The Destructive Alternate Side Dance

The lure of free parking encourages excessive driving. Most side streets in Manhattan have free parking 24/7, except for a couple of hours a week when they clean the streets. This results in a little dance that happens everyday on NYC's streets that most people shrug off as inconsequential, but in reality serves to destroy quality of life and public health. I call it "The Alternate Side Dance".

On the day when the street cleaning happens on one side of the street, people simply do a quick sidestep and double park across the street. This gift to drivers is in not only a theft of valuable public space from pedestrians, but causes increased ground level pollution and noise.

The other day I decided to document the dance that occurs on my block every alternative side day.

8am: An hour before Alternate Side, the street is still full and you can see a heating oil delivery truck (it's cold out there baby!) double parked, trying to make it's delivery. Which is a better use of scarce public space, a fuel delivery truck or the passenger automobile in it's way?

8:15am: The spots on the left are all still full despite alternate side starting in 45 minutes

8:30am: Still full - when will they move?

8:50am: Like magic, everyone's gone.

Except this one which got a ticket at 9:10am - The traffic cops know how to meet quota.

9:15am: The Double Parking begins. This SUV will idle for over an hour waiting for the end of Alternate Side.

9:30am: Now the whole street is filled with double parked cars! Most are idling causing the street to smell of exhaust

10am: The Street cleaner has just gone by and despite the fact that there is 30 min left in alternate side, they cross over and continue idle until 10:30am.

At least enforcing NYC 3 minute idling and double parking laws would be a good start, but this is a clear giveaway to car owning New Yorkers. We should charge market rates for all parking in Manhattan and make room for necessary delivery trucks.

You know what's most amazing about this? Who are these people that they can get in their cars at 9am and stick around until 11am? Are they housewives? Do they have their kids in the car with them? Are they businessmen? Does that mean that NYC businesses essentially has an unspoken agreement that on Tuesday (or whatever), people don't have to come in until 11 or later? I see this on my street too, although there people usually tend to idle on the side being street cleaned until the truck comes, at which point they momentarily move to the other side.
It looked mostly like semi-retired men in their 50s and 60s, just sitting out reading the paper. I say semi-retired in that I'm not sure if they owned the cars themselves or were paid by the owners. The incentive for onstreet parking is significant. Avoids about $300-400/month in parking fees and is probably closer to their doorstep. Paying a guy $20 bucks to babysit your car twice a week would be well worth it.
I also received this note from a regular reader:

Based on review of 16 mostly American and European studies of cruising conducted between 1927 and 2001, Shoup concludes that cars searching for free parking contribute to over 8% of total traffic. The relevant New York City study was conducted in 1995 by John Falcocchio, Joe Darsin and Elena Prassas.  They concluded the average time drivers took to find a curb space between 8 and 10 a.m. was 7.3 minutes, increasing to 10.6 minutes between 11a.m. and 2 p.m.  According to their research, cruising for curb parking created about 8 percent of the total vehicle miles traveled in west Midtown.

Read more at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Also, I forgot that AD over at Starts and Fits did a great summary of Shoup's work on the lure of free parking and the inherent inequity to non-drivers:
The interesting thing about our autotopia is that as everyone pays for parking except the person using it. For example, shoppers and office workers pay for spaces mandated by the municipality regardless of whether they drive to their store or office or walk or take the bus or train. Shoup figures that 99% of all parking is free to the user. If you ride your bike to the Wal-Mart (imagine that!), part of the money goes to pay for the parking spot you did not use.
I wonder about "parking deregulation."

Selling off parking spaces to private companies would raise huge funds for the city, would reduce or eliminate free parking, and would (with the "deregulation" frame) delight the free-market fundamentalist right currently in power.

Perhaps drivers could be told that companies, with incentive to compete, would  likely offer services to parking consumers which the city cannot -- like shoveling out snowed-in cars, or reparking services when street cleaning happens.  (Such lies are used to sell deregulatory policies in general.)  

Meanwhile, parking is much more difficult and car use in the city goes down.


Funny you should mention this - when I was coming in this morning, I saw a variation of the dance and it started me thinking.

As a DSNY sweeper approached, 3 idling cars pulled away from the curb and parked in the middle of the street at an angle, blocking all other traffic - they waited for the sweeper to pull in to the curb and pass, and then did a Blue Angels type maneuver to'ing and fro'ing until the three in a synchronized ballet movement backed into the orignal spaces, allowing traffic to flow again - but continuing to idle for the remainder of their time.  Did I mention the horns?

In its own way it had a certain beauty, but it made me want to reach for a gun (not that I have one).  I own a car and I pay a small ransom to have it garaged, and I'm paying another small ransom in taxes so these drivers can waste and pollute and raise the hackles of other drivers (the horns and the tension were both apparent).  There oughta be a law.

I should also note that this was on Fifth Avenue, and the drivers were not local residents - at least the cars didn't look like it, and those spaces are usually empty late at night - but rather those who have commuted to the area for work, one to a car.  This is a different situation from the block you wrote about, and underscores the need for a rational restriction on one-person-to-a-car traffic into the City.

btw, PLEASE USE SMALLER jpgs - each appears to be over 2 Megs, they take FOREVER to load, and you're wasting bandwidth, which is costing TOD on every load of the page - each pix is like 2x2 inches on the page, yet 2.3megs x 8 = ~20megs each time the page loads - perhaps you can replace them with something a little more economical in usage of these expensive and rare resources
These are from my own camera and I'm not sure how to reduce their size without lowering the Pixels per photo, which may hurt their quality. Any ideas out there on how to do this?
Use just about any picture viewer/editor (iPhoto if you're Mac) - open each pix, then export as jpg for web use - most have this as an option - if not, there'll be an option to pick size in KB - try to go no bigger than 200K, and rename them so you know they're the smaller versions - also put the pix in a separate folder so you can find them without grabbing the mega pix by mistake - then replace the originals in the post (or on the server - whichever it is)

good luck

In my old town, people can request that their neighborhood requires 'paid parking'. So if you want to park, it is usually something like 1-2$ per hour, and the residents get 1 licence for cheap. If they want more licences per household, the next one is much more expensive. And you also get one for visitors. You know, one with a disk which is only good for a few hours, or a booklet of stamp like tickets that you can use up.

But you have to organize your neighborhood into 'one voice', although that is usually not so difficult if there is a real parking problem.

When the city center introduces paid parking, the next ring will end up with a lot of free-loaders so to speak. So they are the first to request this. Then the next ring does the same. It sakes several years to stabilize it.

But this is in Europe, in the US, things are different.