a parallel version to any particular route. Every route is completely unique.
You can almost be assured that, outside of Boston proper, and heavily traveled tourist routes, that Massachusetts roads will confuse you and sometimes lose you. It is very common for a sign to be missing, or a highway exit sign to creep up on you so quickly that you do not have time to safely exit. Route 2 was built as the Concord Turnpike into Boston, however the project ran out of money and therefore the road actually ends just outside of Cambridge (still 15 min drive to downtown, and through slow and windy roads). Some of the exits off Route 2 were never built and so it is common that you will not be able to exit in certain places, or will only be able to enter Route 2 going in one direction. All logic surrounding highway traffic patterns seem to have been ignored in building major routes. Important intersections use the old style cloverleaf which results in a dangerous traffic bottleneck called WEAVING, where entering traffic has to fight past exiting traffic. Early warning EXIT ONLY lane signs are rare, and attempts to funnel THRU TRAFFIC even rarer. Automatic tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Tobin Bridge and the airport tunnels, managed by FASTLANE generally work well to alleviate toll traffic, however cars without automatic transponders should expect long lines at the exits to pay their tolls in cash. EZ PASS from NY/NJ/NH/ME works on all FASTLANE tolls as well.