Chicago, Mother Nature, Clash Over Parking
March, 2011Chicago was parking-drama central during the latest winter storms. Besides highway gridlock, power losses and frozen toes, the city took a direct hit to the parking meter. It was reported that during and after the storms, the city did not enforce parking laws, issue parking tickets or collect parking meter monies.
These regular activities were abandoned for the sake of the public and city employees, all rendered helpless by frozen water. OK, lots of frozen water. Piles of snow made it impossible for parkers to read the signs and difficult for them to feed meters, although they were expected to pay on their honor, and certainly a half dozen of them did so.
City streets were not the only area where Chicago parkers encountered the unexpected. The storms also inspired illegal vigilante parking tactics, with serious mafia-like unwritten codes and consequences. It’s called “dibs,” and is an interesting study of human behavior, if you think about it.
After the storms passed, people on residential streets dug out the parking spots in front of their homes and then created lawn-chair blockades to save their spots while they went to work or elsewhere. Any item can be used to save a space, including strollers, cardboard boxes and poster boards printed with threats of violence for the trespasser, and so on.
Apparently this is a tradition during severe winter weather, and although unlawful, those plastic chaise lounges do stand for something. Ignoring the makeshift space savers is frowned upon and cause for unpleasant retribution with little recourse.
City officials who comment on this tactic are either neutral or vaguely supportive. It’s hard to argue with people who will cheerfully slash your tires over a parking spot. And can you really blame them after they’ve broken their backs behind a snow shovel to clear that spot?
In a few weeks, it could be announced that several different groups of residents are suing the city of Chicago: those who paid for parking when they didn’t need to; those who wanted to park but couldn’t get through the snow drifts so inconveniently left along the streets; and those who somehow consider Chicago to be responsible for the storm itself and want payback for the hours they spent reading a book because they couldn’t turn on their TVs or talk on their cell phones.
We all think the people who run cities are idiots – until the blizzard of the century hits and then we think they are superheroes. While the rest of the population is hunkered down in their homes, eating cold canned chili, city parking enforcers should be out clearing spaces and dusting off meters. City snowplows should be operating despite zero visibility. Electric companies should be able to fix downed lines while giant chunks of ice fall from the sky, and ambulances should be able to drive on skating rinks.
Unreasonable expectations abound when extreme conditions occur. It seems to be the American way. We are so used to overachieving that it does not compute when we find we really are human and subject to the power of Mother Nature.
What I like to see – also another aspect of the American spirit – is that while Chicago was buried in snow, everybody bucked up and made the best of the situation, minus a few whiners. City officials recognized the futility of trying to enforce parking laws and let it go for a few days. It’s unfortunate, and expensive, but intelligent to reorganize priorities when emergencies are thrust upon us.
As for the vigilante parking, I’m in support of that practice as well, without the retribution part. In a moment of chaos, residents created their own kind of parking rules and enforcement that, although against the law – a minor drawback – were generally understood and actually fair. You dig out a spot, that spot is yours.
A few heroes even dug out four or five parking spots and expected only one to be available for their vehicle.
In my mind, the vigilante parkers and the city workers were just doing what they had to do to get by. Many things besides parking are important when the sky begins to fall.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is an Amateur Parker and PT’s proofreader. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.