The Madness That is Boston Move-in Day 2018

If you don’t live in Boston, you probably don’t know about the struggles faced by students during the dreaded move-in period. Every year, between late August and early September, new and returning students move into dorms or new apartments near the city’s universities. While moving week is a common occurrence every year, that doesn’t dampen the annoyance of dealing with streets flooded with furniture, traffic delays, and finding alternative routes to work etc. Like the heat map in 2016 used by Kyle Scott Clauss, we decided to take a deeper look into the madness that is Boston move-in day. This year we also did a comparison of 2017 and 2018 to see if Boston move-in day has gotten worse or better.

Viewing the Madness Through Heat Maps

We looked at the data provided by the City of Boston for street occupancy permits. For this study, we used publicly available data on Boston’s moving truck permits, made available on Boston’s open data hub. The data provides us with the issued moving truck permits for dates up to September 13, 2018. We focused exclusively on the expiration dates of the moving truck permits (which generally coincide with the actual moving dates) instead of the permit issuance dates. You can only apply online for a permit if your moving date is at least two weeks away, and no more than a month away. That said, because we are looking at when these moving permits expire, there may be additional permits registered between now and your move-in day, so long as potential movers fit the above criteria.

We created two maps:

  1. A daily heat map of Boston showing the number of issued moving truck permits on a daily basis in 2017. 
  2. A daily heat map of Boston showing the number of issued moving truck permits on a daily basis in 2018. 

Like the previously published maps, both of the embedded maps below show the addresses of the moving truck permits that were issued. Looking at the maps, it is easy to spot which neighborhoods are busier than others, and under which time frame and dates. 


Daily Heat Map of Boston 2017 (for comparison)


When breaking down the daily map for 2017, you can see that there are not a lot of spikes in issued moving truck permits until August 31, 2017 through September 2, 2017. Much of Boston is pretty congested and busy around those dates, specifically the neighborhoods that is also the home to, or in close proximity to, Boston’s schools and universities. Now let’s take a look at the next map, which takes a closer look at the daily number of issued moving truck permits for 2018.

Daily Heat Map of Boston 2018


The daily embedded map for 2018 takes a closer look at the daily number of issued moving truck permits from August 1, 2018, to September 13, 2018. This map will be a great tool for those looking to check out if their neighborhood will be particularly affected by students and all of their “baggage” during certain dates. By looking more specifically at the individual dates, we see that the following dates have higher spikes than others. This is due to permits ending on those dates. The top five upcoming dates for August and September, where permits will expire or have expired, are:

  • September 1, 2018: 747 permits are due to expire on this day.
  • August 31, 2018: 416 permits are due to expire on this day.
  • May 31, 2018: 200 permits expired on this day.
  • June 1, 2018: 193 permits expired on this day.
  • June 30, 2018: 187 permits expired on this day.

This is interesting as the top five dates where permits are set to expire are a bit different than for 2017. For 2017, the top two dates for expired permits was also September 1 in first place and August 31 on second place. What followed for 2017 was August 26 on third place, September 2 on fourth place, and August 30 coming in last. For 2018, only two dates (September 1 and August 31) are dates coming up under the big move-in day in Boston. The other dates are dates that have already passed, this summer.


A Deeper Look at Boston Moving Patterns

From the data provided, it is safe to say that there is a relationship between the number of issued permits and the move-in period for new and returning students in Boston. Looking at the number of issued moving truck permits all the way back to January 2013, to September 2018, this is how the numbers are divided.

Looking at the chart displayed above, we see that August is a clear winner for the most issued permits for the years 2013 to 2017. Other months that show a higher than average number of issued moving truck permits are May, June, July, and September. Let’s take a closer look at the months with the highest number of issued moving truck permits.

