The Complete Guide to Philadelphia Snow Etiquette

What you should do to make things easier for everyone during our next big snowfall.

City Hall snowfall

After two seasons without much of a winter at all, the Philadelphia region has battled snow several times already this winter. And, as you may have heard already, more snow could be on the way.

It’s a fact of American life that no one can remember what happened last Tuesday, let alone memories of winters past. It really has been a while — okay, a few years — since we’ve had a winter like this, and in the last few weeks I’ve noticed that no one has any idea what to do in the snow anymore.

Of course, I myself could be forgetting that no one in Philadelphia had any idea what to do in the snow several years ago, either. Either way, it’s time for a primer or a refresher: The complete* (*not-at-all complete) guide to Philadelphia snow etiquette.

1. Shovel your freaking sidewalk.

Look, I know it’s not going to all look like this.


But if the residents of this group of rowhomes on Bainbridge Street — Bainbridge Street, people! — were able to clean off their sidewalks this well, surely you can at least do a half-assed job at it.


Like, this is pretty bad. Why didn’t these people shovel the entire sidewalk? But there is at least some sort of attempt here. That’s all I’m asking. Don’t leave it like this:


If not for my cat-like reflexes, I would have fallen on this ice last night! (Okay, maybe I just walked around it.) But you have to shovel your sidewalk. And if you have neighbors who are frail or elderly, you shovel their sidewalk for them! I know we all live in a city so we can be as close as possible to one another without ever actually interacting. It’s tempting to stay a shut-in when it’s cold and snowy outside, but make it a point to talk to your neighbors for once and shovel for them if they need you to.

You don’t want to be like this:


Bang-up shoveling job outside the free clinic at Broad and Sansom. What if someone fell after finding out he or she has chlamydia? Think how tragic that would be. This is why you should shovel your sidewalk.

(And shovel the snow back onto your own property! Don’t toss it on a neighbor’s sidewalk, silly.)

2. Walk through the snow to let others pass if you can

No matter what I write, obviously, some sidewalks will go un-shoveled. (I guess I could actually solve the problem by going around and shoveling everyone’s sidewalk, but that seems a little extreme.) And you’ll end up with little pathways next to larger piles of snow. If you’re an able-bodied person and someone older, or someone who is having trouble walking approaches, it’s up to you to move into the snow and let them pass.

Yes, this advice is basically “Hey, be nice to people walking around when it’s snowing.” This seems obvious, but normally in Philadelphia the only way to traverse the sidewalks is to move as quickly as possible, darting in and out of walking lanes in order to shave two minutes off your commute time. In the snow, it’s time to suspend that thinking and let people walk by for once.

3. No snowball fights with people who aren’t your size.

I’m 30, and yet I still can’t resist throwing a snowball or 10 at a friend when it starts to snow. But that’s OK: We’re friends — at least until the fifth snowball toss — and my friends will hit me back with snowballs when necessary. But don’t go around just throwing snowballs at anyone. Are you over the age of 14? You should only be throwing snowballs at friends. But, if you must be a mischief-maker, no throwing snowballs at kids. Adults vs. adults. It’s only fair.

If you’re under the age of 13, you have more freedom. But you shouldn’t be throwing snowballs at kids too much younger than you — let’s say, two years. A 13-year-old throwing a snowball at an 8-year-old? That should be beneath even the worst bully.

4. Follow the rules of your neighborhood with spot-saving.

Yeah, yeah, we get it. Shoveling out a space and then saving it with a traffic cone or chair is illegal, and annoying.

But who am I to tell you to go against the standard rules of your neighborhood? If the Don of your ‘hood deems that you get to save your spot after shoveling it out, then feel free to save it. Just make sure he’ll fix your ticket if you get one.

5. Clean off your car before hitting the highway

Seriously, this is just as important as shoveling. You could easily kill someone if you don’t clean off your car. It takes a minute. Don’t drive around with a giant pile of snow on your roof! This isn’t hard, people.

There you have it. Five easy tips to make your life and the lives of your neighbors better next time it snows.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.

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  • Denise Rambo

    Re: Cleaning of the roof of your car … it IS that hard when you drive a minivan. Even when I use a broom I end up with a strip of snow right down the middle that can’t be reached. Any suggestions?

    • David

      Open the door and stand on the floor to reach the middle of the car. The floor is higher than the ground.

      • Steve in Philly

        For some cars. For others, the floor is lower than the ground. Those are the ones that tend to spark as they drive

    • Chris Brown

      It is illegal to drive in Pennsylvania with a snow covered car. If you’re gonna by a minivan, you’re gonna have to invest in a step ladder as well.

    • KobraKai7474

      I understand if you are petite and don’t have long arms, but. unless you are married to or dating a little person (or a pirate with hooks for both hands), surely there is a man in your life… or who lives on your block… who has a bit more reach. Make him do it. Heck, worst case, toss a couple of bucks at a neighborhood kid to do it.
      All joking aside, it really is dangerous. If you have ever been behind the moron who only cleans just enough of his car to see forward and backward when he first reaches highway speed, you know what I am talking about. If it is just a large mass of snow blowing off his car roof, you will be blinded for several seconds while driving 60 mph in traffic. If it is a chunk of ice, you will still be driving blind for several seconds, but you also risk getting your windshield smashed or your side mirror removed in the bargain.

  • Chris Brown

    You forgot one very important piece of common courtesy in or after a snowstorm: When you dig out your car, do NOT pile the snow onto the sidewalk, shoveled or not.

  • KobraKai7474

    There is a combination of 3 and 4 that merits listing: No arguing over saved spots with somebody you don’t know, particularly if they appear to be larger and/or more dangerous than you. Yes, we know that neighborhood rules are neighborhood rules, but, if some d-bag puts a couple of caps in your head because you were standing by your principles and enforcing neighborhood rules…. well… no matter what kind of well-deserved retribution comes down on this thug, it isn’t going to be enough to bring you back from the dead. Just walk away and let the guy (or gal) be shunned by the neighborhood for the next 6 months. Yeah, it is a pretty meaningless punishment, but, again, it is still a heck of a lot better than being “the guy who died in a fight over a parking spot”.

  • Sparks

    Is it okay for your neighbor to hold two spots with lawn chairs, with one being in front of your door & won’t allow you to park there once the spot is vacant ? What can be done about this? Who should this be reported to?