The ugly truth behind Boston’s tradition of space savers

November 25, 2013

In Boston, there is a tradition-turned-rule that if you shovel a parking space after a blizzard, you can own it merely by placing a “space saver” there. From trash barrels, coolers, tables, grandfather clocks, shopping carts, beach chairs, potted plants, and floor waxer to traffic cones, broken microwaves and even old television sets in wooden cabinets – car owners keep anything and everything to mark their shoveled parking territories after a snowstorm. During a snow emergency, the city institutes an on-street parking ban to allow the Public Works Department to plow snow, and emergency vehicles and other safety responders to move about. However, residents are allowed to use space savers until 48 hours after the snow emergency parking ban has been lifted.

Elvis Presley Bust

The King of parking space savers: Bust of Elvis Presley (Source: The Boston Globe)


The trend has come a long way, and Boston has witnessed the use of some bizarre space savers, but the most interesting and surprising space savers noticed on Boston’s streets have been: a table set for two with a bottle of wine neatly placed atop, a toilet seat, and a bust of Elvis Presley. The excessive use of space savers often confuses visitors who cannot figure out the difference between parking space savers and trash.

The tradition of saving parking spots during a snowstorm is widespread in Boston and has been going since the 1970s, although the practice exists in snow-prone American cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Pittsburgh, too. One of the reasons for this funny winter trend could be limited parking spaces in the densely populated areas like South Boston and Charlestown. A two-foot layer of snow on narrow streets makes things even worse. Residents believe that people who shovel the snow themselves have a moral right to take that spot because they have put their time and sweat into it.

space savers

A stitch in time saves… a parking spot (Photo by Stuart Cahill)


Parking wars after blizzard

The 48-hour grace period has been on Boston’s books since 2005, but people keep the space saver practice up for days, sometimes even weeks. The enforcement of “removing parking savers after 48 hours” is the responsibility of city’s garbage contractors, who do their rounds on regular trash days. However, since the contractors take their regular route covering some neighborhoods at a given time, some residents who are off-route may get an extra day (which means reserved parking spaces for extra hours) before their space savers are finally removed.

In many parts of town – like South Boston, Dorchester, and Charlestown – a snowstorm can turn into a parking war when residents ignore or remove the space savers placed by others. The sort of quirk in parking culture makes the on-street parking headaches after a blizzard even more fraught because people go as far as to vandalize cars, slash tires, smash windows, and douse cars in paint to get back at other motorists who don’t respect parking space savers.

Removing a saver and taking a parking spot is an unspoken crime in Boston, and retaliation is common. After a 2012 blizzard in Boston, police responded to at least seven reports of vandalism in two days: all cases related to shoveled-out parking spaces. Most victims said that they tried to move a space saver and park their cars in that spot.

When does it stop?

Amid the crowd of space saver aficionados is another set of people who advocate that this long-serving winter rite should be banned, ending unnecessary parking wars. Scads of criminal incidents related to snatching someone’s shoveled parking space are reported every year, and some Boston residents feel that the problem has gotten out of hand. Friendly neighbors turn into enemies, sidewalks become littered with trash, public safety suffers, and there is stress, uncertainty, and frustration while dealing with parking in the city during its long, cold winters.

Some feel that the space saver game might spread to other snow-prone U.S. cities if not handled immediately. Many neighborhood associations in South End are demanding that residents quit using parking savers, and some are even asking residents to remove any parking savers they notice on streets. In order to restore civility, Boston’s Mayor, Thomas M. Menino, instructed police patrol cars to watch for vandalism; while, the Mayor of Somerville went one step further and said that the city will not show mercy to residents who are using “space savers,” like furniture or cones, to claim shoveled-out parking spots.

Unfortunately, no one really knows when the game of chicken will end. Today, it just remains to be seen whether the opinion of those who find this time-honored code ridiculous and want to stop the nuisance outright will be taken seriously by law enforcement agencies, or if complaints will just fall on deaf ears.


Tags: , ,

Category: Funny

; ;