Do Alternate Side Parking Rules Increase Traffic Congestion?

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Our regular babysitter Laura, an R train commuter, is out of town this week. Nicole, the woman providing us with back-up nanny service for our 1-year-old, travels to our house, in Park Slope, in a mini-van. This morning she noted, quite happily, that there was so little traffic on her way from Ocean Parkway that she was trying to figure out what holiday it must be.

We live on Union Street between 4th and 5th Avenue, and as I biked our 3-year-old up to school at 8th Avenue and Garfield around 8:45 a.m., I also noticed what seemed to be a distinct lack of morning rush hour chaos in the neighborhood. Union Street was unusually mellow. Except for the usual delivery trucks, 5th Avenue seemed weirdly empty. Seventh Avenue looked pretty busy but traffic was really moving on 8th Avenue, which is sometimes very backed up in the morning. Only one car passed us as we biked up First Street.

As has been noted repeatedly and in oddly gleeful fashion by the New York Times, the Department of Transportation has suspended alternate side parking regulations in Park Slope for the summer. And while the press and Community Board types have mostly obsessed over how the new rules will impact residents’ parking availability, the more interesting and important question may be how the suspension is impacting traffic congestion and VMT (vehicle miles traveled) on local streets.

Certainly Nicole’s and my Wednesday morning observations aren’t enough to draw any conclusions. But how’s this for a hypothesis: A measurable amount of New York City’s traffic congestion, at least in some neighborhoods, is created by car owners moving their vehicles to comply with alternate side parking regulations. Eliminating or changing the regulations could help to reduce traffic congestion, vehicle miles traveled, pollution and carbon emissions on New York City’s streets.

Park Slope is the laboratory this summer. How might one go about testing the hypothesis?

Photo: Entobox/Flickr

  • andrew

    I have noticed traffic alot thinner since the spike in gas prices of the last few weeks, plus I have also seen alot more 4 sale signs on SUVs.

    I do also think that people are so afraid of loosing their spot in Park Slope that they are no using their car.

  • MAA

    Interesting observation; seems to be along the same lines as the argument for more taxi stands. Where I live in Queens there are no alternate side rules and as I heard from a potential city council candidate last night, the reason they have fought DOT and Sanitation is because they think they can do a better job keeping their streets clean. Has that argument been used by any in Park Slope?

  • Clarence

    Calling Dr. Shoup! Help!!

    Maybe he can fly overhead and using his parking policy powers and tell us what is up.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (A measurable amount of New York City’s traffic congestion is created by car owners moving their vehicles to comply with alternate side parking regulations.)

    Lots of weeks it’s the only driving I do. And I spend a lot more time crusing for a space on Sunday and Monday night, when the car has to be on the good side for Monday and Tuesday. No problem parking on my block any other time. (Of course I now have the option of parking a few blocks away indefinately)!

    But the streets need to be cleaned, if not as often as they are. In fall the catch basins clog with leaves too much as it is.

    I’ve tried to think of a way around this, but have been unsuccesful. The two days each week are easy to remember. If the streets were cleaned every other week, people might forget, and it would become even more of a mental burden than it is. Once a month on a particular date would end up on the weekend lots of the time, when Sanitation workers want to be with their families and would charge OT.

    On Room 8, as a way to create more “open space,” I suggested changing the pattern so instead of ONE neighborhood having one side of ALL streets cleaned on a particular day, ONE street would have BOTH sides cleaned on the same day ACROSS several neighborhoods.

    That would cut alternate side to one day rather than two on any one street, and would have less curb space in a given neighborhood off limits to parking on any one day (one fifth of the curb space rather than one-half).

    I suggested that the streets being cleaned be otherwise closed to motor vehicle traffic as “play streets” through dinner time, so there would be a play street in every neighborhood on every day of the week. The noise of kids playing would shift around. Kind of like a block party on one of every five streets every day. I’m not sure if this would make the sweepers travel more miles or fewer.

    In any event, there is another side to this. My kids know the “daddy can you come pick me up” spiel is absolutely hopeless on Sunday and Monday, because we don’t want to lose a legal spot. A convenient excuse to tell the kid to get home before it is too late on their own. That cuts VMT.

  • Mark Walker

    Cars deteriorate when not used for long periods. I say let ’em park permanently, especially the ones who can’t afford to replace their cars.

  • paul

    another alternative is to creatively use angled parking. every week the angled parking configuration on a given block could be changed to enable street cleaning. cars would not circle around, but they would just shuffle around on the same street. Moving to angled parking would not decrease parking spaces, but could, especially if the angled parking were arranged in opposing chicane-like clusters, wslow traffic and create play or park nooks or even bike parking.

  • Car Free Nation

    Let’s give each neighborhood a choice:
    1) Park free, but move your car twice a week, or 2) pay a small fee (say $1/day), and apply the money to pay for a person with a broom like they have in Paris.

    Even though I think charging for parking has other benefits, I suspect that the city woudn’t even have to charge more because the person with the broom will turn out to be more economical than the street cleaning machines that Sanitation uses (when you consider maintenance and fuel).

  • There has been noticeably less automobile traffic during my commute up First Avenue from Chinatown to the Upper East Side lately (there has been an increase in bicycle traffic though!). I was thinking it was because of higher gas prices.

    Once I get to work though, I have been noticing a large increase in traffic in the neighborhood (Metropolitan Museum environs).

    Not sure what to make of this.

  • bicylebelle

    Having to move a car for street cleaning four times a week is a major disincentive to owning a car, especially for anyone who doesn’t intend to use the car daily. If street cleaning rules were permanently suspended, I wonder if more people would keep cars and overall congestion would therefore not decrease.

  • Spud Spudly

    Makes sense to me. When you don’t make half the spots in the neighborhood illegal all at the same time they’ll be fewer people driving around looking for a good place to park. I like Larry’s once-a-week block party idea.

  • Jacob

    Isn’t Wednesday the typical day when no one is required to move their cars. If I recall correctly, most of the regulations require moving vehicles Monday & Thursday or Tuesday & Friday.

    If alternate side parking was the cause of a significant portion of traffic, then Wednesdays should generally show the clear conditions that you are describing here. Is that the case in your neighborhood? If not, might there be other factors that contribute to the traffic reduction seen recently (vacations, high gas prices, etc.)?

  • gecko

    Since it seems that people like parking spots even more than their cars they should try permanently parking cars three high and see how that effects traffic.

  • Geck

    I have long argued that the current alternate side rules increase driving. It is not only the ritual of moving the car ahead of the no parking times, but people who end up driving to work because their space will become a no parking zone. In fact, alternate side rules favor those who drive every day as they can easily find and use “undesirable” spaces as they will use their car again before parking is prohibited the next morning. Once a month street cleaning, though harder to keep track of, would probably suffice in most residential areas.

  • lee

    so what happens on sundays in the summer when park slopers leave town for the weekend and people from surrounding neighborhoods scoop up the spots?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It is not only the ritual of moving the car ahead of the no parking times, but people who end up driving to work because their space will become a no parking zone.”

    A City Planning study in the 1990s (not sure if it was ever released) found more people driving to Manhattan from Queens on days when it was alternate side in their ‘hood than on other days.

  • KOB

    I live on Staten Island where there is no alternate side parking or street cleaning and the streets are perfectly clean. I have a big problem with those street cleaners, in my opinion they don’t do anything. They just push dirt around and kick it up into the air for everyone to breath in. It is also a gimmick for the city to make money by handing out tickets.
    The whole thing is totally unnecessary and Park Slope will prove it this summer.

  • Car Free Nation

    I don’t drive, and I hate the street cleaning. The cars are double parked, making cycling dangerous. People often get blocked in, and then honk their horns. And the street cleaners don’t do that good a job anyway.

