By Ian Shapira and Aaron C. Davis
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; A01
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.
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."
How about taking care of it now? Chamy said he has roommates who ought to pitch in. "I'm not going to do it by myself," he said. "I'm from Texas. I don't know about these things. The lack of a shovel makes it difficult."
In parts of Maryland, business owners and multifamily homeowners must clean up within 24 hours after the snow stops falling or face a $50 fine (the laws do not apply to single-family dwellings); in Prince George's County, owners have 48 hours to avoid a $100 fine. Virginia relies entirely on moral suasion, without legal penalties for failure to do the right thing.
In the 1700 block of Kalorama Road NW, the sidewalk in front of one house was covered in virginal snow, untouched by shovel or foot. Two young people answered the door but declined to comment. Next door, outside the Ana T. Jacobs and Associates law office, Steven Williams, 48, was shoveling the sidewalk with workmanlike cheer. Williams apologized for his employer's tardiness, arguing that some people wait until the snow melts a bit to make shoveling easier. Then he pivoted into a philosophical mode.
"When is too early or too late to do anything in life?" he asked. "Who makes the rules?"
Popular restaurants along 18th Street NW had varying interpretations of their civic duty. The good guys included Madam's Organ, Tryst, Pizza Mart, Gran Central, Rumba Cafe, Meze and the Diner, among others. (Tryst manager Elias Montilla said he had ordered salt days in advance of the snowfall and had busboys and waiters out shoveling all weekend.)
Businesses that left treacherous glaciers outside their property included Optic, Pharmacy Bar, Maggie Moo's Ice Cream and Treatery, and Saki Asian Grille.
A Maggie Moo's employee who divulged only his first name, Calvin, said the manager was on his way in to shovel. "We've been closed all weekend," he said. "So this is our first day."
Next door to Saki, at Idle Time Books, where the sidewalk was cleared, day manager Brian Depuy, 27, worried about the bad vibes rendered when a handful of store owners ignore their responsibility while everyone else labors to create lawsuit-free harmony. "Invariably, other owners will shovel out the rest of the sidewalk, but they're going to end up resenting you," he said.
Meanwhile, at the entrance to Colonial Parking, where Fogarty had fallen, a man in an electric wheelchair got stuck, his wheels grinding and halting in the mush. A crowd gathered to help push him. (A Colonial Parking manager, Richard Ssebaggala, said the driveway was not his company's responsibility and that the city or the adjacent condo building should clear the area.)
And there was Mo Fogarty, still hurting from her fall moments earlier. She snapped a photo. The man in the chair asked why she was taking a picture.
"To show why this is a problem," she explained.
Staff writer Ashley Halsey III and staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.