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Correction to This Article
This article about the clearing of sidewalks and other etiquette issues raised by the recent snowstorms misspelled the first name of Bryan Depuy, a manager at Idle Time Books in Adams Morgan who was quoted talking about the bad feelings created when some store owners don't clear a pathway.

After D.C. snowstorm, sidewalk-clearing rules and etiquette fall short

After two recent snowstorms closed the federal government and schools across the region, people began digging out. The season's snow tally in D.C. reached 55.6 inches Wednesday -- more than the last record of 54.4 inches, set in 1898-99.

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By Ian Shapira and Aaron C. Davis
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mo Fogarty and her boyfriend, Michael Ronquillo, delirious about a casual Monday, suddenly stepped onto a gnarly patch of snow and ice along Adams Morgan's busiest walkway. Fogarty went down.

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As the right side of her keister swelled with pain, she contemplated the morality of sidewalk-clearing. "Whose job is this?" said Fogarty, a sign-language interpreter. "Everyone has to be a member of a community."

It was fully 48 hours since the flakes of Snowmageddon had ceased falling, but by midday Monday, many residents and merchants in Adams Morgan still had not cleared their portions of public walkways, disregarding the District's law mandating that property owners clear snow and ice from their sidewalks within eight hours after the snowfall's completion.

Every snowstorm generates complaints about homeowners and business people who fail to do their part, as well as extensive debate about who's supposed to clear sidewalks, who's not doing the job and why freaking not? 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. In Chicago, blocking a parking spot is illegal, but city officials acknowledge an informal rule of dibs if you've done the digging.

"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," said Tanya Barbour, who spent two hours Sunday shoveling free her silver Ford Expedition in the 1500 block of T Street NW. "If someone had clearly taken the time to shovel it out, I would not take that spot because I would not want that done to me."

Across the District and in the Maryland suburbs Monday, many were not relying on Barbour's honor system. Some used Boston-style markers -- lawn chairs, recycling bins, orange cones, a mattress, even two bar stools with a Swiffer on top -- to try to save spots along residential streets.

Keith Green, 37, said he's heard too many scary stories to slip into a spot someone has blocked off. After the 1996 storm, a man was killed outside New York after a dispute over a shoveled parking spot. In Philadelphia in 2000, it happened again. In South Boston, a handful of assaults, slashed tires and other cases of vandalism end up in District Court each year after drivers are perceived to have broken the code.

In the District, said city transportation spokesman John Lisle, blocking spots is illegal. "We would hope people would work together and clear out several spaces instead of just one, but you can't block a space," he said.

In Chicago, Matt Smith, a spokesman for the Streets and Sanitation Department, said the lesson from a more snow-savvy city is that although "staking out a spot may save your space temporarily, it's bound to create problems with your neighbors."

The sidewalk etiquette question is no simpler. In Adams Morgan, scofflaws were ready with excuses about why they did not shovel. Passersby needed to walk with outstretched arms to maintain balance to get by 2431 Ontario Rd. NW, where an icy, narrow path abutted the front steps. Resident Adam Chamy, 22, had a reason for the unshoveled walk: "The hardware store had run out of shovels," he said. "They said they were getting a new shipment on Friday morning, but they ran out at 10 a.m."


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