Should New York City Reserve Parking Spots for Residents Only?

NYTimes.pngBy Winnie Hu and Corey Kilgannon

One after another, the cars with out-of-state license plates roll off the George Washington Bridge into Pedro Richiez’s neighborhood in northern Manhattan. They circle the blocks. They nab parking spots as soon as they open up.

“It’s been getting worse over the years,” said Mr. Richiez, 50, a building superintendent, as he sat in his blue minivan on West 176th Street for two hours on Tuesday waiting for a parking spot. “All these outsiders driving in and parking in our neighborhood and then hopping on the subway downtown, instead of paying for a parking garage in Midtown.”

Now, some New Yorkers want to take back parking spots for neighborhood drivers — again. If there are some ideas that never seem to go away — congestion pricing anyone? — residents’ parking is surely one of them.

The idea is to relieve some of the parking pressure on city residents by reserving up to 80 percent of the coveted curbside spots in some neighborhoods for those with permits — and essentially declaring those parking places off limits to suburban commuters and tourists. While such residential parking permits are a mainstay around the country, including in Boston, Washington and Chicago, the system has never advanced in New York City despite repeated attempts over the years — in part because it would require state approval.

This time, enthusiasm for the proposal has spurred not one, but two separate City Council bills, both of which are to be introduced Wednesday. Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill and is the chairman of the Council’s transportation committee, is calling for a citywide residential parking program. Three fellow Council members — Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal and Keith Powers, all representing Manhattan districts — are proposing a more limited program for the borough, from 60th Street to Manhattan’s northern tip, on both the East and West sides.

“This has always been popular with residents,” said Mr. Levine, a Democrat whose district includes Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights. “And their frustration now is boiling over.”

Mr. Levine added that he has received more complaints in recent years from residents who are increasingly competing for free curbside parking with commuters from New Jersey and Westchester County. “For one reason or another, they are dumping their cars uptown and that’s crowding out neighborhood residents,” he said.

Both bills, if approved, would charge the city’s Department of Transportation with developing the details of a residential parking program — where and when the permits would be required, how much they would cost and any penalties for violations — with input from community boards and elected officials.

Under the proposals, a residential permit system would exclude parking spots that are metered or in commercial zones used for deliveries. It would apply to residential streets, including side streets, at certain times such as rush hours.

A spokeswoman for Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the speaker was reviewing the bills. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the mayor would review the bills when they were introduced.

But state legislative leaders and city transportation officials emphasized that any residential parking program would still require the approval of the Legislature, though Mr. Levine said he believed the city had the authority to act without Albany. At least 20 localities, including Albany and Buffalo, have received state legislation authorizing some form of residential parking, but not New York City.

“We haven’t seen the details of the proposals and we would have to review the issue with our members,” said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx.

In 2011, the City Council pushed residential parking permits, spurred by concerns that the soon-to-open Barclays Center in Brooklyn would draw heavy traffic that would pose a danger to pedestrians, worsen pollution and make parking even more difficult to find. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s 2008 plan for congestion pricing also included residential parking permits. Neither effort got much traction in Albany.

Mr. Rodriguez said he has been talking to state legislators to build support for residential parking permits, and would also be looking at other legal options. He said he would be holding a hearing on the bills in the next few months. Both Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Levine said they would work together and viewed their separate bills going hand-in-hand to create a comprehensive parking policy for the city.

The proposals drew criticism from nonresidents like Oscar Lopez, 28, who drove his white BMW with New Jersey plates off the George Washington Bridge on Tuesday and immediately began looking for parking. “This is a public street, and if I spend an hour looking for a parking space, I have just as much right as anyone to have it,” he said.

Other drivers opposed what they saw as an effort by the city to regulate parking. Kevin Sacco, 66, a commercial artist in Morningside Heights who had parked in the neighborhood Tuesday, said that securing parking spots was a vital part of New Yorkers’ hustle, and government should not get involved.

Richard Weigel, 73, a retired history professor who lives in Kentucky but spends weeks at a time in Manhattan, said that finding one’s own parking space was a longstanding city tradition, “and I don’t see it working any other way.”

“I know some people feel that New Yorkers have more of a right to New York City parking spaces,” he said. “But New York thrives by having people who drive into the city to work, too.”

But Mr. Richiez, the building superintendent, said residential parking permits were just what neighborhood drivers needed. In fact, he and his neighbors have already begun to “team up” to keep parking local. One neighbor preparing to pull out will wait until another gets into position to take the spot.

“A lot of suburban areas have their own resident parking permits, so why can’t we have them in New York City,” he said. “Out-of-towners see my neighborhood as free parking in Manhattan. I say it should be kept for the locals.”

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