Brooklyn Magazine

Why Alternate-Side Parking Is One of New York’s Biggest Scams

Earlier this year, many members of the NYPD decided to enact a silent protest against Mayor de Blasio because he’s a cop-hating communist or something and so they stopped writing tickets. This work stoppage only lasted a couple of weeks, during which time the city saw a more than 90% drop in tickets written for minor offenses, including traffic and parking violations. But because the city saw a corresponding decrease in the money it brings in via those very same tickets, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton threatened cops with a cessation of their vacation time and—just like that!—the NYPD’s moral outrage faded and they went back to ticketing drivers and litterers and fare-beaters and people who don’t pick up their dogs’ shit. Oh wait, just kidding, those people clearly never get ticketed or else we wouldn’t be dealing with the curse of a NYC spring aka the sudden emergence of reanimated dog shit that melts along with the snow in long brown streaks down the sidewalk. Happy Spring, everyone!

Anyway: Tickets! As we all know if we’ve been paying attention, this city makes over half a billion dollars a year in parking tickets alone, rendering them one of the most important revenue streams in New York. And as if the NYPD work stoppage weren’t enough of a blow to New York’s coffers, the heavy snow we’ve been receiving for the last month or so has made it impossible for street sweepers to do their jobs, meaning there’d been an ongoing cancellation of alternate-side parking, a system whose byzantine rules mean tickets galore. The era of easy parking briefly ended last Tuesday, before being suspended again until today, when full alternate-side parking rules were announced as being back in affect, much to the chagrin of many drivers. The problem is, of course, even with the return of alternate-side, many streets (including the one pictured above in Windsor Terrace) are virtually un-street-sweepable due to the huge piles of snow and ice that still line them. And as bad as it is today, it was even worse last Tuesday, when many car owners had to dig their vehicles out of snow banks in order to avoid getting a ticket, despite the fact that the promised “snow removal,” which was supposed to be happening in lieu of street-cleaning, didn’t really seem to be happening.

So why put the alternate-side rules back in effect? Why even have them at all? Well, money! Obviously. The fact is that New York City is the only major city in America where streets are cleaned at least twice a week—and the reason why has nothing to do with our lack of cleanliness. In a great Awl article “How the Alternate Side Lives,” Alex Dworkowitz writes “major cities, like Dallas, Philadelphia and Seattle, don’t bother with regularly cleaning residential areas. Those that do, such as San Francisco and Boston, typically sweep each side of residential streets twice a month—one fourth as often as in much of New York City. Boston and Washington, D.C., also cancel street sweeping during the winter .” And some Brooklyn neighborhoods, like Park Slope, have had multi-month suspensions of alternate-side parking with no impact on the area’s cleanliness.

In fact, alternate-side parking seems to be yet another one of those daily stresses that exist only in New York, and serve only two purposes: making the city more money, and making life here quantifiably more stressful. If the city only wanted to prevent things like residents using local streets as long-term parking spaces, there are methods for dealing with that (residential permit systems, for one), which would make parking easier for New York locals, without inducing stress headaches at the thought of spending an hour-and-a-half sitting in their car waiting for alternate-side to be over. (Why drivers can’t put their cars back after the street-cleaner has already passed without fear of being ticketed will forever remain a mystery.) But, of course, the city has no interest in a permit system, or in loosening the existing parking rules, because doing so would mean a loss of tens of millions of dollars, and this city loves doing nothing more than nickel-and-diming its residents until they all run off to California, leaving in their wake trails of blog posts explaining just why it was they left New York: It was the money. It always is.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen