February 14, 2015 / 1:02 AM / 3 years ago

Chicago starts removing 'dibs' markers for parking as tempers flare

A bucket marks a shoveled out parking spot in Chicago, Illinois, February 13, 2015.Jim Young

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago officials on Friday started collecting the lawn chairs, card tables and other items placed on city streets by residents who sought to reserve their parking spaces - a controversial winter custom known as "dibs."

Some residents of the third-largest U.S. city welcome the cleanup, particularly after reports of vandalism on cars linked to dibs disputes.

"I think it's a terrible system," said Meghan Mater, 21, whose sister's car was damaged, possibly by explosives, earlier this week. "It causes way too much anger between people."

After 19 inches (48 cm) of snow fell on Chicago in early February, many residents who shoveled out their cars marked their spaces.

The custom is honored by city officials - to a point. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he believes in "sweat equity," or the notion that people who work up a sweat shoveling out a space deserve to use it.

But the city cleans up dibs items once snow starts to melt, according to the Department of Streets and Sanitation. The melting appeared theoretical on Friday, as the temperature was 14 degrees F (-10 C).

Peter Alter, a historian with the Chicago History Museum, said the custom dates back to at least the 1967 blizzard, the worst in city history, which dumped 23 inches (58 cm) of snow.

It is not unique to Chicago - the concept of "dibs" is known in other snowy cities like Boston and Philadelphia. But Chicago is the biggest U.S. city with a widespread practice.

A man walks past a chair marking a shoveled out parking spot in Chicago, Illinois, February 13, 2015.Jim Young

Every winter Chicago sees reports of vandalism because of real or perceived dibs violations.

Mater's sister, Ashley Mater, had parked in what she thought was an open spot in the Logan Square neighborhood. Some items were piled nearby, suggesting that someone had marked the spot, but another driver may have moved them.

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When she returned to her car, it was damaged inside and out, said Meghan Mater.

Another woman told DNAinfo.com last week that her brakes were cut after parking in a spot marked with lawn chairs.

Chicagoans interviewed about dibs tended to agree with the custom - but only after a big snow, and for a short time.

"If I'm going to break my back to dig out a spot, I'm going to use it," said Marge Luczak, 68.

Fernando Martinez, 34, said the tradition "kind of sucks," but he understands it.

"There's no parking," he said.

Editing by Matthew Lewis

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