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Winter Flashback: The Pittsburgh Parking Chair

Ray Lindenburg March 12, 2014 All Things Hoon 15 Comments


While much of the country basks in early-spring sunshine, as they have for the past, oh several million years, others of us in northern climes have been struggling to survive yet another arctic blast or polar vortex or whatever they are calling it this time around. Yes, it snowed again today in Salt Lake City, and no, I’m not bitter. I am relieved that I didn’t have to clear any snow, or silently curse my neighbors for taking my one on-street parking space again.

Why is that important? In my neighborhood, I either have enough room for one car or our two trash bins at the curb in front of my very narrow house. Not all three, or even one car and one bin. So I generally leave the garbage cans out significantly longer than is usually accepted in a modern society. If only there was such a civilized place where one could reserve their on-street parking spot.

Wait, there is. Pittsburgh.

While my garbage can chicanery extends throughout the year, Northeasterners have been deploying strategic bits of furniture to achieve a similar purpose only during the eight or nine winter months. Due to the lack of parking in many urban areas and the incredible amount of time and effort it takes to clear a foot or two of snow from a 10×20 foot space, the general practice is to leave a chair or other similar marker in your freshly-cleared spot, ensuring it’s availability when you return from work in the evening.


Does it work? All signs point to “Yes!” The existence of not only a Wikipedia Page dedicated to the parking chair, but a t-shirt, photo gallery “museum” an etiquette guide and other articles point in that direction.

There is of course, no legal basis for any of this strategic littering. The parking chair “reservation” is generally enforced by the neighborhood busybody or just respected out of habit. Most streets are public property and as such, if any municipality wanted to shut down the practice, city workers could simply come down the street with a truck and pick up all the “abandoned furniture” left behind in the wake of the storm.

But who is it hurting in the long run? The community benefits in a couple of ways. Not only do parking space “owners” clear those spots for their own cars, they remove snow that would otherwise have to be cleared by city plows. In cases of emergency, responders will be able to travel safely down a street that does not have cars parked into the travel lanes because of haphazardly-piled or freshly-fallen snow.

Many work together to clear more than one space at a time, creating perhaps the greatest benefit – a sense of community. When something that your neighborhood or city does is a cool enough thing to create websites and t-shirts and folding furniture in honor of, well that’s a win-win in my book. In my neighborhood, I will continue to shuffle garbage cans, beater cars, landscaping boulders and small children to maintain my parking space. Because that’s how we do it here.


  • Nuclearspork

    Chicago is the only other place that I know this applies to. I believe what helps this tradition work is that both cities are blue collar cities so the threat that you move my chairs you'll find them smashed through your windows as a plausible threat.

    This is also a huge source of debate. First there are the people who think you never should be able to do it cause public parking is public parking, these are normally people who live in the densest parts of the city where typically there aren't anywhere near enough spots for 1 spot per apartment. Then there are those who think that there should be a limit to how long you can do it. This is normally more residential areas who are tired of the guy who wants to save his dug out spot until sometime in June.

    While it does end in heated debates, the general consensus is still you better not take that persons space unless you want your car F###ed up.

  • OA5599

    The picture with the chairs in it appears to be a neighborhood of large single-family houses with driveways and moderately generous lot sizes. Is that enough housing and parking density that neighbors stealing your spot is an issue?

  • GTXcellent

    Seeing an article like this just makes me so damn grateful that I live where I do. Sure it may be an hour drive to the nearest McDonald's, but when I go home at night, I can park wherever I feel like.

    Then, I can run around naked and shoot off an arsenal of ammunition that would make any third world dictator smile – and the only person who would care would be my wife (as she's calling the sheriff's department to have me committed).

    • Felis_Concolor

      A friend of mine lives a 45 minute drive away in a rural area adjacent to COS. His criteria for adequate living conditions: "If you can't walk out onto your front porch to pee, it's too damn crowded where you live."

  • Van_Sarockin

    Boston has the same tradition, and it works fairly well, most of the time. The City has tried to clamp down on it though, because it takes a lot of parking spaces out of circulation during the day in places where they're needed. Also, no one owns a parking spot on a public street.

  • mkep819

    In some areas near me, chairs like that would be picked up by scrap metal dealers. They troll the areas a lot.

  • njhoon

    I live in Philly and this is a normal practice. People have been killed (literally) for taking someone else's spot. On my street we are a no chair zone but my neighbors and I pile all of the snow in to one or two spots to make 4×4 parking only. Yes, we both have 4 wheel drive.

  • Tim

    I lived in a second floor apartment in Chicago about 10 years ago. I was sitting at my desk that looked out front window. I saw a guy across the street move a chair to park his car. He than put the chair on the parkway. About 20 minutes later I heard a couple of loud bangs. Looked out my window and saw a guy walking away near the same car that now had a broken tail light with a rolled up newspaper that looked rather ridged. I won't ever move a chair to park my car after that.

    • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

      Me too, always scared, and that's the big drawback. People leave for work and I just need to park for a short time at some business. There are meters but they are all taken or impossible to get into, so go down a residential side street. I was always too scared to move the chair, park for a bit, move it back and leave before the person returned from work.

  • Maymar

    I've gotten determined and shovelled out up to like ten spots at a time, because I figure it'll pay off for me over time (and because the parking chair isn't a thing in Toronto). That said, I've left quite a few passive aggressive notes for anyone who parks poorly and wastes space (or just outright park within inches of them, if I can).

  • faberferrum

    A couple weeks ago on our (Canadian) news they interviewed a Philadelphia cop whose started a bylaw enforcement campaign against this practice. He was putting out warnings to the public under the tag "#nosavesies"

  • sslandy

    South Boston has done this for years. Your car was in peril if you moved someone's chair (barrel, cone, table, whatever they put there). A few years ago, the former mayor instituted a 48 hour rule. You could only save your spot for 48 hours after the snow stopped. The City of Boston would then come along with a garbage truck and pick up all the holders. People still put out spot holders but now they put out things the city normally would charge a fee to pick up. Old tvs, microwaves, small fridges, etc., now hold the spot until the City cleans it up.

    • Hatchtopia

      HA! Brilliant!

  • BoringPittsburgh.com

    Thanks for mentioning our Pittsburgh Parking Chair Museum!