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A look inside a Boston phenomenon: Storrowing

The in-depth explainer you never knew you needed on something that might be even more Boston than Dunkies: Storrowing.

A truck is stuck under a bridge on Storrow Drive Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. (Massachusetts State Police)

We all know how it goes.

A box truck innocently enters Storrow Drive — maybe students renting a U-Haul or a delivery from out of town — and doesn’t take heed of the signs noting a 10-foot height limit. Before they know it, the top is shorn off the truck or they’re stuck under a bridge with traffic backing up behind them.

#STORROWED

Boston’s Storrow Drive is now infamous for a certain kind of accident; specifically, the truck-to-bridge collision. In fact, the phenomenon of trucks hitting the underside of a bridge on the parkway has become so iconic that the term “Storrowed” now loosely applies to any truck-hitting-bridge incident around New England.

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These incidents are pretty common: there have been six “Storrowings” along Storrow Drive in 2021, as well as one each on Memorial Drive and Soldiers Field Road, and one in Canton and Blackstone, Mass. Plus, there’s the I-93 truck crash in July, which could be considered a little more serious than your average Storrowing.

Confirmed Storrowings Jan. 2019 – Aug. 2021

  • Thursday, August 5

    An oyster delivery truck from Katana on Martha’s Vineyard hits an overpass on Memorial Drive.

  • Wednesday, August 4

    The roof of a moving truck is sheared off after it hits overpass at Charles Circle on Storrow Drive.

  • Tuesday, July 27

    An unknown truck hits an overpass on Storrow Drive.

  • Wednesday, July 14

    A moving truck hits and gets stuck under a footbridge above Storrow Drive.

  • Wednesday, June 2

    A truck that appears to be carrying wood beams hits an underpass on Soldiers Field Road near the Harvard Business School. It doesn’t go well for the truck.

  • Thursday, May 27

    An out-of-state Wiley Sanders truck hits the underpass at the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, and has the roof ripped off.

  • Tuesday, February 2

    A the roof is ripped off a truck that hit the Boston University Bridge overpass on Storrow Drive.

  • Thursday, December 31

    A big, seemingly empty Ryder box truck hit a footbridge on Storrow Drive. The roof is gone, and the back of the truck is hanging off.

  • Friday, August 7

    An ice truck hits a bridge over Storrow Drive and tipped over.

  • Wednesday, July 22

    Riding up the on-ramp, a tractor-trailer hits one of the low bridges on Storrow Drive.

  • Tuesday, July 21

    A moving truck from Maine flips over after hitting a bridge on Storrow Drive.

  • Friday, September 27

    A truck gets wedged under a footbridge on Storrow Drive.

  • Friday, September 6

    A food service truck is severely damaged after it hits a bridge in Storrow Drive.

  • Monday, September 2

    In a classic move-in-day Storrowing, a moving truck hits the underside of a bridge on Storrow Drive.

  • Monday, February 18

    A box truck that appears to be empty hits the Fairfield Street pedestrian bridge, which tears the roof right off.

Of course, these numbers only represent the trucks that hit an overpass — many more realize before it’s too late, but then have to reverse out of traffic on a busy road. According to numerous photos and videos posted by Only In Boston on Twitter, an over-height truck has either hit an overpass or had to back out of Storrow Drive every single day this August, as of Aug. 18.

Reports of trucks getting “Storrowed” have surfaced many times over the years. A May article from WCVB shared a photo from the Boston City Archives that shows a horse-drawn cart in 1906 hitting a trolley wire — a historical “Storrowing,” though the road hadn’t been built yet. In a 2004 book, “The Boston Driver’s Handbook,” authors wrote about the time a while back a truck carrying industrial scissors got stuck under a bridge and spilled out its contents, causing numerous flat tires and a big traffic jam.

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Storrow Drive, which is overseen by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, was built as a parkway in 1951 and has always prohibited trucks and buses due to height limits and other restrictions.

Who seems to be responsible?

A DCR spokesperson told Boston.com they continue to work with MassDOT and Massachusetts State Police to inform drivers of restrictions, such as summer and fall campaigns that align with area college moving days. Height restriction signage is posted at all Storrow Drive access points.

Chris Amaral, owner of Safe Responsible Movers in Boston, said they’ve never had a truck hit a bridge on Storrow Drive, Memorial Drive, or any other road. 

“We do train our drivers to avoid those roads at all times, including sharing photos and videos we’ve found of other trucks crashing into bridges,” he told Boston.com. “I think that’s probably the most effective part of it; it’s one thing to say ‘watch the height of any bridges and avoid parkways,’ it’s a whole other thing for folks to see vivid evidence of what happens when you don’t.”

They don’t use any special navigation system, Amaral said, and tend to be more worried about hitting low-hanging tree branches while parking in front of homes. Amaral said most of his drivers are familiar with Boston’s streets, and that it’s almost never local drivers making these mistakes.

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“One misconception about ‘Storrowing’ is that many folks blame college students, but from what I’ve seen it’s overwhelmingly professional drivers who aren’t based in Boston,” he said.

It’s certainly true that not all of the 2021 incidents were caused by students: of the seven confirmed Boston area collisions, one was a truck from Martha’s Vineyard delivering oysters, one was a moving van from Nantucket, another was a Wiley Sanders truck from Alabama, and yet another was from a small New Hampshire town — it was the driver’s first day on the job. 

Could the regular hits do any real damage? 

According to DCR, in the last several years there have not been any bridge strikes along Storrow Drive that required a bridge closure longer than what was required to remove any truck debris and inspect the bridge, and none have caused needs for repair.

Tim McLaughlin, senior vice president of SPS New England, a leading bridge and highway contractor, said the type of collision commonly seen on Storrow Drive is unlikely to significantly damage a bridge, even with multiple incidents. 

“Bridges are designed with safety factors for the load they’re normally going to see, and they’re also designed with redundancy, meaning that if one beam is totally ruined it doesn’t make the whole bridge fall down,” he told Boston.com. “Just because it’s hit does not mean the bridge is going to fall down. Very rarely does an impact risk the structure collapsing.”

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More damage is done when the trucks are heavier and traveling at higher speeds, like what was seen on I-93, he said. 

“The most common hits are box trucks, trucks that the regular public rent and they just don’t research their route well — by now you’d think everyone would, but that’s not the case,” he said. “Most of the hits are with the lighter weight box trucks that people rent, the heavier weight ones are more professional-type companies that are more rare.”

Finally, how not to get #Storrowed

  1. RESEARCH YOUR ROUTE.
  2. Pay attention to the signs as you are entering a parkway or drive, especially Storrow Drive, Memorial Drive, and Soldiers Field Road in Boston and Cambridge.
  3. Check out navigation apps like Sygic Truck Navigation (free), Copilot Truck (14 days free) or SmartTruckRoute (2-days free).
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