It’s time to put an end to free parking

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What if you could rent a place to store a giant pile of your stuff in New York City for free?

The bad news is you can. If you own a car, you can park it on the street in many neighborhoods without paying a cent. All you have to do is move it once or twice a week.

Of course, that seems totally normal — but maybe it shouldn’t. As Paul Steely White, executive director of the non-profit Transportation Alternatives, points out, streets are actually public space. We think they’re a place for cars to drive and sit (mostly sit), because that is what we’ve gotten used to. His goal is to get us all to think differently.

To that end, his group sponsored a night at the Museum of the City of New York last week called “Streetopia.” Hundreds of people visited three floors of exhibits, all showcasing ways to reclaim the city from automobile dominance, like Barcelona’s “Superblocks.” Choked by traffic, that Spanish city is creating small neighborhoods of about three square blocks and allowing cars to drive only around the perimeter. The chunk of blocks becomes a community — kids can play in the streets again, bicyclists don’t fear cars — while the amount of air and noise pollution plummets.

Another exhibit featured the winners of a contest for how to deal with transit on 14th Street when the L train goes out of service for a year. One idea: Get cars off the block and have buses run every minute.

But the starkest, most perspective-changing exhibit was simply time-lapse footage of a corner of E. 22nd Street where a CitiBike rack sits across from some on-street parking. Over the course of a single day you see people swarming the bike rack, taking bikes out, bringing them back. For a while, almost all the bikes are gone, then the rack fills up again, then off they go. And across the street, taking up twice as much space as the rack, are two cars, just sitting there, parked all day.

You start to realize how much space we have simply ceded to cars, and what a waste that is.

“Parking is a finite public resource,” says White. That space that we think of as the-place-cars-have-a-right-to-sit-all-day could be used differently. It could be used to expand the sidewalk, or make a bike lane. It could be given over to buses. It could become space for businesses to open up cafes or kiosks — and pay taxes on the land. Or it could be planted with grass and turned into a playground. We think of it as “parking” only because we believe that cars have the right to it.

But in fact, the majority of New Yorkers don’t own cars. Why must we sacrifice public land to the minority, for free — especially since studies have shown that 90 percent of people who drive to their Manhattan jobs could get there by public transit?

“For too long the vast majority of New York City’s public space has been dedicated to the convenience of drivers and the storage of cars. The small spaces carved out for pedestrians — crosswalks, sidewalks — leave the public at the mercy of drivers,” says White.

I was talking to a car-owning friend about this, and he said that free parking is no different from free education. Some people don’t own cars, some people don’t have kids. Our taxes pay for schools and on-the-street parking anyway.

But streets are not like schools. Streets are public land that we are giving away. Would we let a private citizen build a house in Central Park? Of course not, because we recognize the park as something that belongs to all of us. It is time to think of our streets that way.

So then: How do we wrest them back from the car owners?

Some alternatives that have been tried elsewhere are working. London charges a giant premium to drive into its business district, and as a result, traffic (and parking) are down, but commerce is not.

Each summer, Paris turns some of its roadways into “beaches,” complete with sand and palm trees. Somehow the Citroens survive.

Los Angeles raised its parking meter fees with the predictable result of cars parking for less time. That means cars are circling for less time, too.

Here in New York, one simple idea is to start charging for all street parking, and give the money to the MTA. Most of us would cheer.

“Streets can be designed for either cars or people, but not both at once,” White said.

It is time to stop giving away New York City’s precious public land.

Lenore Skenazy is founder of Free-Range Kids, a contributor to, and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?”

Posted 12:00 am, July 3, 2017
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Reader feedback

Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
Lenore Skenazy,
Let me guess... you don't own a car. I'm not going to say your piece was the most ridiculous thing I've ever read online, although it is certainly right up there with the winners. I've been driving in this city for 50 years and in doing so I literally spent tens of thousands of dollars to the city to give me the privilege of driving on one of the worst maintained roads I've ever driven on. I'v driven in most states in the USA so I know what I'm talking about. I pay an average of $.50 tax on gallon of gasoline. I pay a registration fee, drivers license fee, $35 inspection fee and absolutely exorbitant tolls, which incidentally most of that cost goes to the MTA already, to give me the privilege to pay for parking now at parking meters. Incidentally I used to pay $.10 an hour to park in the streets. In your wild scheme did you consider how prejudice that is to apartment house dwellers versus homeowners with driveways/garages?
Haven't we done enough to individual store-owners in the city trying to carve out a living already. The city floods the streets with parking meter attendant's ready to trounce on a parked car with an expired meter while the city gives tax abatement to huge multinational businesses that provide free parking at the city limits. It's no wonder the mom-and-pop stores are disappearing.
Have a good day.
July 3, 2017, 4:27 pm
Tim says:
That's right the wealthy can afford parking garages. Why would you want to limit the foot traffic for mom and pop stores? The first thing that needs to be done is to halt anymore citibike stations that take up parking spaces.
July 3, 2017, 4:56 pm
Gene from Sunset Park says:
There are many parking spots taken by out of state licensed cars. Philadelphia which also has similar parking problems to NY, has zoned parking with a permits required to park within the zone. The permits are given to residents living within the zone with cars registered within the zone. This provides more parking for the residents within the zone and I'm sure raises the tax base for the city. Non residents as myself are forced to park in lots and pay the fee or find a public spot without the permit requirements or move my car every couple of hours. NYC should look at this method while also easing up on the driveway restrictions on houses which then would create a second parking spot at each house.
July 4, 2017, 8:16 am
Kahil from Crown Heights says:

I pay taxes, so it's not free. If anyone would like to argue that others pay taxes yet do not have a car, the same can be said for taxes that support education paid by the childless.

