Automobile Safety: Shoveling Snow – Sidewalks & Parking Spaces

The Winter of 2010 in Virginia has seen more big snow storms than we’ve had in many years. (Too many big snow storms for some of us). Our arms and backs are sore from all the shoveling. Some folks live in urban areas where they park on the street, and sure enough, the snowplows added insult to injury by pushing a large mound of snow onto the side of your car. Out comes the snow shovel, and several hours of hard work later you’ve removed the snow barrier, the parking space is cleared of snow, and you can drive your car out.

However, once you have cleared the parking space and left for work or an errand, can some freeloader take advantage of your hours of work and park in the snow-free space that you’ve spent several hours of backbreaking work clearing? Can you “save” the cleared space? There is a tradition in some places, especially in northern cities where heavy snow storms occur commonly, that a person who clears snow from a public parking space in a residential area may then “reserve it” by placing a prominent article, usually a lawn chair or large trash can, into the space. People are expected to honor this and not move the article and try to take advantage of someone else’s hard work. In Boston, Massachusetts, this is actually the law. You can “reserve” your space for up to 48 hours after a “snow emergency” has ended. 1

In Virginia, clearing and reserving such a parking space is illegal. The parking spaces on the streets are public parking spaces and the fact that one has cleared it of snow and made it usable does not give the person who worked so hard any legal right to that space. In fact, placing a trash can or lawn chair in a public parking space may actually violate the law which requires you to refrain from obstructing streets. (Regardless of the law, hopefully people will honor the hard work of someone else who has cleared a snow covered parking space, but there is no legal duty to do so). Some towns and cities have laws requiring a landowner to clear snow from a public sidewalk next to his property. In most cases, those laws require you to clear the sidewalk in front of your home or business as soon as convenient. 2

Some localities have more specific regulations. For instance, the City of Richmond, Virginia, requires a property owner to clear snow from a paved sidewalk within six hours of the time the snow stops falling. 3 However, if the snow stops falling during the night, then the property owner has until 11 o’clock the next morning to have the sidewalk cleared. Violation of this ordinance is a class 4 misdemeanor which may subject the property owner to a fine of up to $250.00 if the landowner fails to clear the sidewalk, and, in addition, if the City pays someone to do the clearing that the landowner should have done, the City can make an additional charge for that cost.

Let’s all just hope that spring comes and we don’t have to worry about clearing sidewalks or shoveling parking spaces for another year.

1 You can go to the City of Boston’s website to see if a “snow emergency” is in effect. See

2 Fairfax County, Virginia has an ordinance requiring property owners to clear sidewalks “as soon as feasible”. The town of Blacksburg, Virginia has an ordinance requiring landowners to remove snow from sidewalks within 24 hours; Washington, D.C., requires snow be removed within 8 hours on the day following the storm. See

3 See Richmond Code Section 90-42.