Last Words on ‘Winter Dibs’

My latest Slate column investigates a topic many of you have weighed in on here: Winter dibs.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 25th, 2011 at 1:01 pm and is filed under Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Last Words on ‘Winter Dibs’”

  1. Steve H in SLC Says:

    I think the anti-dibs arguments are pretty weak, especially the attempt to analogize parking-spot clearing with sidewalk-clearing. No, if you clear your sidewalk, you don’t get to charge a toll, but then again, you don’t suffer any real harm if someone merely walks across your shoveled sidewalk. They are only there for a minute, and more than one person can use the sidewalk at a time.

    But with a parking spot, only one car can be placed there at a time, and you do suffer real harm if someone parks a car in your cleared spot and leaves it there. Not if they are just dropping grandma off, but if they are staying long term (and in most residential situations, that is more likely).

    In other words, a cleared parking spot can either be used by the person who cleared it or by someone who didn’t. I think it’s perfectly logical to give priority to the person who cleared it.

    (Caveat: I grew up in the Chicago area, so perhaps I am predisposed to believe in the validity of the winter dibs rule.)

  2. Josh R Says:

    I think the ultimate way to get rid of dibs is for the city government to actually do it’s job and clear the streets curb to curb. Declare a snow emergency, tell people where not to park on a given day, tow any cars that are in the way, and then plow. You can put all the plastic chairs you want in the street, they’ll just end up broken and buried in a snowbank after the plow comes by. Plowing also cleanly removes the piles that were between each parked car, making it much harder to designate a “space” that’s “Yours”

    In the end, this is the key quote in the article. “The car is a strange hybrid, without peer, of private and public space—one that endows people with a curious sense of entitlement. People often feel that free, on-street urban parking is their due.”

    We need to get away from the strange idea that when you move from one place to another in your hunk of metal and plastic there will always be a guaranteed place to put said hunk of metal at each end of the journey. Unless you have a garage or parking space on your property you are externalizing a part of the cost of car ownership just as surely as if you decided to fence off a part of a local park so you could store your boat on it. In some areas this externalization is invisible because there is plenty of on-street parking to go around, it only really becomes visible when there is a shortage of parking and sadly people’s response to such a shortage is often to demand that the cost continue to be externalized rather then seeking to guarantee parking space by paying for it.

    The book “The high cost of free parking” can be a bit of a hard read at times, but it’s a good resource for understanding how much this externalization of costs damages our cities and society.

  3. Elliott Mason Says:

    Josh R: So where are people supposed to put their cars when the city tells them to move? On their front porches? In most neighborhoods, there IS nowhere but street parking, and if it’s just snowed, nobody can get their cars out anyway, even if they had somewhere to put them.

  4. Josh R Says:

    Elliott: At least in my area the city plows in stages, designated snow emergency routes first, then other streets, doing east/west or north/south, or even/odd sides depending on the community. Yes, sometimes it sucks, yes sometimes you end up parking 4 blocks (or more) from home on a day when your street is being plowed, yes some people get their cars towed away because they were not paying attention and didn’t move them.

    I will say again, this is all part of the price of owning a car and living in an area with only on-street parking. (and a snowy climate.) I lived in such an area, and was pretty damn unhappy to go out in the early morning and dig my car out so I could get it out of the way of the plows, but I never tried to claim that my car and where to put it was anybodies problem but mine alone. Now I own a house and you better believe that I have off street parking. I realize that not everybody can arrange to have their own parking space, but that doesn’t mean that you get to just claim part of the public space as yours without paying for it.

    Everything comes down to convenience, people want cars for the convenience of being able to go anywhere they want, but they don’t want the inconvenience of having to find a place to put the car when they’re not using it. As the saying goes, everyone wants the credit card, but nobody wants the bill.

  5. Barbara Phillips Long Says:

    Why can’t “winter dibs” be handled as part of winter snow emergency or winter parking rules, institutionalizing the arrangement instead of inviting more chairs and cones onto the roadway?

    Have people pay a modest fee such as $20, give them a post to identify the parking spot and a matching sticker for the car, and then tell them that when there is more than a certain amount of snow, they’re obligated to clear the parking spot within x number of hours and they’re entitled to use the parking spot for the duration of the snow emergency or during nights and weekends or whatever times the municipality dictates.

    This would leave spots open for casual parking but recognize the manual labor people put into clearing spots. It is realistic about the fact that a lot of people have to park vehicles on the street. And it recognizes the exchange of labor for the privilege of parking.

    Yes, it adds a layer of bureaucracy. But it also would end disputes in neighborhoods, which aren’t healthy either. It’s seasonal, so the parking spot isn’t “owned” year round.

    The downside? Some people would remove the posts. If spots were permanently marked with meters or numbers, the municipality would have the extra work of marking the spots. People would call the police because the violations would be official, not just neighborhood disputes.

    I live in a suburban house with off-street parking now, but I’ve lived where I was dependent on on-street parking. I’ve had the experience of renting a spot and having able-bodied people park in it even in good weather. I like the idea of using meters that take cards to provide free parking during times when vehicles have to move in and out of spaces but some reserved parking overnight so residents can have some conveniences in their neighborhoods.

    Has any municipality tried collecting funds for supplemental plowing and then having residents pay to have parking spaces plowed by subcontractors? If a parking card were like a prepaid toll card, the neighborhood would have to agree to pay for the plowing, then every storm over a certain amount would trigger a deduction from the prepaid card and a plow would come around to clear the parking. People without cars wouldn’t have to pay for a service they don’t use.

    These ideas are more complex than winter dibs, but they don’t require car owners to repeatedly dig out spots. And the people who say they’re willing to park wherever they have to because that is the cost of a car have perhaps not had physical setbacks that would make them anxious to reuse a parking spot they’ve shoveled. Some neighborhoods have elderly residents or people who have temporary problems such as injuries that make it hard to shovel but essential to use a car.

    Let’s be realistic about cars in cities. People aren’t always entitled to parking, but some of the reasons residents have cars aren’t excuses, they’re needs.

  6. Betty Barcode Says:

    Here in Buffalo, where we have snow but not nearly the amount ascribed to us in the popular imagination, I have never heard of any neighborhoods with “winter dibs” traditions.

    It might be because (believe me) it rarely snows so heavily that digging out your car is a lengthy, onerous task. Sorry about your blizzards, Washington & New York, but by comparison, our snowfall has been unremarkable. In the last decade, winter has been so mild that one December we had roses blooming and rollerbladers out in shorts & sandals. I’m able to bike to work on dry roads almost year round.

    It might be because of alternate parking regulations, so everyone who parks on the street has to move their car every few days regardless.

    It might be because of low-density development patterns compared to, say, Boston, where I first encountered winter dibs. Ample one and two-family homes with off-street parking.

    It might be because Buffalo has lost almost half of its population since 1950 and therefore competition for on-street spaces is low.

    It might be because an estimated 30% of city residents, usually due to poverty, do not own automobiles, also contributing to low competition for on-street spaces.

    Whatever the reason, Buffalo is a wonderfully civilized place in the winter. There’s a reason we call ourselves the City of Good Neighbors.

  7. Liz M Says:

    Montreal has a system that has worked flawlessly for decades: within 48 hours of a snowstorm they put sandwich board signs on the sidewalk announcing the hours the street will be plowed. You just park on a sidestreet or one street over (yes, sometimes three or four blocks away) until the plows have done their thing. On occasion, that means they put the signs up while you’re eating dinner and you may not notice until you hear the plow sirens after you’ve gone to bed. That results in a uniquely Montreal phenomenon of people in pajamas, overcoats and boots running out to move their cars in the middle of the night. But it works. And until the plows do their thing, Montrealers tend to respect the spots their neighbours dug out. There are almost zero private garages anywhere except Montreal suburbs so this courtesy is important in maintaining neighbourly relations.

  8. Vin Says:

    I personally believe that ‘winter dibs’ are for troglodytes, but, then again, I’m from New York.

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