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Boston Fights Winter Parking Tradition

Residents Given 48 Hours to Remove Markers From Shoveled-Out Spots

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 1, 2005; Page A02

BOSTON, Dec. 31 -- "We have more cones and barrels than the city has trucks to haul them away," said longtime City Council member and South Boston resident James M. Kelly, invoking the language of insurrection to draw a line in the snow.

Beginning with a nor'easter that struck the day after Christmas, dumping up to a foot of powder, parking-strapped residents followed a decades-old practice in shoveling spaces in front of their homes and reserving them with barrels, lawn chairs, orange construction cones and even a toilet.

A chair is used to reserve a shoveled-out parking spot in South Boston. Mayor Thomas M. Menino has ordered city workers to crack down on the long-standing winter tradition. (Photos Elise Amendola -- AP)

But two days later, public works employees began driving around in trucks, scooping up the markers, as part of a new policy that prohibits residents from saving the spaces they clear for longer than 48 hours from the moment a snow emergency is declared to be over.

Kelly, who has lived in South Boston all his life, said he spent two hours clearing a space behind his apartment and had no intention of giving it back until the snow melted. When city workers moved his barrel to the sidewalk, his neighbors moved it back.

"People who shovel themselves out have a moral right to that spot," he said Friday. "They have invested their sweat equity."

So the standoff began this week in a city where some unwritten rules are widely followed and harshly enforced. Public works employees on Thursday collected tons of markers left along neighborhood streets in South Boston and other cramped corners. Just as quickly, residents replaced them.

Variations of the practice of reserving parking spots this way exist in several snow-prone American cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago, but few municipalities have cracked down the way Boston began doing last winter.

The new policy was implemented after a raft of complaints from residents whose cars were vandalized when they parked where others had already staked their claim, said Seth Gitell, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D).

"This is the policy that works best for all of Boston's residents," Gitell said.

A Boston Globe columnist described on Friday the introduction he received to Boston's code of parking conduct two decades ago, when a roommate moved aside an old chair to make way for his vehicle. He later found that his antenna had been snapped off.

Kelly acknowledged that residents occasionally get overzealous in defending their turf, but he said in general the system works because everyone understands and respects it.

"I know of only two incidents over a 10-year period where someone's car was vandalized," he said. "I condemn and deplore that type of behavior, but most people don't go out and slash tires. They may go get a shovel and bury that car under as much snow as they can surround it with."

A cease-fire began on Friday, as the New Year's Eve holiday gave most city employees, including those hauling away items left to mark parking spaces, the day off. In South Boston, which is laid out in a grid of narrow streets lined with duplex homes and three-story apartment buildings, a walk through the neighborhood revealed dozens of parking spaces saved in defiance of the new rule.

Many residents said they think the old system has served the community well.

"They have been doing it this way forever, and it seems to be pretty fair. If you do the work, you should get the reward," said lifelong South Boston resident Ronnie Barrett, who uses a small barrel to mark her car's turf.

On Bantry Way, where Kelly lives, three spaces were reserved, one with a construction cone, one with a footstool and another with an old plastic bucket that an uninitiated observer could have thought was left there inadvertently.

"It took me more than an hour to do all that shoveling, and my back hurt for two days," resident Virginia Kropan said. "Are you kidding? Forty-eight hours is not nearly long enough for all that work."

Kelly said his office has received 150 calls on the issue since he went public with his complaints in Wednesday's Boston Herald. Only three callers, he said, supported the new policy. He said that he had won over one of those by the time their conversation ended.

"We want to sit down with the mayor and work something out that satisfies everybody," Kelly said. "The city should be spending time and energy clearing the streets, instead of punishing people who do it."

The extra manpower and trucks cost the city $1,080, Public Works Commissioner Joseph F. Casazza told the Boston Globe. Gitell said the 48-hour window offered by the city is already a compromise.

"They'll be back out there collecting things on Monday," he added, though the expected mild weekend temperatures may make the issue moot, at least until the next snowstorm.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company