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Posts from the Parking Permits Category

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NYPD on Parking Perks for Press: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

The City Council’s attempt to return parking privileges to the New York press corps faces opposition, ironically enough, from the New York City Police Department.

Intro. 779, sponsored by transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and 34 of his colleagues, would allow people with press-designated license plates from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to “park where parking or standing is otherwise prohibited except where standing or stopping is prohibited to all motor vehicles” without any time limit or payment, so long as the driver is “engaged in the covering of a news event or matter of public concern.”

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

While the bill would not provide physical parking placards for press vehicles, the effect would essentially be the same. There are supposed to be limits on the parking privileges conferred by placards, but in practice, placards are routinely abused as a blanket exemption from all parking laws.

“Let me make it clear, our members are not looking for some sort of perk. This is about allowing working journalists to more efficiently relay information to the people of New York City,” said Steve Scott of the New York Press Club. “We can’t do that if we’re circling the block looking for a place to park.”

The press was explicitly given a similar privilege until 2009, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg stripped it as part of a general cutback on placard distribution. Currently, vehicles with state-issued “New York Press” license plates may park in certain press-designated parking zones. Members of the media at today’s hearing conceded they already count on lenient traffic enforcement agents to give them a pass when they park illegally.

The agency with the most placards is NYPD, whose officers have made a laughingstock of the current system by parking their personal vehicles anywhere with impunity, with or without official placards. So it was more than a little ironic that NYPD Inspector Dennis Fulton opposed the expansion of parking perks at today’s City Council transportation committee meeting.

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Who Rules the Roost on Jay Street? Placard Abusers, That’s Who

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Most of Jay Street is a “no standing zone” where placard holders both real and fake park without consequence. Photo: David Meyer

Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn is one of the most important segments in the city’s bike network, the key passage to and from the Manhattan Bridge. It’s also a huge impediment to biking in the city — the street is rife with double-parking, illegal U-turns, and the unnerving threat of a car door suddenly opening and throwing you into the path of a passing bus. An upcoming redesign of Jay Street should improve the situation, but it too will be hampered by the culture of parking placard abuse that pervades downtown Brooklyn streets.

The chaos on Jay Street emanates from placard holders and fake placard holders who park all over the place. Even legit placards aren’t a valid license to park in bus stops or crosswalks, but NYPD doesn’t enforce the rules. Soon after the 84th Precinct cracked down on Jay Street placard abuse in 2014, the commanding officer was reassigned.

Advocates campaigned long and hard to get the city to redesign Jay Street, and this summer, DOT plans to flip the bike lane with the parking lane to provide some physical protection. It should be a less stressful experience, but there’s a catch: The proposed bike lane is a sub-standard width on a street that typically already sees 2,400 cyclists in the peak 12-hour period. The National Association of City Transportation Officials advises that protected lanes should be at least five feet wide with a three-foot buffer from parked cars to keep cyclists clear of the door zone, but the Jay Street design calls for five-foot lanes with two-foot buffers.

The bike lane could be wider if it weren’t for all the placard parking on Jay Street. Take out the parking, and there’s a lot more room to work with. If the city was willing to make placard holders park a little further from their destinations — like in one of the many nearby garages with a glut of parking, thanks to downtown Brooklyn’s parking requirements — the options for good street design open up.

So who is parking on Jay Street? Whose entitlement to convenient personal parking trumps street safety and good bus service for everyone? I made a few trips in the past week to document the placard abuse up close.

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Jay Street Protected Bike Lane Plan Clears Brooklyn CB 2 Committee

Image: DOT

Image: DOT

Last night, DOT presented its proposal for a protected bike lane on Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn to the Community Board 2 transportation committee [PDF].

Jay Street is the main approach for the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge bike path. During a 12-hour weekday period, DOT counted 2,400 cyclists on Jay Street, with bikes accounting for 34 percent of vehicles during rush hour.