The table above takes a closer look at the number of expired moving truck permits all the way back from 2013 to 2018. August 2017 is the clear winner with 3,257 issued permits. Furthermore, we see that the month of August comes in on first place to sixth place as the month with the highest number of expired moving truck permits. This shows that there is a high correlation between issued permits for moving trucks and the move-in period for new and returning students. However, August 2018 is number five on the list this time around. Previously, we were seeing an increase in issued permits in August each year. However, when comparing August 2017, with 3,257 issued permits, and August 2018, with 2,839 issued permits, we see a decrease of 12.85% in issued permits. September 2018 didn’t even make the list of the top ten months with the highest number of issued permits. Does this mean Bostonians can look forward to a less chaotic move-in period this year?

So which areas are the worst to commute in around the move-in period? For you to know which area to avoid, we took a deeper look at the zip codes attached to the issued moving truck permits as well. Knowing which zip codes that are the busiest might help you to plan ahead, if you’re one of those that will be affected by the move-in period when commuting to work, the gym, etc. We ranked it by the top ten busiest zip codes based on the number of issued permits.


The zip code with the highest number of issued permits is 02116 (Back Bay) with a total of 444 issued permits from the time frame August to September. Following that we have zip code 02135 (Brighton). Boston College is located in Brighton, which could have something to do with the high number of permits for that specific zip code. We see that a lot of the zip codes with the highest number of issued permits are in popular neighborhoods for students to live. The zip code ranked as number ten is 02130 (Jamaica Plain).

Survival Guide: How to Dodge the Madness

1. Check when universities and schools have their move-in day

If you have a school or university near where you live you probably already know that there will be more traffic than usual around the move-in period. But exactly when is the move-in dates for your local university or school? It might be worth checking the academic calendar to ensure you mark the dates that your area will be busier than normal. Here are just a couple of move-in dates for Boston schools and universities that are coming up in the next couple of weeks, based on the academic calendar for 2018.  

  1. Boston University: 8/29/18 – 9/03/18
  2. Northeastern University: 8/30/18 – 9/03/18
  3. Boston College: 8/22/18 – 8/24/18
  4. Emerson College: 8/27/18 – 9/2/18
  5. Suffolk University: 9/02/18
  6. Berklee College of Music: 8/29/18 – 9/1/18

2. Map out alternate routes by using the map

Check the embedded map to figure out alternative routes to the gym, the store, or work. Take a minute to map out some routes, other than your normal route, if you can see from the map that your normal route might be rather busy. No one wants to get stuck in the middle of a traffic jam or behind a big moving truck on a narrow road. Do some research on the route before heading out to save yourself from a headache.  

3. Plan around potential delays

Despite all your best efforts and planning, there are some delays and annoyances that are going to be impossible to evade. Especially in a city as close quartered as most of Boston is, a single vehicle being out of place or stopped for too long can cause some major issues. As a result, you should give yourself more time each and every day to account for the potential delays. While you might miss out on the delays you planned for and be very early to work or class, that is better than not giving yourself that extra time and hitting a delay, making yourself very late.

4. Accept the fact and don’t panic or get angry

While this tip isn’t so much about helping you avoid the madness that is Boston Move-In Day, it can make it much more manageable for you. The fact is, there is a high chance of your commute or drive being disrupted in some way due to the moving. Instead of thinking you will get through without a hitch and then getting upset or angry when you get stopped, expect and accept the fact that it is likely to happen. Simply expecting to be disrupted by the madness will make it less bad when it occurs, and if it doesn’t, you will feel like you just hit the jackpot.

5. Take advantage of the chaos with “Allston Christmas”

While many will avoid this area at all costs, there are also those all deliberately look to go to these areas around move-in day. The reasoning for this is “Allston Christmas”. For those unfamiliar, Allston Christmas is the period around move-in day in which a ton of people are moving in and out of apartments. While most of their furniture will make it into a U-Haul or an apartment, there are always some just left on the street, free for anyone to take. So instead of treating this whole ordeal as a disturbance or a huge place to be avoided, treat it as an opportunity. There is a good chance you can find some pretty cool things simply laying on the sidewalk or in the street.

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