NOTHING SAYS WINTER in Boston like a shoveled parking space with a beach chair.
Or construction cones, garbage cans, mini-fridges, laundry baskets, child car seats — any item residents can haul to claim a parking spot after a snowstorm.
It’s space saver season again. Having shoveled out a parking space, thousands of citizens believe they have earned the right to that space even when their car isn’t parked in it — and God help anyone who thinks otherwise. In a city where parking spaces have been auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Boston remains stubbornly devoted to allowing a practice that encourages less than neighborly behavior, vandalism, and worse.
It’s time for a permanent ban on space savers.
There’s already a precedent. Concerned that it was turning into South Boston, the unofficial birthplace of the space saver, South End business and neighborhood groups prohibited the practice in 2015. It became the first neighborhood to do so, but problems persisted. Some ignored the ban. And, like Southie residents, some who found their saver removed retaliated by slashing tires, keying doors, or shattering windows of the car they deemed to have violated their sacred rights.
During his tenure as mayor, Tom Menino limited what had been an indefinite parking space claim to 48 hours after the lifting of a snow emergency. With Boston’s latest storm, the grace period ended 5 p.m. Sunday, but you’d never know it in neighborhoods where space savers on Monday morning almost outnumbered cars.
Under Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the city has loosely enforced the Menino rule. During the record-setting winter of 2015, Walsh “relaxed” the 48-hour rule “just so people could still have a parking space.” He has also said that anyone who spends hours shoveling out a space should be entitled to keep it for “a little while.”
That’s a problem. At best, space savers are removed during the next garbage pickup, but nothing prevents residents from putting another one back in place. On windy days, some skid out into the middle of the street, creating a hazard. City officials have generally allowed neighbors to sort it out among themselves. That’s led to arguments and, in some cases, violence. In 2013, a 66-year-old man was hospitalized with a broken jaw after another man took a space the older man had cleaned out. Even in the best weather, parking can be a Boston blood sport.
With many winter days, and potential storms ahead, fuses will be as short as available parking spots. Space savers may be a Boston tradition — even Walsh endorses the unwritten code of “you shovel it, you earn it.” Yet it also makes the city seems petty and small. On their rounds, parking enforcement officers should remove savers and set them aside for residents to retrieve or leave them for sanitation workers. There’s already a hot line to report space savers. The mayor should make recitation of that number a regular part of his snow emergency press conferences.
Boston needs to move beyond the rubbish, hazards, and street-justice mentality connected to this archaic winter ritual. This world-class city needs a new era, where the only allowed space savers will be the vehicles for which those spots are intended.