The project will replace painted lanes between Sands Street and Fulton Street with curbside parking-protected bike lanes. The new design will save cyclists from having to dodge between double-parked cars and moving traffic. It’s going to be a tight squeeze, though: The proposed five-foot bike lanes and two-foot painted buffer are narrower than typical protected bike lanes in the city. Buffers are usually three feet wide so cyclists don’t ride where they might get doored. Bus drivers will merge across the bike lane to access bus stops.

Many design details are still in development, including the Smith Street segment between Fulton Mall and Schermerhorn Street, the intersection with Tillary Street, and the area around the Manhattan Bridge. DOT Bicycle Program Director Hayes Lord said the department will come back to CB 2 at a later date, likely in May, to review the final details of the proposal.

Just past Nassau Street, where northbound cyclists must cross the path of drivers exiting the Manhattan Bridge, DOT wants to create a marked pedestrian/bike crossing that could be signalized, but the traffic control plan has not been finalized. Where Jay Street approaches Sands Street, DOT will create a new access point for cyclists through the fence that separates the bike lane from the bridge, so people on bikes can steer clear of right-turning motorists.

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Eric Adams Proposes Downtown Brooklyn Car-Share Fleet for City Agencies

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is open to clearing Borough Hall Plaza of parked cars, and he also wants City Hall to study a car-share system for government agencies in Downtown Brooklyn.

We reported last November that Adams and his staff resumed using the plaza as a parking lot after an $11 million rehab, following the lead of his predecessor, shameless space hog Marty Markowitz.

In a recent letter to Mayor de Blasio, Adams said he is considering an internal survey to determine how Borough Hall employees get to work and looking at using off-site garages instead of the plaza.

He also suggested that city agencies with offices in Downtown Brooklyn may be able to consolidate their fleets. Adams wants to the city to investigate a “municipal car share system” to consolidate the vehicles of the half-dozen or so agencies located downtown. The Department of Buildings, the Department of Education, and DOT are among the agencies with offices in the area.

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NYPD Still Resisting Attempts to Reform Parking Placard Abuse

Fraudulent parking placards are rampant in NYC, but NYPD remains opposed to a bill that would require the city to include a barcode on placards to ensure proper enforcement.

It may look official, but this “Amtrak police surgeon” placard was not issued by the city. Still, NYPD is in no hurry to cut down on placard fraud. Photo: Noah Kazis

Testifying before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Richard Schroeder cited “significant fiscal, operational, and technological issues that… cannot be resolved within the one year effective date of the legislation” as one reason why the department opposes Intro 326, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick. When Garodnick introduced a similar bill in 2011, it also met resistance from NYPD.

Schroeder said the legislation doesn’t give NYPD enough time to build a secure database of placards issued to city agencies by DOT and NYPD. He also noted that barcodes would not be able to completely prevent the fraudulent reproduction of placards, since they can be easily scanned and copied. He said NYPD was open to other strategies to improve enforcement, and expressed hope that DOT’s adoption of pay-by-phone parking technology could help mitigate the problem.

DOT Assistant Commissioner for Parking Operations Mike Marisco later testified that pay-by-phone “will also provide opportunities for much more efficient ways of managing permits.” While that’s intriguing, it’s not at all clear how placard management will be improved by a better parking meter payment system. Fake placards, after all, let people park without paying a cent.

There are approximately 104,000 valid NYC parking placards in circulation, with the largest chunk distributed to members of NYPD. They entitle the placard holder to park for free in any legal parking spot.

The placard system is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that it creates a huge incentive to drive for tens of thousands of public employees in some of the most transit-rich parts of the city. Legitimate placards are often abused as entitlements to park illegally in bus stops, crosswalks, or no-standing zones. Fake placards are shockingly easy to produce and work as well as the real thing. The mere sight of something vaguely official-looking on a dashboard is enough to intimidate enforcement agents.

