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Boston Space Savers: What Are They?

5 Dec 2019

Winter in Boston brings with it buckets full of snow. The whole New England region is prone to extreme weather during this season. In 2018, the coldest temperatures ever recorded for the area hit during the first week of January.

Back in 2015, the city of Boston registered a staggering snowfall count of around 90 inches in just 30 days. How does this impact the residents and the area they live in?

Besides the usual closures and delays—like schools having to let the kids take a snow day, delayed flights and cabin fever—there are other pressing issues at hand. Rooftops can collapse under the weight of snow, dead trees can fall onto power lines, and an intense war over parking ensues.

The latter is an intensely contested issue in Boston, with residents fighting to claim their public street parking in a decades-old practice called “space saving.”

What are space savers?

Space saving is a tradition in Boston that follows after a snowstorm of residents reserving a cleared out public parking spot with a cone or marker to temporarily claim it.

If the city has declared a snow emergency and the snowstorm has passed, a parking spot may be reserved for up to 48 hours by an owner of a vehicle after they have shoveled and swept the snow away from that space.

digging-car-out-of-snow

Space savers are a necessity created by the high demand for and limited supply of parking spaces in the city, especially during the winter months. Residents need to shovel out their car and clear the space for easy entry and exit, but digging out an entire parking spot is a strenuous and time-consuming process. If not for space savers, another driver could take your freshly-shoveled space before you're able to move your vehicle into it.

lawn-chair-space-saver(Source: Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Nothing quite indicates winter in Boston like a beach chair placed in a parking space. Drive down any street in the neighborhood following a snowstorm and you’ll likely encounter the strangest placeholders. Anything from plastic chairs, rubbish bins, and ladders, to cutouts of Gronk and electric-wired barrels.

If you happen to park somewhere that contains a space saver, someone’s going to be upset. There have been reports of anything ranging from angry notes placed — or written in permanent marker — on the windshield, to actual damage. Keyed cars and slashed tires aren’t unheard of.

Space saving isn’t just a local tradition; other snowy states exhibit similar behavior. Chicago faces its own parking nightmare each winter when space savers fight over who parks where.

The legal issues around space saving

The City of Boston and the city's current mayor, Martin J. Walsh, have provided additional clarity on space savers and when they're allowed. On the Boston.gov website, they list helpful tips and guidelines regarding conduct during and after a snow emergency. The two most important two rules to remember are:

●  You can only use a space saver when the city declares a snow emergency.

● You have 48 hours to use a space saver after the city ends an emergency. After that, you must remove it from the street.

A snow emergency is declared when the weather forecast predicts a heavy onset of snow and ice. During a snow emergency, all vehicles need to be removed from arterial streets to allow the Department of Public Works to clear the accumulation from the roadways. Vehicles that block or obstruct public streets that run along a primary route may be towed away.

The city’s website states: “We will ticket and tow your car if you park on a posted snow emergency artery during a declared snow emergency.” However, the city does offer parking alternatives and tries to assist those who need to move their vehicles when this occurs. “If you can’t find a spot, some lots and garages offer discounted parking to vehicles with Boston resident parking stickers,” the website adds.

If you suspect your vehicle has been towed away, search the towing database or call the Boston Police Tow Line at 617-343-4629.

After the snow emergency is no longer in effect, the public streets are once again accessible for general use and parking. Parking spots running along the side of the road will likely be covered in snow. Residents and car owners will need to shovel out a space for use.

snow-storm-car-parked

Following the snow emergency, the above-mentioned parties have the right to reserve this parking space for up to 48 hours. To claim your space, simply leave a cone or other distinguishable marker on a parking spot you have cleared out.

When the 48 hour period expires, the city has the right to remove any markers or cones. The right to continue space saving falls away, despite car owners and residents hotly contesting or defending their parking spot past the 48-hour limit. The city of Boston has a hotline available to report a person that violates this rule.

The practice of space saving is banned in Boston's South End. This means no parking spots may be reserved or coned off regardless of who shoveled them and when. This social engineering experiment was petitioned for by the South End Forum and approved by the mayor back in 2015. Another Boston suburb, Jamaica Plain, is considering banning the practice, too.

How can you respond to space savers in your neighborhood?

If you happen to live in a city that is prone to snowstorms and where public parking is scarce, then you need to be aware of what ensues shortly thereafter. How can you get ready for space saving and the next snowstorm?

Read up on the regulations set up by the City of Boston, stay updated with the latest weather announcements, and be an active member in your community’s online forums and groups.

Education is key when trying to resolve space-saving conflicts. The City of Boston is ready to assist you should you encounter any issues, but it is best to update yourself on the law first.

Rather than immediately alerting authorities or calling a tow truck when you spot someone violating space saver laws, try to engage with the party at fault to see if you can reach an agreement. Will they move their car? Was the cone not visible enough? Who is in the wrong?

Here are some simple tips on how to save a parking space. Follow them to avoid breaking the law, annoying your neighbors, and worse, getting your car keyed or towed away.

  • You may only place something in the parking spot after a snowstorm has ended. As tempting as it may be to pre-emptively claim the space before it starts to snow, it is against the law and will just anger those around you.

  • If you remove your vehicle from a snow-covered parking spot without shoveling it first, then you cannot reserve the space. All-terrain type vehicles can easily maneuver over the snowy ground, but if you wish to keep this place, you will need to clear it of snow.

  • Avoid removing other people’s cones or placeholders. If you park in a space that has been cleared out and reserved, be prepared to face the consequences for doing so.

  • Although only a maximum of 48 hours is allocated following the storm to reserve the space, most people continue to hold it until the city removes it by force. So long as you are not the last one with a cone out, you’re fine.

  • Be respectful when clearing your space. Shovel the front and back neatly out and do not dump the snow in another space, but rather on the sidewalk or flattened out on the road.

For any further questions, complaints or for support services, contact the city of Boston on 311.

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