“Saving” A Shoveled-Out Parking Spot: Your Hard-Earned Right Or A Jerk Move?

This is not an uncommon sight in Philadelphia during the winter. (Twitter: @NoSavesies)

This is not an uncommon sight in Philadelphia during the winter. (Twitter: @NoSavesies)

Readers who’ve only lived in warm climates or areas with ample parking don’t understand the special hell that is going through the effort of digging your car out of a plowed-in curbside parking spot, knowing all the while that said spot will soon be occupied by someone else’s car. That’s where some people employ the controversial practice of using chairs, traffic cones, handmade signs, trash cans, and apparently ironing boards, to “save” their shoveled-out spots for later.

There are two issues surrounding this traditional spot-saving ritual: First, is it legal? Second, regardless of legality, do you have some sort of tacit right to that spot?

“Just because a practice has been going on for so long that [it] has been ignored, doesn’t mean that we need to continue to do so,” explains Philadelphia police sergeant Eric Gripp, who also created the @NoSavesies Twitter account and hashtag, to the Philadelphia Daily News.

Gripp says that there aren’t laws on the books in Philly that specifically forbid the practice of saving a spot with a lawnchair or whatever other piece of furniture you’re wiling to risk losing by putting it in the vacated spot. However, there are laws against littering and obstructing the roadway.

That said, cops — not just in Philly, but in other cities where this is a common practice — tend to not issue citations to spot-savers, presumably because it’s hard to locate the owner of some random, busted folding chair left sitting in the gutter.

Instead, says Gripp, he and his fellow officers are more frequently called to handle the fights that erupt over saved spots, or from people like visiting nurse services who can’t find a parking spot because entire blocks are littered with bits of furniture.

Since I haven’t had a car in more than 15 years and my street in Philly is so narrow you can’t actually park on it, this issue doesn’t impact me. And so I took the question to my colleagues who own cars and/or have lived in snowy cities.

Ms. Kate Cox is now working in Consumerist’s D.C. office, but she’d previously lived in Boston where she says spot-saving has “always been considered a total [expletive redacted] move,” but “everyone does it anyway.”

Mary Beth Quirk sees her fair share of snow in Brooklyn, but not as much as she did growing up in Wisconsin. She feels that spot-saving might be accept under two conditions:

“If you (A) did the shoveling, and (B) are sitting in the chair, the spot is yours,” MBQ explains. “But the traffic cone thing? That’s bad. I’ll just drive over it.”

Meanwhile, Meg Marco, who has come across spot-saving during her time in both Chicago and NYC, worries about those who might unwittingly find themselves in a saved-spot dispute because of some other jerk’s actions:

“Say the first guy shovels his car out in the morning and leaves a cruddy chair there, hoping his spot will still be free when he returns. Then an hour later, a second guy comes, scoffs at the chair and tosses it out of the way. So after that guy leaves and a third driver pulls up to find an empty, shoveled-out, unclaimed spot, she might be the one getting yelled at when the first driver returns home to find her car in the spot he shoveled out that morning.”

And D.C.’s Ashlee Keiser, formerly of Iowa, apparently adopts the same double standard held by most spot-savers: “If the spot was being saved for me: acceptable. If it was being saved for someone else: illegal,” she jokes (I hope). “Honestly, if there’s not a person there guarding the spot, then I’d consider it fair game.”

Albany’s own Laura Northrup sums it up by saying, “In an ideal world, it would be illegal to save the spot for any longer than it takes to go get your car from wherever it is. In a real world where law enforcement has to make real rules, if no one is actually standing in the spot then it should be fair game.”

This is a very complicated matter… You know, a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-you’s. Which is why we’re putting it to y’all to make the call:

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  1. JoeBlow says:

    In Boston, the law is that you can reserve it for 48 hours after a snow storm, whether or not anybody thinks it is a “total [expletive redacted] move”

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      Citation, please. I find it very hard to believe that a parking space on a public street can legally be reserved for one person’s use at any time.

      (That said, I am sympathetic. I had to shovel out a couple of spots at a apartment complex I lived at many years ago, and I saw people who didn’t shovel trawling for empty spots. If there were any justice, there would be laws allowing for the vandalism of certain vehicles under certain very specific circumstances….)

      • CzarChasm says:

        It’s not the law per se, but it is approved by the Mayor and the City of Boston: http://www.cityofboston.gov/snow/parking/
        note where it says Use space savers MORE THAN 48 hours after a snow emergency has been lifted.
        this implies that use of them before 48 hours is allowed.

        • limbo says:

          Yup. And it’s usually accepted (especially in South Boston) that your car will be vandalized if you move the saving object and park there anyway.

          My street has about 20 spaces on it. I have seen maybe two other people than myself shoveling their cars out and cleaning the spot. The vast majority either leave their car until the snow melts, or just plow through the snow and look for somewhere else to park when they get back. And so our street is now a sheet of 10″ tall ice-berms that everyone has to negotiate to get in and out.

          Lazy people drive me crazy, and I’ve been tempted to claim my cleared spot for the allowed 48 hours, but have yet to do so.

  2. MathManv2point0 says:

    I apologize in advance for the (slightly related) rant but….

    I keep a shovel in my trunk all year. If it’s right after a snowstorm and the the spot is “saved” I’ll dig another out, NOT PUTTING SNOW IN THE ROAD, unlike other a****** in my area – use the easement before the sidewalk, that’s partially why it’s there.

    However, in concept, if you’re gonna be gone for more than an hour I don’t think you have the right to reserve it.

    Also, on another note, why does NYC have “alternate side parking suspended for snow removal”??!?!? That’s COMPLETELY backwards. I grew up in the north and where I lived parking restrictions were STRICTLY ENFORCED for snow removal. Why? Because you can’t remove the snow easily if cars are all scattered over both sides of the street. Wtf, NYC…

    • C0Y0TY says:

      It means during a snow storm, people can’t park at all where they would have with alternate side parking active. Maybe they should have phrased it, “No parking on either side during snow removal.” But then people will “misinterpret” that too if they think they can get away with it.

  3. SuperSpeedBump says:

    This must be a really big city thing, or I was never paying attention. I’ve lived in Milwaukee, WI and Madison, WI (big but not huge) and I’ve never seen anyone do this.

    What I have seen is people staking out sides of the road days before a parade…. like literally pounding wooden stakes into the ground, binding them with string into a square, and then putting a lawn chair in the middle with a sign that says “RESERVED”. Others use blankets, which after a windy day, end up in the middle of the intersections wrapped around poles.

    People sure do love to reserve public property.

    • CommonC3nts says:

      They reserve it as they did the work to make it a usable space.
      You can grab your shovel and shovel open one of the other empty spaces full of snow instead of stealing someone else’s spot.

      Are you too lazy to shovel or do you think that you are too good to shovel?

  4. SpeakBob says:

    One of the local small towns near where I live recently collected all the chairs & other space saving things from the streets. http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-lehighvalley/save-your-parking-space-lose-your-lawn-chairs/-/132502/24401586/-/jsbu60z/-/index.html
    This happens all the time in small to large cities & towns across the North East that I know. It also sucks as an out of town visitor coming by for only a few minutes when you get to your friend / relative’s house and have no where to park because even though there are spaces, they are filled with stuff. I try to avoid places with on street only parking during times when snow is on the ground, which has been since the end of December around here, and will be for a few more weeks at least.

    • CommonC3nts says:

      That is sad. Obviously no one on that town council has to park in the street so they cannot relate the commoners who have to.

      They should have passed a resolution allowing people to reserve their spaces as long as there are empty spaces full of snow available within 2 square blocks.
      As long as there are spaces full of snow then the person can shovel out their own space instead of stealing someone else’s.

    • furiousd says:

      I like the approach of treating the space savers as road obstructions. It does suck that someone does the work to get the space clear with no guarantee of being able to enjoy the fruit of their labours for a time, but since they didn’t pay for private use of that spot to begin with it does end up being public space reserved for public use, not private. I hate it when people park in front of my house, but the roadway is public property so the only time I’ve caused a fuss is when someone blocked my driveway, because I do have ingress/egress rights to my property.

  5. CommonC3nts says:

    2. If they did all the work to shovel the spot then they can claim it as theirs. The person that needs to park can shovel out one of the other empty spots full of snow.

    It is not fair to steal someone else’s space when there are other spaces available that need to be shoveled.

    • furiousd says:

      I feel the same way, unfortunately since it’s not private property you don’t get to claim it. Where there are few confrontations I can see public officials turning a blind eye, but if people want to get the law on their side there should be provisions for legal right to certain spaces. Paying a fee to guarantee your space as reserved for you, then your claims will hold. And I think doing things that way is better overall so that you don’t get odd spaces where people can present good arguments for both sides that just depends on whether you were the one to shovel or the one in a hurry that needs a spot. In the end, it comes down to who has rights to that spot of real estate.