5.5 min readBy Published On: January 7th, 2014Categories: Features4 Comments on Tommy Tinlin

January 2014

Moving forward

Photography by Joel Benjamin

Parking in southie is a hot topic.  It brings up visceral reactions from people when the subject is broached. From the war of the parking spot savers, to double-parking to the hunt for a parking spot, it’s the number one complaint of the residents of South Boston. Tom Tinlin, 48, had the good fortune of handling that issue for nine and a half years as the commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department – a public safety agency for the City of Boston.   For most people, that job would be an absolute nightmare but Tommy handled it with ease and his legendary sense of humor.  His tenure as commissioner ended this month and he begins the newest chapter of his public service career – chief of operations and maintenance for MassDOT.

Scoop on Tommy:

  • Lifelong resident of Southie
  • Married to Heather Canavan
  • Father of Thomas 13, Grace 11 (12 on January 10th)
  • Grew up on N and Second Street
  • Attended Saint Brigid, Christopher Columbus High School, Eastern Nazarene – Bachelors, Suffolk University – Masters in Public Administration.
  • Lives on East Fifth Street
  • Favorite restaurant?  Paramount for breakfast (fruit cup), Shenanigans for lunch (apple and goat cheese salad) Amhriens for dinner (anything on the menu!)
  • Favorite old school spot that no longer exists?  Canavan’s Pub.  My father-in-law, Scoop Canavan (https://caughtinsouthie.com/people/characterofmonth/scoop) owned it.  It was Cheers before Cheers.  I played for the softball team and hung out there, probably more then I should have, but have great memories of that place.
  • Best part about living in Southie?  Family, friends and the ocean.  I can’t imagine not living near water or separated from my family. My wife’s aunt, Mary Greene became a mother to me when I lost mine, and the love I have for her and my extended family is so special. We are a tight knit group.

Tommy began his career at City Hall as a security guard in 1988.  When Tom Menino became the mayor, Tommy served as the South Boston/South End Neighborhood Coordinator.  From there he went on to be the chief of staff for the Boston Transportation Department, then deputy commissioner and in 2004 became commissioner.  After almost a decade in that role, he will continue on his path of public service for the Mass DOT. 


Most challenging part of your job as commissioner?  The balancing act between all users of our streets and sidewalks.  It can be difficult to accommodate the commercial interests and the residential interests as well as the motorist needs from the cyclist and traditional pedestrian.  It can take a lot of juggling.

Best part of your job as commissioner?  The people.  The men and women of the BTD are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to know.  They are the nameless faceless public servants who help run this city day in and day out in all weather.  No excuses –  they show up and do the job.

Biggest complaint you received as commissioner?  Three fold: congestion in some areas, speeding, and the enforcement of our regulations.  No one likes getting a parking ticket or, God forbid, having a vehicle towed but imagine if we didn’t enforce – you would not get a fire truck down any street in the city.

Highest penalty for a parking ticket? $120.00 for parking in a Handicapped space.

South Boston has evolved – especially in the last five years – biggest challenge you faced as commissioner?  The balance between some of our longtime residents who want more aggressive enforcement of the resident parking program and our newer residents who want more visitors spaces and less enforcement to accommodate guests.  Also, the balance between safe bicycle accommodations and those who simply will not accept the bike as a mode of transportation.

We are in parking crisis mode in South Boston – what is your recommendation for a solution?  Less cars.  I know many don’t want to hear it but we are not going to start tearing down buildings to create more parking.  In the city, we have 50,000 less vehicles registered in the City of Boston then we did just five years ago. We also have more transportation options now than ever before, such as the MBTA, Zip Car, Hubway Bike Share and Uber.  Some people also don’t realize that building an underground parking garage can run you from $50,000 to $100,000 per space to construct.  So if you build one, the concern is that the people you are trying to accommodate cannot afford to take advantage of the spaces.

Double parking in Southie is notorious, how do you feel about double parking?  I need to wait for the statute of limitations to run out before I answer that!

Have you ever been tempted to double park to run into use the ATM?  Of course I have been tempted.  I am tempted to do a lot of things.  If I do it however I will be reading about it on Caught in Southie or another media outlet.

Worst intersection in South Boston?  I wish we could have done more with Dorchester Street and West Broadway.  

How do you feel about spot savers during snow storms?  Unfortunately, I think it is totally out of control.  Our South Boston Founding Fathers must be rolling over when they see someone leave for work and put a space saver in BEFORE the snow starts to fall, and keep it there until July.  I think the rule that Mayor Menino implemented that you can save up to 48 hrs after a snow emergency is over is fair.  It is disturbing to see the violence and vandalism that occurs because someone feels that they own a public way.  You would not allow someone to put a cone on a park bench in August so when is enough, enough?

What is one thing that people might be surprised to know about you? Oh wow, I do impersonations.  Old school John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart and some Walter White and Krusty the Clown.  Always and only in the confines of my own home so don’t ask!

What are you most excited about in your next chapter of your life?  Change.  I think change is good.  I honestly have no hesitation about moving on in my professional life.  I have had an experience of a life time.  From blizzards to parades to Boston Strong, I have had a front row seat to history and I will be forever grateful that Tom Menino gave this kid from Southie the opportunity to serve our neighborhood and our city! 


  1. Anonymous January 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Congratulations to a good guy from Southie.

    Note: those 50,000 cars (at least the proportion attributable to South Boston)…..they are here–just not registered here.

  2. Kevin Conroy January 28, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Best of luck on your new endevor! 

  3. Jon Ramos March 11, 2014 at 3:35 am

    I just wanted to thank Tom for recognizing that bicycles are a valid form of transportation. Twice in this article he mentions bikes, which should be a clue to everyone who is reading that bikes are good for southie. Everyone complaining about not enough parking on the streets, please listen to Tinlin and welcome the bicyclists… because we don’t take up any parking.  All you need to do to get fewer cars is to help make biking more approachable and accessible.  Basically, just add bike lanes in a few key areas and that will be enough to get more people to ditch the car, and use bike, train, bus, taxi & zipcar instead of owning a private car.

    Not everyone can get by without a car, I get that.  But a LOT of people can do without one and that would be good for the neighborhood.

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