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

alternate side parking

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


  1. Yes, its all about money, of course it is. But it also about THE STRESS! They want to stress people out so much that they GET RID OF THEIR CARS! There are too many people driving in NYC! And I think some of this strict parking rules are to discourage people from driving at all! We have a pretty ok public transit system that they should be using (although that certainly needs work too!) So I think they are not interested in reducing anyone’s headaches! The more headaches, the fewer drivers, the better off we all are!

  2. As a resident who commutes to work everyday I love alt side parking. If it weren’t for that system, I’d never have a spot when I came home. Why some people who do NOT commute insist on keeping their cars in the city and moving them everyday is beyond me. Residential permit systems would not be the solution that you suggest. With permits and no alt side rules, you’d end up with more cars on the street – not less. Of course, this might apply more to manhattan neighborhoods than more residential Brooklyn streets. But come on – Why the hell do you need a car in the city if you don’t commute everyday anyway. This is the city with the greatest public transportation system in the country. Use it and stop bitching about parking your car which you shouldn’t have here anyway.

  3. There’s more to alternate-side parking than street-sweeping. Con Edison highly relies on being able to access their structures in the street when alt-side parking rules are in effect in order to repair people’s services…

  4. And the new parking meters don’t let you refill the meter before the time runs out w/o paying double. Once I got a parking ticket in a job interview, rather than being able to just top off more time before going in.

  5. It’s a scam, pure and simple. Having to move a car on a residential street 4 times a week is ridiculous use of everyone’s time and energy. If they wish to have street cleaning in Manhattan, great. But to continue the practice in any of the outer city Burroughs is doing nothing but filling the pockets of the city and its unions. The sweepers don’t pick up trash, citizens who live on the streets do. The sweepers just push dirt back and forth. The cars on almost every street in my neighborhood just double park and wait for the sweeper to go by, in most cases they don’t even sweep every street, bypassing streets that are to narrow, since everyone is double parked.
    Its a racket for the city which is doing nobody a real service.
    Issue residential parking permits for your zip code – it works for other cities, and they are much cleaner than ours. 2x a month street cleaning would be fine. Replace the unused sweepers with pedestrian street officers – ticket houses that don’t clean in front of their own homes. Civic pride is a wonderful thing.

  6. If you don’t commute you should’ve have a car in this city. People like you are funny. You complain about parking but don’t realize how difficult parking would become without the parking restrictions. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for two years now without and a car and just recently brought my car her so that I can drive it to my parents in NC at the end of the month. It was stored in Cincinnati and I can already see the expenses and headaches adding up. I can only imagine the hell of trying to park in the winter.

    There simply isn’t enough space for everyone to own a car in a city as densely populated as new york. period.

  7. Just make the cost of the parking permits high enough to cover the cost of administration and the cost of lost alt side tickets. Easy peasy.

  8. Street cleaning is twice a week on my street in Greenpoint – problem is, they don’t actually come clean my street a week… NYC rip off.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here