Its Showtime for the DOT Parking Team


As usual, traffic was heavy on 125th Street outside the Alhambra Ballroom in central Harlem, Wednesday evening, where the Department of Transportation held its fourth of seven planned workshops to discuss parking strategies in neighborhoods bordering the City’s proposed congestion pricing zone.

According to Bruce Schaller, Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Sustainability at the DOT, the workshops have two goals. First, DOT is listening to concerns residents have about the parking impacts of congestion pricing. Residents’ are worried about "park and ride" commuters who currently drive into Manhattan’s Central Business District, but with the advent of an $8 pricing fee might park just outside the pricing zone and take transit to their final destination.

Second, DOT is suggesting possible parking strategies — "Just ideas," says Schaller — for addressing those impacts and gauging community reaction to them. Schaller emphasizes that DOT wants to get residents of potentially affected communities involved as early as possible.

The Harlem workshop, much more sparsely attended than the one in Park Slope, Brooklyn the night before, drew about thirty neighborhood residents and representatives of numerous local organizations. It was heavily staffed by DOT and its outreach consultant, Howard Stein Hudson. Though Harlem has among the lowest car-ownership rates in the nation, only 20 percent of households have a vehicle, all but a handful of the residents in attendance were car owners and frequent drivers. One contrarian, a long-time local, showed up on a beat-up bike sporting a weathered Transportation Alternatives sticker.

Participants and moderators gathered at three tables to discuss concerns and options. Many were adamant that a motoring lifestyle was the neighborhood norm. Said one woman, a low-income housing developer and trained city planner: "Everyone in my building owns a car."

Said another, also a professional planner: "Harlem has poor services and everyone needs a car to access better services." A friend added that 125th street was a regional shopping and driving destination and more parking was badly needed. In a nod to Yogi Berra, she added "Harlem is a giant, crowded, shopping mall, but there is no parking, so no one comes here anymore."

Participants agreed that Harlem’s streets are already a daily disaster of double parking, endless cruising, placard abuse, and unfair enforcement — especially the wrath-provoking ticketing of double parked church goers and during street cleanings. They also cited concerns about asthma and air pollution and the need to reduce car-use (that is, car-use by outsiders and infidels). At one table, participants also acknowledged that parking on business streets should be treated differently than on residential streets.

DOT presented participants with two main options for addressing parking shortages: charging more for on-street parking in metered areas, and Residential Parking Permits in unmetered areas. Though participants complained about cruising for short-term parking on business streets, they recoiled at having to pay more at the meter even if it saved them time and improved their chance of finding a spot.

Residential parking permits drew widespread support, though exactly how they would work was controversial. "I like them, but DOT seems to be really pushing these RPPs." Said a long-time resident who said she saw RPP’s work in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Most of the car owners liked the idea that RPP’s were a chance to improve their chance of getting free parking, but didn’t like the idea of paying much for them. Other, more tech-oriented ideas like smart parking meters, that can detect feed-the-meter types and alert police, and in-car GPS chips that can alert drivers to open spaces, were met with skepticism.

DOT’s Schaller says that comments will be compiled after the initial round of meetings and incorporated into a larger study of parking trends. The study will help inform a second round of workshops in January at which alternatives will be introduced.

Additional reporting by Erik Shilling. Photo: in2jazz on Flickr

  • Christian

    Parking permits should be implemented througout they city.

    They would free up parking spaces for residents who, without the benefit of free parking in other neighborhoods would use their cars mostly to leave the city for the weekend, etc. While this could cause a small increase in car ownership, I would think that it would cause a decrease in driving within the city if a garage or (much more expensive) meter were the only options.

    Most importantly however, it would strongly discourage people from driving into the city. Not to pick on NJ residents but ever noticed how many spaces are taken up by cars with NJ plates? Do we go park in their frontyards?

    Finally, and this is something that I haven’t heard mentioned elsewhere, it would practically eliminate out of state registrations and bring income to the city. Obviously permits would only be issue for the area around where the car is registered. All thouse NC and FL plated cars would have to be registered in NYC or parked in a garage.

  • mf

    “Most of the car owners liked the idea that RPP’s were a chance to improve their chance of getting free parking, but didn’t like the idea of paying much for them.”

    RPP without a price always sounds attractive. It’s free parking but you might actually get an advantage over non-residents.

