Like everything in life, snow removal has its rules and someone is always going to be unhappy with them. This is particularly true in places with relatively mild winters that occasionally get walloped, like Washington, D.C. this February.
What happens after the snow stops falling and residents and business owners are left with the job of clearing parking spots and sidewalks? What rules do they follow? In Boston, a city law states that by digging your car out in a snow emergency, the spot can then be claimed for two days by “saving” it with a lawn chair or trash can. In Chicago, this is illegal. In D.C., residents were left wondering.
“I know this is public property, but if you spent hours laboring, I mean, come on, I think you have the right to say that is my spot,” Tanya Barbour told the Washington Post after spending two hours shoveling her car out.
The sidewalk etiquette question is not much clearer. In portions of Maryland, business operators and multifamily homeowners have 24 hours after the snow ends to clean off sidewalks, or face a $50 fine; in Prince George’s County, owners get 48 hours before they can be fined $100. Much of Virginia does not issue penalties for not shoveling, but rather encourages residents and business owners to do so to help neighbors and keep customers safe.
One sidewalk angel quoted in the Washington Post, however, turned snow clearing into a philosophical question:
Steven Williams…noted that some people wait until the snow melts to make shoveling easier. “When is too early or too late to do anything in life?” he asked. “Who makes the rules?”
[We're tempted to turn that into a meteorological question: If you wait until some of the snow melts, doesn't that make it likely your shovel loads will be a lot heavier than if you'd cleared the freshly fallen flakes? Can one use the meteorological variables to calculate an index of procrastination due to precipitation?]
In the meantime, the most important rule of snow etiquette seems to be that enumerated by the Arlington, Virginia, blog, “Shirlington Circle” in their list of “snow paux”:
5. Build snow sculptures. DC sees so few inches per year…so try attempting a piece of architecture or a family-friendly snowperson. It also shows a neighborhood that plays together stays together.
Now, how to extend the etiquette of snow to martial arts of blizzards? The Official Dupont Circle Snowball Fight Fan Page on Facebook reached 5,000 members in anticipation of their scheduled February 6 battle in downtown D.C. The local media estimated the turnout at 2,000. That’s a great way to settle disputes over parking spots.