Where (not) to Park in New York

Car ownership in the city is an expensive, needlessly complicated enterprise. 

When my wife and I first decided to relocate to New  York, one of our first major decisions was to give up one of our two cars.  Even though we intended to live in the “boroughs” (which for you non-New Yorkers means any part of New York City that is not Manhattan), we reasoned that one car should be sufficient, especially given the prominence of public transportation.

This was not an easy decision, since for most of our adult lives, having a car represented a degree of independence. By relying on a single vehicle for two people, we were each becoming somewhat less self-sufficient.

After six months of living here, I’m not sure we made the right decision.  I think we might have been better off not having a car at all.

The reasons for this are three-fold: transportation realities, cost, and the nightmare of “New York car management.”

In our everyday lives, we seldom drive.  We both have unlimited passes for New  York’s public transit system, which is absolutely world-class.  At any time of day or night, we can move from one point in the city to another with relative ease.  Sure, public transit involves a certain amount of waiting, detours, and Encounters with Weird People, but overall the system is efficient, reliable, and accessible.  Also, it gives me time to read, which is a major plus in my book.

For the few times we actually use the car (we have filled up the tank a total of three times in the last six months), the costs of owning one are tremendous.  Even with my flawless driving record, and my wife’s almost-sterling record, the insurance costs are quite high.   Add to these a car payment, and the miscellaneous fees of registration, and the amount becomes quite significant.  Unfortunately, there is an additional layer of costs associated with having a car, and which fall under my broader heading of “New York car management.”

New York’s greatest shortcoming relates to the problem of having too many people in too little space.  Parking is not an exception.  For reasons I may never fully understand, the city does not have many parking garages, and most parking in Flushing is on surface streets.  For the vast majority of those streets, there is a one-and-a-half hour period each week where the street becomes “no parking” for street sweepers.  This means that even if you don’t intend on driving regularly, at least once per week a driver must move the car to a new spot, circling for many minutes to find one of the few available spaces.  If you are spatially challenged (i.e. can’t parallel park), this is even more difficult.  I’m looking at you, mirror.

Even when a spot is located, one must take great care to check, and double-check, that the spot is in fact legal.  Parking restrictions are not always well-marked or clear, and often the signs are contradictory.  The parking cops are everywhere, and they are fast to pounce.  I have received tickets when the “no parking” sign was facing the wrong spot, when my parking tag inadvertently flipped upside-down on my dashboard, and several times while waiting for registration documents.  The appeals process is heavily weighted against the driver, with a barely-rebuttable presumption of guilt.

Last week, after many minutes of circling, I found a spot that was clearly marked “no parking Fridays 10-11:30,” which is as close as New  York will give you to a “yes, it’s okay to park here” indication.  As it was Friday evening, I parked, patted myself on the back, and went about my life.  On Saturday, I happened past and discovered that my car was no longer there.

At this point, like any jaded New York driver, I looked around to ascertain where, exactly, I had screwed up.  It turns out that there was a construction awning, which has been a feature of this portion of road for months without any actual construction taking place.  Halfway up the scaffolding, all but invisible unless one crossed the street and looked back at it, was a dark sign that said “no standing anytime.”  They had busted me; I had been towed.

Retrieving a car from the self-styled “tow pound” is quite difficult, as they did not think to put said “pound” on any major lines of public transportation.  The facility is located in a neighborhood from which one might not return, particularly if you walk through it at night.  The cost of retrieving a vehicle is over $200, which includes “storage fees,” even for the days they are not open.  These are, of course, in addition to the ticket.

In my current position, having a car is a big plus; it allows me to quickly commute to Nassau county for court appearances, or to Queens if time precludes public transit.  However, the city seems to be doing everything in its power to make owning a car and obeying its parking rules difficult.  Our family includes two professionals, and we struggle with the costs.  I cannot imagine how out-of-reach it makes car ownership to people with smaller incomes.  Moreover, for those who are less fluent in English, the misleading, deceptive, and contradictory parking regulations must be a cash-cow for the city’s finances.

Perhaps that is the point, to make car ownership an unattractive option and encourage the more environmentally-friendly practice of public transit.  While I acknowledge the merit of that goal, the effect of New York’s parking regulations is to make car ownership an option only available to a small segment of its population, and not a very attractive option, at that.



Published in: on August 7, 2013 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://andrewdgrossman.com/2013/08/07/where-not-to-park-in-new-york/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. mmmmmm. And then there’s the bay area with more and more congestion, less parking, more parking restrictions, BART on strike, parking rate increases. mmmmmm

    Miss U guys, hugs, mikki

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: