Toronto blizzard sparks fighting for on-street parking

As soon as Lorna Yates had hung up her shovel on Monday, she realized she was facing a cool Catch-22.

She had worked hard to dig the family car out of the snow bank in front of her house. But while she had freed her vehicle from its icy trap, she had gone straight into another – if she actually drove the car anywhere, she risked someone else taking her place.

To move it will, in other words, no doubt be to lose it.

When the dilemma arose for her, Yates got “a sinking feeling,” she recalled in an interview.

“We are so proud of the job that we got it dug out that we are now paralyzed because we can not afford to lose the place,” she said. “We’re scared to move it, so we’re not moving the car.”

While residents of Toronto are digging themselves out under a snowfall once in a decade this week, thousands of residents using parking lots on the street are in the same situation.

Some believe that there is an unwritten rule that a spot belongs to the person who clears it, while others claim that once a place is snow-free, it is fair game for everyone. While the issue has been known to trigger confrontations between stormy neighbors, the city on Tuesday confirmed the streets are first-come, first-served, and municipal officials are calling for neighborhood cooperation to help keep parking peace.

Yates, a lawyer and mother of seven-year-old twins, lives near Mount Pleasant and Eglinton and feels particularly attached to the place she cleared. Her husband had a heart attack last year, so it is primarily her responsibility to shovel, and the work was painful due to a pinched nerve.

Such is the couple’s reluctance to lose their place that when Yates’ husband had a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday morning not too far from home, after a debate about “protecting the place”, they agreed that it would be better if he left. From Tuesday afternoon, they considered calling an Uber to take the kids to a play date, and she expects her vehicle will stay standing until 6 p.m. “The city comes and takes the snow away.”

“We will persevere,” she said.

As bad as she wants to keep her seat, Yates does not think drivers who shovel a seat out are entitled to it. Or as she put it: “No dibs.”

Others have a different view. When Jen Tripp was a new mom about a decade ago, she used to block the parking lot in front of her Riverdale home with construction cones after she cleared it.

“Sometimes it didn’t go so well,” she admits. In one case, “someone noticed that it was public property and that I should be stuffed.”

Tripp could often neutralize the situation by confronting an angry driver while holding her baby on her hip. But since then, her daughters have grown old enough to help with shoveling, and she has given up the building cones for a more cooperative approach. She and her neighbors went out together to clear the snow after dinner Monday night.

“It’s just a better choice in life to get along,” she said.

But even though she does not think a parking space is worth fighting for, she believes that whoever shovels a space should be entitled to it. “I think if someone digs it out, they should have that space. Or you should be willing to help dig them out (a new one),” she said.

At a news conference Tuesday to address the city’s storm response, Barbara Gray, general manager of transportation services, said she has not had any reports of conflicts over space-saving efforts this week. But she said attempts to reserve seats on the street are against city rules and could hinder snow removal efforts if stain-saving items are left in the right-of-way.

“I know it’s frustrating for people who spent that time digging out, ‘but parking on the street’ is a resource that is for everyone,” she said.

Mayor John Tory urged residents to band together to ensure there is enough space for everyone in their neighborhood.

“The Toronto way of doing things says a hundred times out of a hundred that you make a collaboration agreement with your neighbors, maybe because, you know, shoveling more seats and making them available on a basis where we collaborate with each other as opposed to to a form of competition, ”he said.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation for Star. Reach him via email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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