City Council member Margaret Chin is joining with a coalition of colleagues to fight the rampant abuse of parking placards — municipal credentials that allow a vehicle to occupy a curbside space that would otherwise be illegal.
Along with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and three other members of the City legislature, she is co-sponsoring a package of five bills that would create a standardized application process for City-issued parking permits; require at least 50 targeted enforcement sweeps each week; mandate the towing of any vehicle blocking a sidewalk, crosswalk, fire hydrant, bike lane, or bus lane; and require the city’s 311 call center to accept complaints and photographs related to illegal parking by placard holders.
“Placard abuse has become the norm throughout many neighborhoods, including on the already heavily congested streets of Lower Manhattan, particularly in Chinatown and Battery Park City,” Ms. Chin said. “We cannot allow the status quo to continue if we are to ensure the safety of our streets for pedestrians and the general public. These new bills will take placard abuse seriously and invest in strong and smart enforcement measures to hold serial placard abusers accountable.”
Mr. Johnson added, “placard abuse is corruption, plain and simple, and New York City cannot tolerate it any longer. We are in a transportation crisis and the question of how we allocate our street space is of paramount importance. As we try to fight congestion and encourage modes of transportation like buses and cycling, it is clear that cracking down on placard abuse has to be part of any serious attempt to make navigating our City easier and more efficient.”
The comparison between corruption and using placards (which are supposed to facilitate official business or activity by government personnel in an emergency) is striking. Many dozens of law enforcement personnel use placards to park each day throughout Battery Park City (and hundreds more do the same throughout Lower Manhattan) in spaces that are off limits to people not fortunate enough to have such credentials. And the value of such a privilege is substantial.
Daily parking in a local garage runs, on average, to more than $50. Extrapolated to five days per week, and 50 weeks per year (allowing two off for vacation), this comes to $12,500. But the person paying this amount would have to earn approximately $16,000 before taxes in order to cover such an expense.
Alternately, parking illegally requires an even-larger budget, because the City’s parking enforcement agents are authorized to write repeated tickets to a single vehicle for the same violation throughout the day. But assume, conservatively, that a vehicle parked illegally is ticketed just twice each day (for the same numbers of days described above), and that each summons carries a fine of $101: the average price of a parking ticket in Battery Park City, which is tied for the highest anywhere in the five boroughs, according to a 2017 study by SpotAngels ( a smartphone app that offers users real-time data about available street parking options nearby). In this hypothetical, the cost of the privilege rises to $50,500 per year, or more than $65,000 before taxes.
In either scenario, hundreds of government employees appear to be helping themselves to an illegal gratuity worth tens of thousands of dollars per year. In an era when a police officer would fear serious consequences for accepting a free sandwich from a sidewalk vendor, this raises sobering questions about integrity.
At the October 23 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), chairperson Tammy Meltzer observed that, “vehicles with law enforcement placards park illegally along the entire length of River Terrace each day. This leads to parents and kids trying to cross the street by stepping out from between illegally parked cars.”
According to the SpotAngels study, the Financial District is the most hostile environment for parkers anywhere in the five boroughs, with an average of 25 tickets written for each parking space every year, and each space subsidizing City government with about $2,219 per year. (This is twice the average for Manhattan as a whole, where each parking space disgorges an average of $1,093 in annual revenue.) In FiDi, this amounts to 118,289 violations written every 12 months. With an average fine of $89.10 per ticket, these summonses contribute an annual $10,537,000 to municipal revenue.
In Tribeca, the outlook is only slightly less grim. In that neighborhood, every parking space is the location for 18 violations per year, ringing an additional $1,559 on the municipal cash register. This totals up to 71,215 annual tickets for the community as a whole, with an average price $87.60, yielding $6,236,236 in funds for the City.
And if parking in Lower Manhattan is generally difficult, within Battery Park City, it borders on the impossible. The neighborhood is, in statistical terms, the most parking-deprived community in the five boroughs of New York City. With a residential population of more than 13,000 (and another 10,000 reporting here for work each day), it has just 201 parking spaces available to the public, of which 58 are metered and 143 are unregulated, except by alternate-side parking rules. (These figures come from a City Department of Transportation study, issued in 2008, the last year for which detailed numbers are available.) While there is ample curb space within the community’s 92 acres (enough for more than 1,600 parking spaces), 59 percent of it falls within zones that are signed “no standing” (785 spaces) and “no parking” (581 spaces). Much of the rest is set aside for commercial vehicles, buses, and vehicles displaying government placards.
Making matters worse, as many as half of these spaces that remain are commandeered each day by police officers and other government officials displaying placards. This problem became worse in 2014 when the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force (an arm of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration) rented 56,000 square feet of office space at Brookfield Place. This unit brings more than 250 law enforcement personnel from a dozen-plus agencies (including the NYPD, the FBI, the DEA, Customs, United States Secret Service, the New York State Police, the New York City Department of Correction, and the New York State Division of Parole) to Battery Park City each day. Because the cars they use for undercover work need to be concealed, these are stored in 130 garage spaces within 250 Vesey Street. That means, however, that the personal vehicles these officers and agents take to and from work are almost invariably parked (often illegally) on the streets nearby.
In particular, the west side of River Terrace, between Chambers and Vesey Streets (where there is no legal parking whatsoever), appears to function as a vast, unofficial parking lot for vehicles displaying placards. This was the subject of an extended discussion at the September, 2017 meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, where Luis Sanchez, then the City Department of Transportation’s borough commissioner for Lower Manhattan noted that, “the principal regulation is along the west side, where there’s no standing any time. That is there because it’s a tight roadway, and River Terrace cannot safely accommodate two-way traffic and still have two parking lanes. So it’s there for safety reasons.”
Several members of the Battery Park City Committee pointed out that the curb on the west side of River Terrace is always blocked with cars (albeit, those that parked illegally, but with impunity, because of placards) regardless of this regulation. They also noted that such a policy effectively creates a free parking lot for law-enforcement personnel with credentials that effectively make them immune from parking tickets. Mr. Sanchez answered, “I know placards illegally park there. But because they illegally park there doesn’t mean I’m going to change the regulation, because then I’d be putting in a substandard design.”
Mr. Sanchez added, “the ‘no standing’ regulation is the strictest one we have. Whether you have a placard or not, you should not be there. Placards are allowed in no parking zones, in commercial zones, but not in no-standing zones. They should not be there. And if they are, they should be ticketed by somebody.”
When Ms. Meltzer pointedly asked, “so you’re asking us to have the police police the police?” Mr. Sanchez shrugged and said nothing further.
Adding insult to penury, while City parking enforcement agents ignore illegally parked vehicles displaying police credentials, they sometimes tickets legally parked cars in Battery Park City. A 2016 study by Ben Wellington, a professor at the Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning found that over a 30 months period, the New York Police Department (NYPD) wrote 116 tickets (carrying fines totaling more than $19,000) for a legal parking space on Chambers Street, in front of Stuyvesant High School.
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