John Locke in Washington

And for those who managed to liberate their cars from the Snowpocalypse of 2010, another tricky moral dilemma can lead to some volatile confrontations: If you dig your car out from its frozen tomb, do you then own that parking spot until the sun melts open the rest of the curbside space?

Washington's long history of relatively mild winters has left residents without a common sense of snow etiquette to help answer that question.

Boston has codified its citizens' right to benefit from their backbreaking snow-clearing labor; a city law says that if you dig out your car in a snow emergency, a lawn chair or trash can renders the spot yours for at least two days while you're away at work.

From the Washington Post. Hat tip: Donald Marron.

Addendum: Here is Fred McChesney drawing out the general lessons for property rights.


There is no such "law" in Chicago but if you dig out a spot and someone else steals it then the poacher can assume some damage to the car the next morning, often taking the form of water poured over the vehicle which then freezes. Problem solved.

Spontaneous order shall surely emerge.

There. Problem solved. Next?

On Sunday I was speaking about Hobbes' 19 natural laws derived from reason. I made just this point that reason would suggest that he who digs out their car should temporarily "own" it (much in the way one of Hobbes' laws says that the first to possess an unclaimed item should then own it.)

We live in Pittsburgh. The practice here is to put a chair in your spot to hold it. This is almost universally respected. However, the news showed yesterday a car that had violated this unwritten rule. Within an hour the car was under a pile of snow with a note saying "Now yinz know not to break the rules."

The city has ridiculously been putting out statements saying it is "illegal" to hold spots. Will be interesting to see if they have the guts to enforce it. (I think I might go to the city council and propose a law like Boston's mentioned above.)

Claiming to "own" your spot is pretty much tremendously rude to all your neighbors. What is the imagination here, that vultures are driving in from across the land to steal your spot? Guess who *actually* just parked in your spot - the guy down the street who shoveled out his own spot this morning just like you. As far as I can tell, people who block the public roads are basically selfish jerks who fashion themselves special.

It's a great analogy for all sorts of property rights issues - especially intellectual property, which is another case where laws grant an exclusive right as an incentive for useful work, but the right reverts to the public domain after a limited time.

This AFAIK not a law in Boston but rather a matter of social custom, especially in South Boston. In fact, a few years back the police started to crack down on reserving parking spots by confiscating lawn chairs. After citizenry outrage, they backed down.

I guess I'm too much of a suburbanite to understand city parking enough to understand why this is a problem. If we're talking about commercial streets, why should you own a particular spot? If we're talking about residential streets, who is going to take your cleared spot but someone who cleared ther own car out, and why wouldn't that person just return to that spot? This seems to be a parking problem, not a snow courtesy problem. If two people are fighting over one spot, what difference does it make if the surrounded cars are covered in snow or not?

I have to agree with Al Brown - the huge handout to cars in the form of free street parking should end.

Packed snow is even worse for getting stuck in than loose snow.

You don't pack it with your feet and your body weight. You pack it with your car. You only need a small space to get started, and you slowly pack a bigger area. You young people can move all the heavy snow you want but us oldsters are going to pack. While many of my neighbors were shoveling, I packed a space large enough for 3 cars. And folks are still parking in it.

Ask one of your neighbors with an awd truck or SUV to do it for you. I packed the 3-car space in less than 30 minutes. No shoveling. And the 3 cars using that space have been coming and going. They're not stuck. Maybe your snow is different. Special snow.

So you mean that places that get a lot of snow always and everywhere remove the snow down to the road surface? What do they do in rural areas? Also see Ice Road Truckers.

In areas that get a lot of snow, it can not merely be plowed. It must be moved. Or packed. Or both.

But then I'm not in or from Canada.

"if you dig out a spot and someone else steals it then the poacher can assume some damage to the car the next morning, often taking the form of water poured over the vehicle which then freezes. Problem solved."

Which creates a new problem, namely escalatory retribution, when you resume parking in 'your' spot.

Deflated tires, missing wiper blades, dented door panels, broken antennas, keyed paint job, broken windshield....

A vicious cycle of vigilante vehicle vandalism.

"Claiming to "own" your spot is pretty much tremendously rude to all your neighbors."

Not if everybody does it. You live in Chicago, you understand "dibs".

Lots of naivety by people who haven't been in these situations where your only residential parking is on the street. It's kind of like some consultant who doesn't know anything about your business coming in and telling you how you should do something. Some naive soul said that the people you are protecting against are just your neighbors who dug out their spot too. Well, not on Super Bowl Sunday when people have "outsiders" come over to their house! Second, lets suppose someone was away when the snow fell. I clear my spot and go to work. They come back and take my empty spot. So now I should have to spend 2 hours digging out another spot? That makes no sense whatsoever.

Also - and maybe someone said this - the city does not/will not plow the parking part of the street. So, to claim that is public space and therefore cannot be privately reserved is a little inconsistent.

In our neighborhood (near small retail mostly townhouses with renters and owners and at night never an empty parking spot on the street) many people were out the last few days digging out their own vehicles AND helping dig out their neighbors vehicles.

I helped by packing a large space for 3 cars (and cars using that area are not stuck or merely staying put, still pulling in and out...).

Just guessing that the norms vary by the rent/own mix, how dense the housing, population and vehicles are in a neighborhood, how well the neighbors know each other, get along, etc.

It will melt eventually.


..government is not necessary for the definition and enforcement of personal property rights.

Generalize much?

The trouble with retribution against the driver whose car is in the space you thought you claimed is that you can't assume that the person who removed your placeholder is the same person whose car is presently occupying the space.

This is more of the progressive campaign to tell people how to live by our government. We are starting to see more and more of it coming out of Washington, especially the White House. Example A is the campaign against obesity. Not a bad message, but it becomes more than a message, it becomes a mandate how to live.

It makes finding parking interesting for the two days following a heavy snowfall, which is a better alternative to making it interesting for the entire time until snow melts.

Thank you for the article featured

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