    Let’s just charge a bit for parking so people don’t keep their cars in one spot forever…

  • David

    When I lived in New Orleans (French Quarter), the street cleaning alternated. I forget the details, but it was like Tuesday morning–N-S streets, Thursday morning–E-W streets.

  • Mitch

    In some parts of Madison, the no parking rules are in effect one day a week (my side of the street has no parking Tuesday morning; the other side has no parking on Monday morning).

    Other neighborhoods have no regular schedule. When the city wants to sweep these streets, they post day-glo orange temporary signs a few days before the event, and then they ticket any cars that are blocking the sweeper. It works reasonably well.

  • jmc

    It seems pretty unnecessary to me, many cities don’t have alternate side parking regulations and keep their streets cleaner than New York. It is a rather parochial regulation, in my opinion.

    Could it be because of the necessity of throwing out trash into the street ?

  • al

    more trash cans and more frequent trash pickups would make the streets cleaner.

    i’d be interested to know how much alternate side regulations affect people’s decisions to keep cars in the city. it didn’t affect mine, and i live in a 4 times a week neighborhood. and really 4 times a week might make sense if we were living without sewage systems or something. but as it is, it’s definitely just increasing traffic and making folks surly.

  • Ed

    It seems like a total scam, this street cleaning. Those street cleaners do absolutely nothing but shuffle the dust around. There are plenty of neighborhoods around the city that do not have to deal with this burden and their streets are no dirtier.

    On the other hand, it creates an amazing amount of stress and undue burden for car owners; as if drivers don’t have enough things to deal with in NY.

    As someone mentioned above, it’s also quite a burden on cyclists. Even more hostility is created when sharing the even further-limited street space due to double-parked cars. I’ve noticed lately that on streets that have bike lanes, the bike lane is left clear and cars are double-parked on the other side. This creates quite a bit of danger for cyclists and the risk of being doored is increased, not to mention that on every block at least one inconsiderate parker will block the bike lane anyway, pushing the cyclist into the even further limited space on the main roadway.

    It also makes it hard to go on vacation without having to go and take a spot in someone else’s neighborhood where alternate side parking is not active. As well, I despise having to drive to work when I’d rather ride my bike, but can’t because the car has to be moved and everyone and their mother is out on the street trying to find a spot.

    With the sharply rising gas prices, maybe the city could regain the lost revenue of suspended alternate parking regulation by shelving those damn street cleaner machines and cutting down on brownies, saving everyone a whole lot of hassle in the process.

  • Tomm

    Street cleaning (and the parking rules it requires) is yet another institution kept going by the thoroughly unimaginative yet powerful political class in NYC. It is truly idiotic.

    Streets could be kept much cleaner by workers with brooms. Yet, horrors!, that would require actual manual labor.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (It is also a gimmick for the city to make money by handing out tickets.)

    Well, you can collect money to maintain the streets by fines, which Alternative Side produces in abundance. Or just charge to park on the street, and use that money to maintain the huge share of public space occupied by cars.

    I’d choose the latter. If the revenues could somehow by prevented from being borrowed against or diverted (fat chance), at least the streets would be maintained.

  • spamboy

    I’m from London and find the idea of alternate side parking absolutely crazy. We don’t do it, we have the streets swept by a guy with a trolley and a broom. Works fine.

    That said I’d consider getting a car if parking weren’t such a nightmare, so maybe other people would too.

  • Toni

    I live in Chelsea and was working in Flushing where there is no alternate side of the street parking. I wonder if there is a way to find a map of streets in the boroughs where there is no alternate side of the street parking. I recently got a job that is walking distance from my apartment. I may sell the car but for now, I just need to find a place to park it. The alternate side parking in Manhattan is just ridiculous. I don’t understand why once per week on each side is not enough for cleaning. That’s how it is in other cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

  • jack green

    CHALK THE TIRES and see who moves. I noticed when there is a blizzard nobody moves. I have never moved my car without the very next car wanting my spot. Conclusion? Everyone is looking for parking. However, without street cleaning THERE WOULD BE NO PARKING.

