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South End space-saver ban has first victim

A South End man found his tires had been slashed this week after parking in a shoveled spot.
A South End man found his tires had been slashed this week after parking in a shoveled spot. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

This winter, the South End made Boston history when it became the first neighborhood to formally ban the use of space-savers to reserve a shoveled parking space and encouraged residents to remove the space-savers when they saw them.

This week, that plan had its first major setback when a man who followed those instructions woke to find the tires on his car had been slashed. It was the first reported incident of space-saver-related vandalism in the city this year, Boston police said.

“It’s disturbing, but this incident is a perfect example of why we’re trying to eliminate the use of space-savers,” said Stephen Fox, cochairman of the South End Forum, a collection of community and business associations that has spearheaded the move to make the South End a “space-saver-free zone.”

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The vandalism was discovered Thursday morning when the victim, who spoke on the condition his name not be published because he feared further retribution, awoke early to drive his girlfriend to her job as a schoolteacher in Roxbury. When he got in his Honda Accord on Concord Square, just off Columbus Avenue, and started to pull away, he discovered that both of his passenger-side tires had been slashed.

The previous night, the man had parked in a space that was marked with a “Slippery When Wet” pylon.

“It was broken into two pieces, and I parked on top of it and didn’t see it until I got out,” the man said.

What he had seen were the posters around the neighborhood with slogans such as “We don’t do dibs here,” and the media accounts of the ban. So he said he shrugged his shoulders and figured he had done nothing wrong.

Someone disagreed.

The vandalism caused his girlfriend to be late for school and the man to miss work, as he had to wait four hours for a tow truck. The new tires cost more than $400, he said.

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“It’s one of the most cowardly acts I’ve ever seen,” the man said. “I was driving a teacher to work. What if it had been an emergency?”

He said his girlfriend’s sixth-grade students were unattended for the day’s first 30 minutes while she waited for an Uber to take her to school.

This type of street justice is not new in the long story of space-savers in Boston. The mayor’s office pseudo-sanctions the space-saver tradition, allowing residents to keep the markers in place for 48 hours after the end of a snow emergency, but there is no enforcement mechanism if someone moves a space-saver. The city says it will not remove a car that took a spot. Enforcement of the tradition has come in other ways — through vandalism and, occasionally, violence.

It is for those reasons, Fox of the South End Forum said, that the South End wants nothing to do with the practice. “There are only two alternatives. We continue to allow space-savers and thereby encourage this lawless vandalism, or we do the right thing and say, ‘These are public spaces, and we all deserve to share public spaces.’ ”

The massive amount of snow has made this a tricky winter to launch the initiative, Fox said, and he acknowledged that there have been pockets of resistance and a few “animated discussions” among neighbors.

One South End driver who removed a space-saver returned to the car to find a note that read: “I paid $30 to have this space shoveled. Please call me and you can return the $30 to me.” Fox decided to call the number and said he had a wonderful discussion with a woman, who said she did not know about the ban.

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“I told her that the $30 was to dig her car out, not to rent the space, and she understood and asked me to apologize to the person whose car she had left the note on,” Fox said. “I think this is a very good sign that people are understanding what we’re trying to do.”

One resident, Paul Russo, wrote an e-mail to the South End Forum, praising the ban.

“Myself driving home from the hospital, my partner returning from military leave, and sister driving home from school are all able to find a parking space in the South End day or night throughout these storms because the spaces are not clogged with junk furniture,” Russo wrote. “It is a mathematical luxury the entire city should be able to enjoy as we do.”


Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.