    In reality, it’s only going to work if you charge for it, so that you can limit demand. But once you start charging a reasonable fee for it (say $2,000/year in Harlem), I think you’ll find that car owners aren’t in favor of it, after all.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Finally, and this is something that I haven’t heard mentioned elsewhere, it would practically eliminate out of state registrations and bring income to the city.)

    It’s been heard from me quite a bit. Some people just aren’t covering their fair share of all the insurance fraud in this town.

    As for the price, it should at least be equal to the sales taxes those parking in public garages pay on spaces they rent, and the property taxes those who have their own spaces pay on the parking they own.

  • Hilary

    There is a large, high rise building on 125th Street that is occupied by state government employees. I have been told that they are given reduced or free parking in that building. This may have had some rationale it was first built, as a way to bring economic development to a Harlem that was too dangerous to expect workers to take transit. The new Harlem is safe and a train and transit hub. So I would start by ending the subsidies for those state workers, which would free up that parking for the public and take off some of the pressure on the on-street demand.

  • Harlem is at the crux of free parking. Having just moved myself from downtown where personal cars are often regarded by residents as ill-mannered invaders, it feels like cars are still celebrated in Harlem. The idea that you can go into a dealership, drive one out, and park it where you live for free makes an enormous difference. So that 20% scoots around and makes U-turns on 125th with an enthusiasm that I’m starting to get used to. Cars are apparently allowed to park on the sidewalk in front of Sylvia’s, perpendicularly and taking up over half of it every night. Someone on my block gets to park his car with its trunk jutting also more than halfway across the sidewalk.

    I’m sure the free parkers can see more clearly than anyone else that their party is ending, as it becomes harder and harder to find a spot. If RPP happens then the fun could go on for another decade at best, if the permits are as cheap as they want them to be. That would be a pretty silly thing for DOT to do. The driving 20 percent is in no position to negotiate the price down, as they need those permits to go on conveniently driving. Make the program significantly profitable for the city (and able to control for future demand), or do nothing. The good of the 80 percent should be 80 percent of the decision.

  • Eric

    At Tuesday’s DOT workshop in Park Slope, I had the good fortune of sitting at the same table as one of the staunch anti-bike lane guys from 9th Street. Among his ideas:

    – open up more parking in Prospect Park for park-and-riders so they don’t compete for on-street spots
    – eliminate all on-street parking meters because we already pay way too much for on-street parking, through our taxes (I pointed out that I don’t think we pay anything for on-street parking, but if we do, his car-free neighbors are really getting screwed)
    -we need to build a lot more off-street parking garages, which is the only type of parking that should entail a charge
    -congestion pricing and East River bridge tolls would be horrible
    -bike lanes are the worst evil of all

    He actually claimed that thanks to the awful 9th Street bike lanes, there are times when cars attempting to turn from 8th Avenue onto 9th Street can’t make the turn because traffic is backed up all the way from PPW or 7th Avenue! I don’t know if he was confusing his own street with Union Street, but I would gladly pay each of the 9th Street people $100 every time that actually happened if they’d each give me a quarter for every day it doesn’t occur.

    When he started to complain about giving the store away to “recreational” cyclists, other people pointed out that Park Slope is the number-one origination point for New York City cycle commuters. And that for each one of us on a bike, the number of alleged backed-up cars on 9th Street is reduced by one.

    We did, however, agree on one thing: that Atlantic Yards is a traffic disaster waiting to happen.

  • Sproule Love

    It’s a shame that many Harlemites don’t see the big picture. I’ve lived up here for five years and in that time I’ve grown to accept that the car culture is out of control – it’s truly a tyranny of the 20% minority of residents who drive. We’ve got express subway stops all over the place, a Metronorth stop, and a SERIOUS asthma problem here, but drivers here persist in flagrantly double parking all days of the week (I don’t really have a problem with church or mosque double parking), parking in bike lanes, and endlessly cruising. As with most of the issues discussed in this forum, better NYPD enforcement would clear up a lot of Harlem’s parking problems.

    Like other NYC neighborhoods, we would also benefit from more munimeters (I think the ones on 125th Street work very well – there are usually free spots up there), residential permits, closing Central Park to cars 24/7 and congestion pricing. The latter two would almost certainly reduce the through traffic, and given a rational parking permit system, there wouldn’t be a park and ride problem.

    Stick to your guns, Bruce Schaller.

