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Space-saver ‘justice’ undercuts ban in South End

Space savers in the South End.Sean Proctor/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The snow, and the tires, continue to fall in the South End.

There have now been two confirmed cases of vehicles having their tires slashed, with reports of a third, as the South End continues with its attempt to become Boston’s first “space-saver free” neighborhood.

This winter, with the blessing of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the South End formally banned the controversial tradition of reserving shoveled parking spaces, after the neighborhood’s community and business associations voted unanimously in favor of the initiative.

But it is clear that some people are not getting, or liking, the message because the practice is continuing, as is the traditional method of enforcement — street justice.


Now the South End Forum, the umbrella group for those community and business associations behind the push, is responding in a gentler way. The group has started a fund to cover the costs of the replacement tires, and is gathering names and license plate numbers of those who continue to defy the ban so they can be reported to Boston Police.

“This is a criminal act of vandalism. This is not a quaint Boston custom gone awry,” said Stephen Fox, cochairman of the South End Forum. “This is something that is intolerable in an urban environment, and it needs to be treated as a crime and not with a shoulder shrug.”

On Thursday morning, a man who woke early to drive his girlfriend to her job as a schoolteacher in Roxbury discovered two of his tires slashed near Concord Square. The man, who spoke on the condition his name not be published because he feared further retribution, said he already had shoveled out four parking spots — and left them open, following instructions — so he did not feel bad when he realized he had inadvertently parked on top of a space-saver.


There are also reports that a man had his tires slashed on Feb. 11, though he did not respond to a query from the Globe. (He did, however, send a pleading tweet to Walsh: “Please start enforcing no #spacesavers in the South End. I parked in a legitimate spot to find my tires slashed. Unacceptable.”)

Now Chris Busch, a Boston public school teacher, has come forward to say that he had three of his tires slashed after parking in a space that was not filled with a space-saver.

He suspects that someone else had moved the space-saver before he got there, something residents have been instructed to do by public information posters that have been plastered around the neighborhood with the slogan “We don’t do dibs here.”

Busch said his vandalism occurred after the first major snowstorm of this winter. He said he and his 2-year-old son spent a few hours shoveling his car out so he could get him out of the house while his wife was inside with their 2-week-old baby boy.

As he was pulling out, Busch said, he thought about saving his spot.

“But then I thought, ‘No. We saw the signs. No space-savers in the South End,’ so I left the spot open.”

He said he drove to an indoor play area with his son and returned to find another open spot near the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Worcester Street.

The next morning, he discovered three of his tires had been slashed, costing him about $550 to be replaced, he said.


“I love the idea of trying to say we’re not going to do that anymore in this neighborhood,” Busch said. “But if everybody is not on board, what’s the point? We’re fine with the policy, but not the mixed message.”

The space-saver tradition is riddled with mixed messages. Walsh has honored the guidelines set out by his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino, which allows for savers to be kept out for the first 48 hours after a snow emergency.

But during the record-breaking snows this winter, that guideline has been blurred, if not entirely abandoned. Most neighborhood parking spaces have been permanently guarded by space-savers since the first winter storm in late January.

Following that storm, Walsh said at a news conference that he was “not going to say how long space-savers should be out.”

And then there is the mixed message of enforcement. Officially, there is none. Boston police and the mayor’s office say they will not intervene if someone moves a space-saver and parks in the spot.

And the city has been loathe to devote resources to remove the space-savers after the 48 hours is up, and instead asks residents to honor the rule themselves. (Trash collectors are instructed to collect them on their regular routes.)

But the South End Forum says it is not giving up on the quest to scrub the neighborhood of space-savers, which the group considers a “scourge” that pits neighbor against neighbor and takes valuable public parking spaces out of circulation for hours on end.


“You always hear the same arguments for them,” Fox said. “It’s, ‘These people don’t bother to shovel out their spaces and then they come as interlopers and take my space I spent hours shoveling out.’ But the question they don’t answer is: ‘How did they get their car out in the first place?’ They had to shovel to get their car out to go from point A to point B. The entire thing defies logic.”

Fox argues that giving in and going back to the “tradition” will continue this cycle of violence and vandalism as retribution. “We as neighbors, and neighborhoods need to find the political will to say enough is enough.”


A space-saver hero in South Boston

In Southie, no storm too small for parking savers

Snow parking becomes a tense game around Boston

2/2013: South End takes stand against parking-space savers

12/2013: Boston not allowing parking space savers

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