06 June 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


New York City's Parking Problem

Every once in a while, something truly unexpected happens to me.  Last night at about 04:30, the well respected mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, called me on the telephone and requested my assistance in solving the parking problem in his great city across the river.  Although I don't remember the exact details about how much I was to be paid, or to whom to send the bill, I do recall agreeing to offer my suggestions.  I have been reasonably fortunate in my vehicular parking interactions with NYC.  In the many times that I have parked there, both briefly and overnight, I have had the following adverse events:

  • The car was broken into and a home-made CD player mounting bracket was stolen.
  • I got a parking ticket for overstaying a meter.
  • My car was "stolen" while parked in a perfectly reasonable area at a perfectly reasonable time, where I had parked legally many times before.  When I went to make a police report, the desk officer was kind enough to advise me that there used to be a disco where I had parked, and so parking wasn't permitted after 23:00
  • My trunk was jimmied open and, unsurprisingly, there was nothing to steal.

All in all, neither a tragic nor costly assortment, although the towaway incident was sufficiently vexing at the time to cause me to boycott NYC for a year, with ruinous economic consequences to the chocolate shops.  I eventually got over it.

I offer this preamble to prove that I am not unacquainted with the practical aspects of NYC parking.  I also am not a NYC driving wimp, as many Jerseyites are.  Cabs don't scare me at all, and exchanging dings can be something of a sport.  So the following suggestion is not strictly hypothetical; it is informed by many hours of observation and perhaps a few experiments as well.

The Purpose of Vehicular Traffic

Mayor Mike didn't impose any theoretical inhibitions on my solution.  To be sure, there are plenty of sensible arguments that begin "Idiot - why take a car into NYC to begin with?"  (Many of which I endorse, by the way.)  But I was just asked to address these issues:

  1. Make the traffic move more smoothly.
  2. Make parking easier.

OK!  Why doesn't traffic move more smoothly?  The obvious:  There are other vehicles in the way.  Many of them are parked or double parked, legally or illegally.

Why is parking so difficult?  The obvious:  There aren't enough parking places.  On the one hand, parking is theoretically possible on both sides of every street, yielding an enormous number of spaces.  On the other, there are so many exceptions - bus stops, fire hydrants, special spots for reporters, diplomats, hotels, and so forth, as well as time restrictions, e.g., no parking 8AM to 6PM, that many streets are useless for parking.

What's the solution to both problems?

Make more parking legal.  There is always somebody parked in the curb lane on both sides of the street, legally or otherwise.  This makes the curb lanes useless for traffic.  Why not recognize this?  Make curb parking legal, anywhere, any time day or night.  Bus stops?  Forget 'em!  How much effort is it to walk a few feet to a bus?  Fire hydrants?  Make it illegal to park directly in front of one and forget the lengthy zones.  If there's room for a hose, you're OK.  Meters?  Fine!  Add more - it will raise revenue and encourage turnover.  Combine them with the fire hydrants - synergy! 

Make "double parking" illegal.  I don't mean just "illegal, subject to a fine."  I mean verboten.  Double-secret illegal.  Genocide-crimes-against-humanity illegal.  Confiscate the car-and-contents illegal.  Have a prowling Chinook heavy-lift helicopter with a grapple and a welcoming river on each side of your island illegal.  You want traffic to flow?  Forget the curb lanes and keep the rest of the road clear!  If someone stops for longer than enough time to discharge or pick up his passengers, disappear his vehicle.  A few well-publicized splashes as the Hudson hits the Hudson will make the point clear.  Of course there won't be enough Chinooks to benefit all the double-parkers, but fines starting at a kilobuck and other draconian measures are also available.

That's it!  Of course there are some things to work out.  Presumably the streets have to be cleaned at some point.  Weekends downtown, one day a week uptown.  Better scheduling of the cleaners could cut the dreaded "alternate side" waste down quite a bit. 

I'm forwarding this to the Mayor as he requested (MrMayorMike@nyc.ny.us).  I know that he'll have more questions, and if I give it all away right now then it may take longer to put my check in the mail.  Or to drive it over from City Hall.

Richard Factor