Upper Manhattan residents who own cars aren’t just competing with their neighbors for parking. The area is also popular with New Jersey motorists who drive over the George Washington Bridge, dump their cars, and hop on the A train. Or New York suburbanites who come down 9A, lock their cars north of Dyckman Street, and get on the 1.
Local drivers say they're sick of endlessly circling the block searching for parking because these interlopers are using Washington Heights and Inwood as their free parking lot. Now some local legislators think they have a solution: residential parking permits.
“Commuters from other parts of the region do not have a God-given right to park for free on our residential streets,” said City Council member Mark Levine at a press conference this week.
Levine represents part of Washington Heights as well as other areas along the west side of Manhattan. He and other Council members introduced a bill yesterday that would reserve 80 percent of local parking spaces for residents, from 60th Street to 220th Street in Inwood. It wouldn’t include main arteries like Broadway, metered spots, or spots reserved for deliveries.
A second, similar bill that would cover all of New York City and would have permit fees was introduced by Council member Ydanis Rodriguez , who chairs the Transportation Committee and represents parts of Washington Heights and Inwood.
Any residential parking permit plan would need to be authorized by Albany. Brooklyn Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon and Walter Mosley introduced a bill that would do just that a year ago.
Upper Manhattan Facebook groups were peppered with comments from residents in favor of the bill. One of these was Inwood resident Jesse Levit, who says he can circle for up to an hour looking for parking. He said permits work well in his hometown of Oakland, Calif., where there are regulations during business hours that exempt permit holders.
“People say it’s important to have out-of-the-area businesses supporting our neighborhood, but it’s also important to support residents paying taxes, who need to own cars for whatever reason,” Levit said.
Levit said he himself needs a car, because he’s a musician who plays out of town gigs, sometimes hundreds of miles away. And parking garages are just too expensive. But he said permits may not actually solve the problem in Inwood, where many out of state cars visit the parks and clubs on evenings and weekends, not during business hours.
Cars with out of state plates taking up precious curb real estate isn’t a new issue, and it isn’t limited to Upper Manhattan. About 10 years ago, the Department of Transportation conducted a study on the parking situation in Park Slope. Between 23 percent and 34 percent of license plates were from out of state.
Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, points out that the cars with non-New York plates MAY actually be from out of state — but they also might be owned by New Yorkers who are fraudulently registering their cars elsewhere in order to avoid higher fees.
A 2011 State Senate report found that these drivers cost the city almost $73 million in unpaid parking tickets and $1 million annually in license plate, title and registration fees.
Parking permits would hopefully curb those scofflaws, too.
But the important thing, White said, is that permits would establish a cost for parking at the curb for residents.
“Right now it’s a total free-for-all — it’s not regulated, it’s under-priced. Half of all traffic is motorists circling the block incessantly, and permits discourage that and encourage turnover,” White said. “It’s an opportunity to usher in long-overdue parking reform...and a prerequisite for a politically palatable congestion pricing plan.”
So, residents are for it; some city council members are for it; and some safe streets advocates are for it (some have reservations about the legislation). But city leadership seems...conflicted.
On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “I think it’s a really complex idea, meaning I think there’s some real merit, and I think there’s some big challenges at the same time.” He said it’s worth studying, but “there are some good things, but there’s also a lot of unintended consequences.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said something similar yesterday: “I think there are pluses and minuses.I understand there are many folks that live in communites across the city who find it very frustrating that they can’t find parking in their neighborhoods, but we’re also trying to disincentivize cars in New York City.”
He was looking forward, he said, to reviewing the bills.
White is encouraged by Johnson’s remarks and agrees with Johnson that it’s important to discourage car use. “And residential parking permits will begin to set a fair price. There’s no cost associated with motor vehicle storage on city streets right now — which is what it is — and there should be,” he said.