  • galvo

    wonder how many long term parking spots in this area are sold on craigs list?

  • Street-sweeping will stop being necessary when people stop being slobs, in other words, never. Ever get a look at a City street-corner trash can after at 6 p.m. on a summer Sunday? The rational person would refrain from putting trash on top of a giant overflowing mound or on the ground next to the trash can, keeping it on one’s person until one encountered a less-than-stuffed can. The typical New Yorker, however, can’t be bothered.

    Keep alternate-side rules in effect, whether the cleaning is done by man or machine.

  • Marty

    Alternate side of the street parking is how New York City collects money through fines for spaces that do not have meters. The high fine of a few cars (generally in Forest Hills, I see 3 or 4 cars per street getting ticketed on alternate side days), which works out to well over $100 two days a week per street. This is likely hundreds of thousands of dollars per day city-wide: a revenue stream that would be difficult for the city to give up. The traffic “cops” stand at the end of the street on those days and wait for 8:30 a.m. to come and then walk down the street distributing tickets. This is how they fund the street cleaning contracts. One other benefit of this parking ritual is that is allows the city to determine which automobiles no longer have an owner living in New York City (deaths, murders, arrests, deportations, etc). This enables them to tow and ultimately sell the cars at auction.

  • Jane

    ludicrous old fashioned waste of time….thats what i think of alternate side street cleaning – bring on the guys with the brooms !

    I also object to other anti social behaviour like double parking..eg today i saw a van double parked and thus causing traffic problems – there was plenty of space for him to park alongside the kerb but he couldnt becos there was a fire hydrant. I realise freeing up the hydrant spaces wouldn’t give many more parking spots to what I call “No-Park Slope ” (apparently only 3% of spaces available at any time ) but what is this big deal with hydrants? In other cities, fire trucks do not expect some 30 feet of space for a foot wide hose, and please don’t tell me that a fire truck is going to parallel park in an emergency… In fact, some months ago I saw a fire truck on an emergency unable to pass a double parked car which had chosen to park this way instead of next to the adjacent hydrant! (By the way I understand many of these hydrants are not even operational). The squeeze on parking spaces caused by hydrants (amongst other things) leads to people justifying double parking.

  • Nicholas

    Alternate Side Parking (ASP) is not in every neighborhood. All of Staten Island (except for some very narrow streets in New Dorp Beach) does not have ASP. Much of Eastern Queens and some streets south of Avenue U in Brooklyn don’t have ASP either.

    Any proposal to extend ASP to those areas will be shot down by the city council.

    These non-ASP neighborhoods generally have the cleanest streets. ASP is a revenue generating gimmick that started in the late 1950s. Charging for on-street parking is double taxation. Motorists pay income taxes and sales taxes on gasoline. Those taxes are used to maintain our public streets.

  • Ian Turner

    Nicholas,

    You may be surprised to learn that gas taxes do not pay for construction or maintenance of local streets; rather, they go to the national highway trust fund, which funds most of the freeway construction. The balance (including all local streets and some freeways) is paid for from general revenues, most of which come from drivers and non-drivers alike.

    Given that the state provides a subsidy to drivers equal to about $0.60 a gallon, the question is: How come, even with all this free support, most New Yorkers don’t even own a car? And the answer is, because it’s not the best way to get around town.

  • Nicholas

    Ian, I was referring to the NYS+NYC sales tax on gasoline which goes into the general tax fund which in part pays for regular local road construction and repairs. Same for my NYS+NYC income taxes and probably even my property taxes. The FEDERAL gas taxes go into the national highway trust fund as you say, which pays for a large portion of Interstate Highway construction and in some cases repairs.

    But the states usually pay for improvements to interstate highways within their borders. NYS recently added a bus lane to the Staten Island Expressway (I-278) and is paying for the long-delayed reconstruction of the Gowanus Expressway (also I-278). I think some federal money went to these projects too.

