Globe Watch

Parking on private way lures the unwary

Parking on Commercial Wharf West, a short, private street in the North End’s waterfront area, is not for the general public. Parking on Commercial Wharf West, a short, private street in the North End’s waterfront area, is not for the general public. (Christina Pazzanese for The Boston Globe)
By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / January 31, 2011

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Residents of Commercial Wharf West in the North End are upset about what some call a longstanding “parking scam’’ happening on their street.

Though it looks like an ordinary city street, with a small grocery store and a number of storefronts, it is a private way connecting a restaurant-heavy section of Atlantic Avenue to Commercial Street. And that is where the problem begins, they say.

Neighbors have recently taken to a local website,, to complain about the continued lack of clear street signs alerting drivers to the fact that none of those spaces are available for the general public. Parking is open only to those who have paid for a special pass. There are often as many as two dozen cars parked there.

“The Rub: The ‘No Parking’ signs are tiny,’’ resident David Arnold writes on the website. “Some are crinkled, others are fading, some are missing, or were never put up in the first place. It is easy to be trolling Commercial Street for parking, see a spot on Commercial West, pull in and never see a sign. Maybe six times a day — twice that on a busy tourist night — visitors get suckered into parking illegally.

“The Scam: Taking periodic laps through the lot is D.A.R. Towing, looking for victims. When I and a few neighbors point out to the tow truck driver that his prey have no idea they are illegal, he tells us there are signs all around and that we should mind our own business.’’

Neighbors say locals and those who have been burned by the confusing parking situation are all well aware of the problem, but cannot help feeling a mixture of pity and outrage when they see tourists and others caught unaware routinely towed away. Efforts to get city officials to intervene have so far been unsuccessful, says Matt Conti, the website’s administrator.

Messages left Friday at the Downtown Auto Recovery towing company were not answered.

During a visit last week, a Globe reporter found it easy to understand why some frustrated drivers desperate for a parking space might be fooled into thinking they had stumbled upon a legal spot. Green street signs at each end are marked “Private Way,’’ but look identical to nearby signs identifying public streets. While there are signs all along Commercial Wharf West warning “Tow Zone’’ and “No Parking,’’ they are not posted at the curb, but hung erratically on building walls, making it difficult to know whether they refer to the space directly in front of the sign or all spaces in the vicinity. Some are faded and almost none are at eye level — some are bumper height and hidden by parked cars, while others are too high to be seen through a windshield.

The city responds
Tracey Ganiatsos, Boston Transportation Department spokeswoman, confirms the street is indeed a private way, and thus not normally subject to the city’s authority over what street signs should say, what they look like, or where they should be posted.

“The owners of the private way have control over the parking regulations on the roadway. [The Transportation Department] posts street name signs to ensure emergency access, and we post fire lane signs,’’ Ganiatsos responded in an e-mail.

The city agency has no authority to enforce no-parking rules on private ways or exert control over an owner who maintains an aggressive towing policy on the street, she says.

Nevertheless, Ganiatsos said the agency is taking action in this case. “First, [Boston Transportation Department] staff has checked Commercial Wharf West on foot. There are currently seven or eight towing signs posted on the roadway, but a few of them are old and faded. The towing company that is contracted to work on this street has been contacted by BTD and a request to post new, additional signs has been made,’’ she writes. “Also, BTD will be supplementing the ‘Commercial Wharf West, Private Way’ signs currently posted on either end of the roadway with additional signs reading “Private Way, Violators will be Towed.’’

Readers with problems they would like addressed can e-mail

Who’s in charge?
Thomas J. Tinlin, Commissioner
Boston Transportation Dept.
1 City Hall Square, Room 721
Boston, MA 02201-2026