  • Slopion


    * “open up more parking in Prospect Park…” I’ve advocated more (paid) parking in other threads, but I agree that this is daffy. As is the free on-street parking.

    * I’ve never seen such a backup on 9th Street, and the ones on Union have nothing to do with bike lanes.

    * “for each one of us on a bike, the number of alleged backed-up cars on 9th Street is reduced by one.” Actually, speaking for myself, most times I bike, I’m doing it in lieu of a subway trip (to work), a bus ride or a long walk.

  • This double talk of “more parking” and “less traffic” goes far beyond Harlem – really needs to be exposed as hypocracy at every turn. Politicans (or their constituents) that try to separate these issues need to be called out and asked to pick one side of the fence – more cars or better quality of life/environment for local residents.

  • so complicated… planning.
    Make transit free and planning will simplify.

  • Jonathan

    @socialscientist, I haven’t studied the issue in depth but I would wager that in Harlem, as in elsewhere in New York City, it is not the cost of transit that weighs most on people’s minds when deciding between mass transit, motorcar, bicycle, or walking. You could pay me a dollar to take the train to work but I’d still rather bike.

    @Glenn: I would amend that to “more cars–but still only benefiting a small fraction of New Yorkers–or better quality of life for the large majority of residents who don’t own cars.”

  • Sproule Love


    How would you pay for the huge budget shortfall when all far revenue goes away? Didn’t see any mention of that on your website.

  • Sproule Love

    fare revenue

  • Your cycling will be safer when the auto is elminated. The path to that is FPT.

  • Who is paying for the carbon dioxide subsidy to the oil/coal/auto industry? Remove that subsidy. Another subsidy, oil wars, is about USD 11M/hr, I think.

  • Sproule – see Externalities for the return on FPT social investement.

  • Sproule Love

    When the auto is eliminated? You need to listen to more Jan Gehl. I don’t need to ban cars from Manhattan, just want to get a fair share of the streetscape for cyclsits and peds. When you don’t provide any rationale for your “path” you only sound like a crank.

  • Global warming prophets were called “cranks”. We have ten years to make a significant dent in GW. Currently world auto ownership is increasing 5%/yr and oil demand 2.02%/yr. China put 500 bullet trains into service in 2007. The U.S. needs to show some leadership. Free public transit has been shown to work and will spread.

  • Ed Bartlett

    Stands to reason it is the perfect time for riders to stop paying anything. The city and state have cut support for transit for decades and the MTA has big time money problems. How about nobody anywhere pays anything for transit? Let’s get back to that thread on free everything. That was real useful.

  • NixIllegalPermitAbuse_Then let’s talk

    I hope Schaller will propose the posting of No Permit Parking signs so that government sector employees will stop using their permits to commute, parking all day illegally, taking up residential parking spaces. Simple signs stating “No Permit Parking” or “Permit Parking 3-Hour Limit” would stop enticing thousands of government sector commuters with permits who come in and park for “free”, albeit illegally. This is especially true in downtown Manhattan, a designated D.O.T. No Permit Area, where thousands of parking violations occur every working day by government sector commuters abusing their permits. We need “No Permit Parking” signs (which, by the way, would cost practically nothing).

  • D Futterman

    Do DOT placard signs really matter in the face of massive abuse and non-enforcement by law enforcement? As documents ad nauseaum, the lack of good parking rules is less a problem than enforcing the existing rules. Cops and traffic agents* are part of the same culture of motoring entitlement that this article highlights in Harlem.

    * The civilian agents are probably afraid to ticket placard cars since their drivers are higher up the bureaucratic food chain (and some carry guns.)

  • Davis


    Do you really think that putting up a bunch of street signs is going to solve this particular problem? We already have no parking signs and parking meters and fire hydrants. The cops park in front of all of these things with total impunity.

    I’m pretty tired of reading your same old rant over and over again so I’m going to get a little bit uncivil here and suggest that you wake the f up already.

    You more than anyone else should be clamoring for the State Assembly to allow NYC to install automated, camera-based pricing and enforcement systems. Unlike NYPD parking agents, software isn’t going to pick and choose which cars to hit with fees and fines based on a crappily photocopied placard and PBA sticker on the dashboard.

  • Jonathan

    I agree with Davis, “We already have no-parking signs and parking meters and fire hydrants. The cops park in front of all these things with total impunity.”

