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road sage

Eat what you kill. We've all heard the expression. It's a popular bastardization of an environmentalist hunting motto that's come to mean that the person who does the work should reap the reward. Its popularity is strange since the eat-what-you-kill philosophy applies to almost no modern endeavour. The majority of the populace works a great deal and reaps little while a minute slice works little and reaps a whole lot.

When it comes to winter parking, however, the eat-what-you-kill credo rules. Call it: "Park where you dig." Put simply: After a big snowfall, those who clear parking spaces on public streets claim "dibs" on said spots by reserving them with "parking chairs," orange cones, milk crates, or anything else available. The hand that holds the shovel rules the space.

The practice is popular in some Canadian cities and is an epidemic in American ones such as Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. Violating "parking dibs" can be dangerous for your car and your health. Offenders can have their rides keyed and fights can break out. This winter, Boston's South End became the first community to ban winter parking space saving. "'We don't do dibs here,' is one of the catch phrases on the colourful posters that have been plastered throughout the neighbourhood," reported The Boston Globe, "declaring a '100 per cent saver-free zone.'"

Will the ban work? Probably not. Onna conna, if a Southie loses his dibs and can't pahk his cah he'll have a wicked gross mental fit.

Parking dibs is the opposite of neighbourly but it has a few advantages, the most obvious of which is it motivates people to clear the snow. That's how self-interest works. Why would someone spend an hour digging out a parking space that someone else (who's been inside sipping warm cocoa) can swoop in and steal the second it becomes vacant? In cities where snow removal is slow and haphazard (read: North American cities) the practice of "parking dibs" is a cheap, quick way to get snow cleared.

But should an hour of shovel work earn unlimited ownership? What's the acceptable duration? In Boston, drivers are given a 48-hour claim to a spot they've cleared after a "snow emergency." Many space savers, however, assert their rights for life. This creates a run on available territory. It only takes the sight of a few "parking chairs" to trigger a land grab.

Pretty soon, everyone is out at the first sight of snow armed with a shovel to stake his or her claim. No one wants to be left circling the block. It's winter parking musical chairs. The only reason parking dibs doesn't create full-fledged street battles is that fact that winter eventually ends. If it were a year-round season, North American cities would be in trouble.

Parking dibs is rare where I live, and my solution (when confronted with it) is a tad unorthodox. If it's a big snowfall, I don't move my car. It stands as a giant snow-covered monument to winter's fury. Spot saved. In the aftermath, if I encounter a parking chair, I'll circle a few times, in case it's there to save a space for someone who's moving (parking dibs for such activities are acceptable). If it's still there, I swear under my breath, and drive around until I find a space. After all, I'm a complainer, not a fighter, and there's nothing like a little simmering rage to warm that wintry chill.

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