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Yes, the Cars Parked on Borough Hall Plaza Belong to Eric Adams & Company

Last week reader Brian Howald called our attention to the vehicles parked on the newly refurbished surface of the plaza by Brooklyn Borough Hall. We checked in with Borough President Eric Adams’ office, and a spokesperson said that yes, the cars do belong to Adams and his staff.

He said the new granite surface can handle it:

Borough President Adams made sure when he funded the renovation of Borough Hall Plaza, one of his first priorities following his election, that the bluestone replacement would be a durable yet aesthetic material that could withstand the significant amount of civic and community activity, including vehicle use.

The borough president is missing an opportunity here. Illegal parking is a problem all over Downtown Brooklyn, largely because government workers endowed with placards park wherever they want. Between Borough Hall, the courts, and the preponderance of police, the neighborhood is littered with cars parked on pedestrian turf, obstructing fire hydrants, and hogging metered spots on commercial streets all day long.

Complacency breeds contempt for the rules. Bogus placards are everywhere, and legitimate placards are used in illegitimate ways. Just slap a piece of laminated paper on the dash and you can break all the parking laws known to man — even the ones that purportedly govern the placard system.

Eric Adams can’t snap his fingers and fix all of this, but he sets a powerful example. Former borough president Marty Markowitz was the living embodiment of official driving privileges that trump the law and public safety. He set the tone by parking on the Borough Hall plaza and speeding down Brooklyn streets with lights and sirens blaring for no apparent reason. What if the current borough president disavowed all that?

To change the culture of placards and official entitlement to park anywhere at any time, Brooklyn Borough Hall is a fine place to start.

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Con Ed Staff Caught Illegally Parking on Sidewalk By Queensboro Bridge

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Chris Martin walks around illegally parked cars belonging to Con Ed workers on the way to his job at a TV shoot for Blue Bloods. Photo: Cristina Furlong

Cars belonging to Con Edison employees assigned to a project on the Queensboro Bridge are squeezing pedestrians into the roadbed as workers illegally park on the sidewalk. On both the east and west sides of Vernon Boulevard at Queens Plaza South, near Queensbridge Park and Queensbridge Houses, sidewalks are being used as private parking for bridge workers. When confronted, Con Ed said it will tell employees to stop parking on the sidewalk.

Yesterday morning, people were stepping off the sidewalk on their way to work. “This is ridiculous, people should feel safer here,” said Chris Martin, 24, as he walked in the road to his job on a film shoot in Queensbridge Park.

This placard

This placard does not actually confer the right to park on the sidewalk. Photo: Cristina Furlong

“I feel that it’s very unsafe here, the streets are busy and people run red lights,” said Frankie Cane, 28, who works south of the bridge at Plant Specialists. “Every day, I walk this strip to get lunch… and it just isn’t safe.”

Con Ed workers have been placing their orange safety vests on the dashboards of their cars, and according to neighbors, no ticketing has occurred. The area is under the patrol of the 108th Precinct. Calls to the precinct were referred to its community affairs division, which did not respond.

One car displayed a DOT placard. The agency confirmed via email that all the sidewalk parking, including by its staff, is illegal, since “stipulations do not allow for parking on sidewalks and city highway rules dictate DOT construction permits do not allow permit parking for private vehicles.”

Con Edison replied in a statement: “We’ve been doing repair work on transmission cables under the bridge and will inform our employees not to park on the sidewalk areas. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

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Bill Bratton Rolls Back Internal NYPD Parking Reform

On Monday the Times published an in-depth piece on how Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is aiming to boost NYPD morale, in part by giving officers more latitude to skirt departmental rules. The Times said such infractions might include “misplacing a memo book or being late for court.”

According to the story, Bratton is also lightening up on illegal parking.

[O]n day-to-day internal disciplinary issues, Mr. Bratton is seeking to alter departmental culture: He disbanded a so-called tow-away squad that had been giving tickets to and towing department cars on official business but parked improperly.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a number of reforms intended to cut down on illegal parking by city employees. In 2008, City Hall reduced the number of city-issued parking placards. At the same time NYPD cracked down on police parking scofflaws, both those on “official business” and those using their placards as a lifelong entitlement for their personal vehicles.

