Some dig in for spots they dug out

Parking rules defied in South Boston

In South Boston yesterday, cones and other items still marked dug out parking spaces long after the 48-hour period permitted by the city. In South Boston yesterday, cones and other items still marked dug out parking spaces long after the 48-hour period permitted by the city. (DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print| Text size + By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 27, 2007

It's a tradition that goes back decades and has inspired brawls, sliced tires, and expletive-laden tirades.

Throughout Boston, but particularly in South Boston, residents have long laid claim to their snow-shoveled parking spaces by planting lawn furniture in the road as a way to pronounce to the neighborhood: This spot is mine. Orange cones are passed down to new homeowners, parking tactics given to the next generation.

But just as aggressively, the city for years has tried to discourage the civic tradition by instituting a new policy that limits squatters' rights to the space to 48 hours after snowfall. After that, their goods would be removed by trash collectors.

"The streets of the city belong to all the people," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said through a spokesman when he initiated the shift.

Apparently, it hasn't worked.

A full six days after the last snowstorm and with little snow left at the curb, dozens of parking spaces in South Boston were littered yesterday with weather-worn chairs of all kinds - lawn, beach, and patio; metal, plastic, and wood. A shopping cart blocked one. One person used a full container of laundry detergent to save a spot.

"Enough is enough," Bob Walton, a 51-year-old South Boston native, said as he sipped on his Dunkin' Donuts coffee. "Some people think they can have it until springtime. Three days, max."

But others in this parking-starved neighborhood run out at first snowflake to mark a personal spot in front of their home. After shoveling the spot for hours, they believe it's theirs, sometimes indefinitely. The problem perpetuates because no one wants to be the first to remove the marker, and then lose out when no one else moves theirs.

"I'm from the old school," said Joe, who wouldn't provide his last name. "If you shovel it, you should have it."

"Do you know how long it takes to dig one of those spaces out?" asked Ciaran O'Shea, who spoke with an Irish brogue and until Monday used a patio chair to block his spot. "Mayor Menino has a nice, plowed driveway. Most of us in the real world don't."

In part to cut down on neighborhood parking space wars, Menino in 2005 declared his intention to dispatch crews to remove the space savers, a program he called "Know Snow."

But James M. Kelly, the late legendary city councilor from South Boston, immediately defied him, placing a trash barrel in a spot he'd cleared near his home. He helped turn the fight into a national campaign, appearing on "Good Morning America," going on Los Angeles-based talk radio, and telling The Washington Post that he had more barrels than the mayor had trucks to take them away.

Menino later offered a 48-hour grace period (which was doubled after the first snowstorm that year, when he was running for reelection). But since then, the city had seen little snow until the last two weeks, when about 21 inches fell, more than all of last year combined.

Kelly's successor, Bill Linehan, is striking a more conciliatory tone.

"It's a cultural thing. When people work hard to clean a spot, you want people to respect that. It's part of living in a dense community," said Linehan, who insists his family moved their cones and chairs over the weekend. "But when snow diminishes, there's a time to pull in the chair and cone."

The current city policy is to allow residents 48 hours after a snowstorm. After that, the next time trash collectors come, they will remove any items blocking a parking space. They typically don't remove recycling bins, which are provided by the city, or trash cans.

City officials say they don't issue fines because it would be too difficult to pin down whose bin is blocking the street.

"If they spent five hours digging out their car, they get that space for two days," said Jennifer Mehigan, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "We don't want to punish someone for doing work and getting a space for a day."

One man last year was punched in the face after he parked in a spot his neighbor claimed to have cleared and saved. In 2005, a man was arrested for smashing a car window with a plunger during an argument over a freshly shoveled parking space.

There have been no major events reported so far this season, police say, but residents report seeing verbal altercations and items like cones and chairs being hurled from saved spaces.

WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) reported last week that an East Boston woman moved someone's chair when she couldn't find a parking space, and returned later to find one of her tires slashed.

In addition to parking problems, residents have bombarded the city with complaints of neighbors who have yet to shovel their sidewalks.

By midday yesterday, the city had received 1,367 complaints - nearly 70 complaints yesterday alone - which is more than twice the one-month average. So far, the city has issued about 1,140 citations for not shoveling sidewalks and 60 citations for tossing snow back into city streets.

During the first snowstorm, when the city called a snow emergency, more than 1,500 parking tickets were issued and nearly 200 cars towed.

"This is our highest monthly total ever for a snowstorm," Captain Michael Mackan, who runs the code enforcement police, said of the number of citations. "We just keep plugging away at it."

Matt Viser can be reached at

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