Blizzard Ethics and Parking Space Etiquette

The Great Blizzard of 2010 inspired The Washington Post to publish a piece about snow ethics, focusing especially on this touchy question: Is it ethical to park in a space shoveled out by someone else?

The problem with the article is that it doesn’t ask the ethically crucial second question: Is it ethical for someone to hold one of the rare cleared parking spaces on the street open, when other motorists desperately need a place to park?

Apparently Boston, among other cities, even has a law permitting citizens to reserve spaces that they dug out with their own sinew and sweat, by placing a lawn chair, trash can or small child in the space. Chicago, says the Post, also has a “dibs” system, though an informal one.

I have no problem with the driver who digs out the space having the right of first refusal, but defiantly keeping desperate motorists circling a snow-bound block while a perfectly functional space is only occupied by a lawn chair seems wrong to me. It reminds me of the self-sufficient marooned sailor who refuses to share the surplus fish he has caught with his starving, less proficient fellow castaways, because he did all the work, and might want the fish later for a snack.

The parking space problem was once an unsolvable lose-lose dilemma, but that was before cell phones. Technology has provided a solution. Park in the reserved space, but leave a note with your cell number, reading, “Did you dig out this space? If so, thanks: it was a life saver. Just call this number, and I’ll move out for you in a jiffy.”

This  approach respects the rights of the shoveler, without leaving valuable parking space unused at a time when it is desperately needed by friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

And as a special bonus, you get to use the word “jiffy.”

9 thoughts on “Blizzard Ethics and Parking Space Etiquette

  1. My first 8 independent years were spent in a townhouse on the main street. Drove us absolutely mad when we would dig out our cars directly in front of the house, and people with spots directly in front of THEIR houses, on cul-de-sacs, would park in OUR hard-earned spots rather than dig out their reserved spaces. Sorry, but I don’t think anybody actually would come move their vehicle, in a jiffy or out of one. After living through the January 1996 blizzard with people stealing our spaces, I firmly agree that Boston has it right.

  2. Jack –

    Interesting solution about leaving a note on the window.

    The Washington Post got the Boston law wrong. “Any ‘spacesavers’ left in on-street parking spaces that have been shoveled out must be removed 48 hours after a snow emergency has ended.” That just means the DPW will start picking them up.

    There is no legal right to the dug out spot. Just a moral right.

    And there is common sense. You would be pretty stupid to push that lawnchair out of the way and park in a shoveled out spot. You may come back and find that the lawnchair is back in place, but your car is not.

    I don’t think your note solution would work in most parts of the city. I think you would more likely get a profanity-laced tirade for “stealing” the shoveled-out parking space.

    • Doug—right after I posted this, I read your correction about the Boston law on another site—VC perhaps? I actually used the cell phone technique for a short stop—i also had my hazard lights on—after pushing aside a plastic trash can. The “owner” of the spot didn’t return, but I got stuck in his spot for more than an hour—a trap, perhaps? Does a shoveler still have a moral right to a space if he does a crummy, half-assed job digging it out?

  3. Living in Northern Minnesota my whole life, this does not seem to be a dilemma to me.
    I also live in a small community (around 12,000) where we help each other. Usually the first guy to wake up in the morning gets his snowblower out and after tackling his driveway and sidewalk, gets first dibs on tackling other peoples. Believe it or not, people (well, guys anyway never seen this happen with a lady) get upset because their fun was taken away when someone else cleared their area for them. Usually, though, the early birds clear the area of single moms, little old ladies, etc. knowing that it is poor etiquette to clear the snow of a guy that just spent a few thousand on a brand new snowblower. Especially if it is the first snow of the year. Clearing the first snow of the year is an almost religious event for many.
    And yes, Minnesota can be that boring in the winter.

      • I know exactly what Jacob is referring to. It might be genetic. Even though I live in Colorado, my mom is from the U.P.

        But snow-blowers? I consider that cheating. For me, it’s not done right until you’ve scrapped with a plastic shovel. (Metal ones stick in the concrete)

  4. Pingback: Compliance Bits and Pieces for February 19 | Compliance Building

  5. Pittsburgh, informal practice, 1990’s. Local culture uses old kitchen chair, typically. Sometimes would take me a couple days to dig the car out of the spot (having first to dig out the front steps and walk–we’re talking 18-24 inches, sometimes more, with plowed-up snow 3 feet high at the edge of the travel lane. I’m small, used a small shovel.) Especially during chemo and the year after, I really needed the spot in front of my house. Lived 2 blocks from a shopping area. In 8 years I had a car there, only lost the spot twice. Nobody took it during the chemo years. People were very observant (it is an Orthodox neighborhood!) I likewise respected their spots.

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