    Most NYC residents do not own cars, but I still see tons of cars parked in neighborhoods with good public transit like Park Slope. In places like Staten Island (where I live), eastern Queens, and northern Bronx you really need a car to get around. In Manhattan and a lot of Brooklyn neighborhoods you can probably live without one.

    BUT suprisingly more (+4.03%) NYC residents owned cars in 2007 than in 2004:

    Passenger Car ownership (2007) by borough:

    2007- Passenger cars
    BRONX- 225,024
    KINGS- 387,328
    MANH- 225,047
    QUEENS- 657,196
    RICHMOND- 244,375
    NYC Total- 1,738,970

    Passenger Car ownership (2004) by borough:

    2004- Passenger cars
    BRONX- 215,300
    KINGS- 362,289
    MANH- 215,521
    QUEENS- 639,849
    RICHMOND- 236,989
    NYC Total- 1,669,948

    Sources:

    http://www.nydmv.state.ny.us/Statistics/regin07.htm
    http://www.nydmv.state.ny.us/stats-arc.htm

  • Ian Turner

    Nicholas,

    I’m not sure what your point is. We don’t expect the proceeds of sales taxes on computer hardware to go only to computer hardware users, why would gasoline be any different? And I also don’t know why you’re bringing up income and property tax; of course these are used to pay for roads, but the taxes are assessed regardless of whether (or how much) one uses said roads.

    As you concede, most residents in almost every part of the city do not own cars, so I don’t know why you are so bedgrudging that one can “probably” do without one. Wouldn’t the fact that most New Yorkers get along without one be clear proof that it is not only possible but rather normal?

    You can’t look at the change in the number of cars without looking also at the change in the city population. More people also took transit in 2007 than in 2004.

    As for your claim that you still see “tons of cars”, the reality is that you see this because cars take up so much space. Even if only 10% of residents owned cars, it would still be enough to fill up all street parking in most neighborhoods — you can do the math.

  • Nicholas

    Ian, my point is that auto owners are already paying for the maintainence of NYC publc streets so an additional levy or “residential parking permit” scheme would in effect be double taxation.

    I used the term “probably” to mean that you comfortably live without a car as opposed to the other areas of NYC I mentioned where a car is a near necessity for intra-borough travel and shopping. If I’m going into Manhattan I take the express bus or the ferry depending where I’m headed. For Brooklyn trips it’s easier to drive in. The car and mass transit are not mutually exclusive means of transport.

    Total NYC population increased approx 3.03% between 2000 and 2007.

    Brooklyn population increased approx 2.34% between 2000 and 2007.
    Brooklyn auto ownership increased approx 6.47% between 2000 and 2007, the highest % increase of any borough.

    Staten Island population increased approx 7.92% between 2000 and 2007.
    Staten Island auto ownership increased approx 3.01% between 2000 and 2007, a surprisingly lower % increase that I expected. Most likely related to zoning chnges which reduced number of new houses after 2005.

  • Ian, my point is that auto owners are already paying for the maintainence of NYC publc streets so an additional levy or “residential parking permit” scheme would in effect be double taxation.

    Okay, let’s take that general tax money and use it for pedestrian improvements instead of roadway improvements, since everyone’s a pedestrian. Problem solved!

  • Ian Turner

    Nicholas,

    You still haven’t shown that “auto owners are paying for the maintenance of NYC public streets”. The existence of income and sales taxes don’t support that statement, as non auto owners are also paying for the maintenance of NYC public streets. What’s so unreasonable about asking drivers to cover the internal costs of their destructive habit?

  • Very helpful, thanks

  • This Park Slope experiment from last summer has a report written about it. Check the link here (21-page PDF).

    According to DOT:

    Traffic volumes were higher during the morning on days when ASP was in effect than when ASP was not in effect. Traffic volumes were 19% higher between 8 AM and 9 AM on days ASP was in effect, as compared with days that ASP was not in effect (either during the suspension or on non-ASP days). There were no differences in afternoon or evening traffic volumes.

    Larry is right. ASP creates more traffic, especially in those morning hours when schoolchildren are outside. Can’t we do something about this?

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