    I talked to a friend of mine, a NYC police officer, about permit parking today. One of his neighbors kept calling the NYPD because my friend habitually parked near the hydrant in front of their apartment building. Eventually my friend got summoned to his borough command and was told never to park there again.

  • The congestion charge works for London but there’s always alot of hype before the lauunch of such schemes. People love their cars!

    Once people get onto public transport they stay on it. There’s not much point doing part car journey/part public transport as it’s too stressful.

    For those few who insist on parking around places like Harlem residents can be protected by ‘resident zones/permits’.

  • harris

    I know it’s nice for us (urban dwelling, jane jacobs admiring, public transit lovers) to talk to ourselves. As a native new yorker with roots in Harlem and SE Queens I find some of the comments offensive. Native Harlemites are experiencing quite a bit of change and are caught in a whirlwind of activity and necessity to make quick decisions. In addition, Harlem is one in a list of NYC communities (like SE Queens and the South Bronx) where owning a car represents something other that getting from one place to another quickly. I know many can’t relate but don’t look down your nose – it’s extremely condescending. None of us can get anywhere with a holier than though attitude.

  • Hilary

    In neighborhoods like Harlem and others outside the CBD, being able to own (which means park and use) a car is equivalent to being able to work out of your apartment or loft for people living in the CBD. Both are essential to many of their residents’ livelihoods.

  • Dan

    I knew that a Harris type of comment would eventually pop up in this thread.

    Harris’s comment exemplifies why it is so often just impossible to have substantive policy discussion in NYC. All policy discussion breaks down, almost immediately, into racial and identity politics. This political correction ends up styming policy discussion rather than forwarding it. It’s deeply counter productive.

    Harris finds some comments in this thread “offensive?” Which comments exactly? I’m hard pressed to find anything offensive above. This just seems like the typical thing where a Harris pops in and simply tries to chill the conversation by inserting the racial issue.

  • Sproule Love

    Well, in this case I would argue that the racial/social justice component could be productive. I agree with JF – the issue of parking policy and car use in Harlem is about poor behavior in this neighborhood negatively affecting the people who live here, not simply rich white greens judging low income blacks about taste or habits.

    Harlem has unique environmental/transportation issues, namely the shocking asthma problem, which ranks high among NYC’s environmental justice hotspots. We should frame the parking discussion in Harlem as addressing the unfortunate inequity of lower income minority neighborhoods bearing the brunt of negative environmental impact of traffic, waste disposal, power generation, etc. Bad behavior like cruising, double parking and 150db car stereos just adds insult to injury.


    Your vague web page on externalities is exactly the kind of inexact philosophizing that gets us nowhere. C’mon, Streetsblogger’s like data. Break it down for us…how would free transit in New York work?

  • Will H

    “low income blacks” are not the people driving in Harlem.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks, harris, JF, Dan and Sproule for each making some interesting points about the higher-level semiotic aspects of motorcar ownership. If you haven’t already done so, check out the link in the parking-space zoning thread to the André Gorz article on motorcars as luxury goods.

    Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one, the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don’t have one. That is how in both conception and original purpose the car is a luxury good. And the essence of luxury is that it cannot be democratised. If everyone can have luxury, no one gets any advantages from it. On the contrary, everyone diddles, cheats, and frustrates everyone else, and is diddled, cheated, and frustrated in return.

    I guess I am led to ask this: why are we so in thrall to this will-o’-the-wisp concept of motorcars-as-luxury-good that the very real effects that motorcars have on health, morbidity and quality of life are minimized or ignored, even by people who claim to represent a wider perspective?

  • mf

    I wonder if all the emphasis on how congestion pricing and parking reform will help the poor is actually hurting from a political standpoint. Doesn’t politics run on money? If you’re an elected official who needs to fund raise, maybe your constituents are the 20% of car owners who you think have the cash to contribute to your campaign.

    Perhaps we (advocates for livable streets) should remind the politicians that it’s not just welfare recipients who are car free, but that those without cars can be a potent political force…

  • “all the emphasis on how congestion pricing and parking reform will help the poor” is primarily in response to the political grandstanding being done by politicians who claim to speak for low-income new yorkers. those guys want it both ways: create the appearance of representing “the people” when in fact they are representing the 20% (or less) you mention who fund their campaigns.

  • How does he make the tenuous jump from collective culture to superstitious people cowed into passivity? ,


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