This sounds like another pay to play idea that keeps those trying to get a piece of the pie excluded while those who have pie enjoy the city for themselves.

This idea is not goodly.
July 4, 2017, 5:42 pm
JimBob says:
Very bad idea for middle and working class people. This city has been skewed toward the wealthy for a while now. There are other people who live here aside from high income and those with inherited wealth. If you want to charge anyone charge the rich for taking up public spaces. Otherwise, leave things as they are.
July 5, 2017, 3:37 am
I live on my Social Security and wouldn't be able to afford a parking fee. I have driven around for more than `/1 hour looking for a legal parking spot many times. Not only does this waste gas but with a bad knee it's difficult for me to walk without pain. I see many commercial vehicles, including taxis, parked at night on the streets but nothing happens to them as they take up spots in the overnight hours. If the City wants to pay for me to park in a lot, let them, because I certainly can't afford it and I value my freedom to drive to see family and friends and also go shopping.
July 5, 2017, 7:13 pm
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:

Don't take this contributor to seriously. I would imagine that Lenore Skenazy is a relatively new residents to this city that has taken up residence in a relatively new gentrify neighborhood. I could envision her sitting at a sidewalk café sipping on a Strawberry Coolie watching cars going by with disdain because they interfered with her space. Never realizing that the drivers of these cars are real people trying to carve out a piece of the pie in this city that is constantly gnawing away at their quality of life. So, let's tax them out of existence and when she needs to get from point A to point B, she'll just summon Uber with her App.
July 6, 2017, 10:14 am
Gary says:
The yuppies and transplants and the condo industry are ruining NYC.
July 6, 2017, 5:49 pm
Jeff says:
Lenore Skenazy, it's not likely that you have much valuable life experience. What's amazing is that the rag published your nonsense.
July 6, 2017, 11:11 pm
Allan Rosen from Sheepshead Bay says:
What is wrong with your editor? You decide to print an unimportant article about a missing bus stop sign in Bay Ridge in all your editions. However, you believe that Sheepshead Bay readers would have no interest in an important article about DOT's proposal to remove two lanes of general traffic along Kings Highway for the proposed B82 Select Bus Service (SBS) which you omitted from the June 30th Bay News. Are you conspiring with DOT to keep us in the dark about this plan? Why is DOT making presentations only to the Community Board Transportation Committees instead of the full boards as they used to do?

In order to find out the latest information about the B82 plan on the DOT website you have to first click on "Ferries and Buses," then "Bus Rapid Transit," then "Routes," then "Southern Brooklyn," and finally on a link to a presentation. If you mistakenly click on B82 SBS feedback instead of "Routes," you will not see the specific plans but only information that is two years old. (On the MTA website there is no information at all about future SBS routes even if you do a search from within the website.) Information about this plan is intentionally made difficult to find.

The plan will ensure that traffic on the wide portion of Kings Highway will move as slowly as the narrow portion. The plan is to reduce the main road to a single lane in each direction for general traffic, and to narrow the service roads as the city continues its war against cars to intentionally increase traffic congestion. This insanity must stop now.

The buses move at a quick pace along the wide portion of Kings Highway at all times and exclusive bus lanes are not needed there. The buses would even move well if they were on the service roads. The traffic improvements suggested by DOT between Coney Island Avenue and Ocean Avenue can be accomplished without SBS.

You also continually print the anti-car views of Transportation Alternatives' Paul Steely White without attempting any balance. His latest tirade was echoed by your columnist Lenore Skenazy (It's time to put an end to free parking -June 30, 2017). Then he wants to give the money generated to the MTA so they can waste it on dumb ideas like SBS. It isn't working and is helping to further slow down traffic.

There have only been negative comments regarding the newest Brooklyn SBS route, the B46 along Utica Avenue, which requires some riders to pay an extra fare to ride the SBS because it doesn't cover the entire route. The B44 Nostrand Avenue route has fewer paying riders than it had before SBS started in 2013 and has already costed between $6 million and $9 million more to operate.

The MTA and DOT claims there has been much community input when the truth is that most of the B82 meetings have been closed door with the general public excluded. The vast majority of community comments regarding SBS have been disregarded. We still have no SBS stop at Avenue R on the B44. These agencies do whatever they want unless there is massive protest. Then they make a few small modifications as they did along Woodhaven Boulevard. That street will turn into a parking lot this fall when SBS takes effect there.

White states that car owners should not have free parking because streets belong to the people and car owners are in the minority. Yet he is constantly advocating removing traffic lanes to accommodate cyclists. Mr. White, which is a bigger minority car owners or bicyclists? The streets do belong to the people and more people own cars than cycle.

Ms. Skenazy's recent article about a bad student was one of the best I have ever read and the one agreeing with Mr. White, one of the worst. . The proposed B82 SBS is a disaster in the making and the public must rise up to stop it. Enough is enough.
July 7, 2017, 8:32 pm

Comments closed.

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