Public Improvement Commission

The Boston Public Improvement Commission (PIC) is the owner and regulator of the City's rights of way. The PIC plays an integral role in the City's development and permitting process. From the restaurant that wants to add a seasonal cafe on the public sidewalk, to the developer who wants to construct an underground parking garage for a new housing development, or the homeowner who wants to add an architectural feature to a house that juts into the public space, each must seek approval from the PIC to have its private venture occupy public space, either permanently or on a licensed basis.

About the Public Improvement Commission:

The Public Improvement Commission (PIC) was established in accordance with Section 57, Chapter 2, of the 1954 City Ordinances. The Mayor of Boston appointed the PIC. It is an independent body located in the Public Works Department.

The PIC was assigned the majority of the powers and duties of the former Board of Street Commissioners under a Reorganization Plan of the City of Boston in 1954. The Board of Street Commissioners was established in 1870 by the City’s Board of Aldermen and state statute.

The PIC consists of the Commissioner of the Public Works Department, the Commissioner of Property Management (formerly Real Property Department), the Commissioner of Inspectional Services (formerly Building Department), the Commissioner of the Transportation Department (formerly the Traffic and Parking Department), the Executive Director of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (formerly part of the public works department), the Executive Secretary, and Administrative Personnel. The Public Works Department augments the PIC with engineering support. The Commissioner of Boston Public Works also acts as Chairman of the PIC.

More information About PIC Members

Functions of the Public Improvement Commission

Functions of the PIC include:

  • The authority to lay out, widen, relocate, alter, discontinue or rename public highways, and to order the making of specific repairs;

  • To order the construction of sanitary sewers and storm drains (1);

  • To take land by eminent domain for municipal purposes (except housing and off-street parking) (2);

  • To establish line and grade of all private ways;

  • To levy assessments for street, sidewalk, and sewer betterments  (2);

  • And to issue permits for the location of wire carrying poles, conduits, pipes, tracks, and similar uses of the public ways.

1: These functions were assumed by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission upon its establishment in 1977. 
2: These functions were assumed by the Public Facilities Commission upon its establishment in 1966.

Categories of Authorization

In general, the PIC authorizes development activity in the following categories:


PIC ActionDescription
Line & Grade and Layout ApprovalEstablishing the right-of-way lines and characteristics of a public way (Line & Grade) and a private way (Layout) and ensuring that it conforms to City Standards.
Discontinuance and Abandonment Dissolving the City's inerest in a public way (Discontinuance) and a private way (Abandonment). May be a surface, sub-surface, and/or airspace action.
Widening & Relocation Relocating the right-of-way lines of an existing public or private roadway.
Easement Granting certain public property to act as public property while maintaining ownership.
Specific Repairs Installing or modifying physical entities within the public right-of-way. Examples are specialty surfaces, street furniture, trees, non-standard curb cuts, etc.

Approving the revocable use of public right-of-way for the purposes of Sidewalk Cafe , Projection (such as a Marquee, Canopy, or Awning), Earth Rentention Systems, Monitoring Well , or Areaway.

Grant of Location Permitting a utility company to occupy and access sub-surface and overhead lines within public right-of-way.
Street Name Change Changing the recognized name of an existing roadway or square.


Plan/Application Review

The Public Improvement Commission also reviews certain development and construction documents under the guise of the Public Works Department (PWD). These documents include:


Review TypeDescription
Site Plan New Construction and remodeling projects must have a site plan approved by the PIC. The review focuses primarily on the relationship gradewise of the proposed building and surrounding site to the abutting public roadway(s).

Curb Cut (Driveways)

All new and modified curb cuts are obtained by submitting an application and associated plans to the PWD Permitting Division. The PIC acts on behalf of the PWD as one the agencies responsible for reviewing this application.


More Information

For further information or to have any questions regarding the PIC answered, you may contact the Public Improvement Commission at:

Phone: 617-635-4960.

For information regarding all other types of permitting contact the Permitting Division of the Public Works Department at:

Phone: 617-635-4909

Additional Resources & Information