When Ray Kelly was police commissioner, cops criticized the Internal Affairs Bureau tow unit, saying it interfered with police work. It’s unknown how many tickets and tows the squad was responsible for, but a 2010 Daily News story pegged Internal Affairs’ daily quota at four tows and 20 summonses.

Cops and other government employees who ignore parking rules clog streets, hurt businesses, and block sidewalks and bike lanes. The problem is particularly acute in Lower Manhattan, where space is especially scarce. In 2006, Transportation Alternatives found that just 12 percent of cars with placards in the southern section of Chinatown were parked legally [PDF]. That same year a survey conducted for an NYPD environmental impact statement counted more than 1,100 illegally parked cars with placards near One Police Plaza [PDF].

How much has NYPD been enforcing police placard abuse, and to what extent did the tow squad contribute to that? We’ve asked NYPD for data and are waiting for a response.

Without the numbers, it’s not clear how dissolving the tow unit will affect NYPD’s internal efforts to curb placard abuse. But once the city starts backsliding, the placard enforcement gains of the past seven years could easily slip away.

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Ydanis Rodriguez Bill Would Let NYC’s Press Corps Park for Free

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez thinks the city’s press corps needs a special break: He’s proposing legislation that would exempt drivers with press plates from paying at meters or obeying time limits.

“The news business should have the same privileges as every other business,” Rodriguez said in a release before today’s City Hall press conference, wrongly implying that every other business in New York gets a free parking pass.

Rodriguez, who said today that he hoped the bill would gain the support of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and expressed confidence that it would garner a veto-proof majority, was joined this morning by fellow council members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, and Corey Johnson.

I asked Rodriguez if he would give up his parking placard, like State Senator Tony Avella does each year. “I believe that having placard parking is important,” Rodriguez said, saying it came in handy when he drove to the scene of the East Harlem building explosion last year. “I believe that having a parking placard, as other people have — teachers have it, police officers have it, council members have it — people from the media should also have it.”

The legislation would not actually give parking placards to the media, but would exempt them from meters and time limits. (Currently, press plates give special parking privileges in areas marked for NYP plates, typically near courthouses and other government buildings.) As part of its crackdown on parking abuse, the Bloomberg administration eliminated this perk for the city’s press in 2009. Governor Cuomo also cut down on placards around the same time.

The New York Press Photographers Association has been leading the charge to restore this privilege. Association board member Robert Roth said the de Blasio administration has not set up a meeting to discuss a change in policy, despite multiple requests — which is why the association turned to the City Council.

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Motorist With Now-Expired NYC Disability Placard Still Blocking Curb Ramp

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

And now back to Seaman Avenue. A few weeks ago we noted that motorists who obtain disability permits from the city can basically park wherever they want, even in “no parking” zones with curb ramps for pedestrians with disabilities. An unmarked crosswalk at Seaman and W. 214th Street, in Inwood, is a favorite spot for placard bearers, whether their parking credentials are legitimate or not.

The disability permit in the vehicle I photographed for the earlier post was set to expire at the end of October. Above is a picture of that same car, taken this morning, in the same crosswalk. On the dashboard was the same permit, with the same October 31 expiration date.

Not that a motorist needs a valid placard to block a curb ramp, thanks to NYPD and DOT. A DOT rule change implemented in 2009 allows drivers with or without a city permit to block crosswalks that aren’t demarcated with pavement markings or signage. On one recent morning (again, after the disability permit expired) this car was wedged into the crosswalk tight enough that pedestrians approaching from the other side of Seaman were forced to walk in traffic, in the pre-dawn darkness, to find an opening to the sidewalk.

For what it’s worth, I filed a “blocked sidewalk” complaint with 311 today. As far as I can tell there is no “blocked crosswalk” category on the 311 website, nor is there a mechanism to report disability permit abuse.