Parking Placards: The Public Safety Risk

This reader account of a run-in with a Traffic Enforcement Agent on Douglass Street in Park Slope is another example of how official privilege often trumps public safety.

IMG_1113.JPGnys_van.jpgGet your hands on a parking placard, and the city is yours.

She was not checking the hydrants; she was
on her Bluetooth, gossiping. I watched her walk right by the State of
New York van that is perpetually parked in front of the fire hydrant
across the street from my place. As we crossed paths, the following
exchange began:

Me: "Why didn’t you give that van a ticket?"

TEA: "For what?"

Me: " Because it’s parked in front of a hydrant."

TEA: (A little belligerently) "I didn’t see it."

Me: "It is. Go look. In fact, it’s always there and no one ever tickets it."

TEA: (To the person on the Bluetooth:) "Hold on, Hold on."

We walk back to the van. She sees it’s a state van and reacts like her safety is being threatened.

TEA: "OH! State of New York!!! I can’t give it a ticket."

Me: "Why not?"

TEA: "It’s State of NY! I’m not allowed to give it a ticket."

Me: "You’re not allowed? Who says?"

TEA: "I’m just not allowed!" (She starts backing away.)

Me: "Well if you won’t give it a ticket, I’d like your badge number please."

Then she ran away yelling "I can’t give it a ticket! I can’t give it a ticket!!!" I didn’t get her badge number.

Can a comparison be drawn between this incident and last weekend’s failed attack in Manhattan? It’s not as tenuous a connection as you might think.

The rolling bomb parked in Times Square Saturday night didn’t have a placard, but a van left there for two days last December did. NYPD acknowledged that the van, which, fortunately, contained only tables and scarves, had probably been ignored by Traffic Enforcement Agents because of the counterfeit parking pass.

Stick a made-up placard under the windshield and you are practically guaranteed to get away with things that are off-limits to ordinary New Yorkers. There are a lot of ideas floating around for how to respond to Saturday’s attempted attack. One idea that should be in the mix is the elimination of parking placards.

Our tipster is sending a letter to Governor Paterson and local electeds about the hydrant-blocking state van. It will be interesting to see if he gets results.

  • Peter Flint

    And call 311 to report it. Nothing may happen, but at least a complaint is going on the record.

    I called in a police-placarded SUV on my street that was parked in front of the hydrant for more than a day. 8 hours later, I checked the status on-line at and it was listed as “police investigated, no violation found”, even though the car was STILL parked in front of the hydrant.

    It wasn’t until there was a fire alarm on the street later in the day that anything finally happened. A fire inspector came up with his book out ready to write a ticket, but saw the fake placard and wandered off. 1/2 hour later the car was gone, but no ticket issued.

    So I guess the lesson is that you have to have a fire alarm on your street to get anything done. None the less I still have some shred of faith that calling 311 gets it on a record somewhere.

  • TGO

    Actually this is about as tenuous as it seemed.

  • This isn’t the first time that placard abuse on Douglass has been a problem — and been ignored by Traffic Enforcement Agents:

    When I mentioned the RAV4 with the parking placard at Douglass [to the Traffic Enforcement Agent], she rolled her eyes, said that TEAs hate placard parkers because they park everywhere with no regard, but said there was “nothing they can do.”

    Actually, though, there is something that can be done. I raised the issue with the local precinct, and the liaison officer tracked down the driver, asked him (or her) to stop, and that driver no longer parks there illegally.

    Another New York State car then seized the opportunity (see the comment on Uncivil Servants), so I raised the issue again, this time with the commanding officer of the 78th Precinct at a community council meeting. I haven’t observed any illegal parking there since, or at Baltic and Fifth Avenue, either.

  • My “response” to this attempted SUV bombing would be to roll back the city’s unlawful searches of strap-hangers and seizures of bicycles, when the cushiest attack vector continues to be unfettered automobile access. I wouldn’t advocate that we restrict motoring privileges for that reason alone (there are better ones than out-sized terrorism fears), but it’s sickening that in spite of the myriad and evident risks that automobiles pose to society their use is so lovingly protected, while the masses that ride bicycles and subways have been stripped of our basic rights without hesitation. That’s what I take away from this.

    But if Steven Simon gets to argue in the New York Times for ever increasing video surveillance that he admits would not have “stopped” the recent unsuccessful attack (what?), then Brad Aaron gets to draw attention in Streetsblog to an auto-bombing loophoole that wasn’t used this time around. It is foolish to put faith into a government decal on the side of a van, as if it were at all difficult to reproduce such things in this age. The flimsy symbol should be taken as a suggested affiliation at most, and yet here it is granting its bearer blanket immunity from traffic regulations and causing the “enforcement agent” to forget having seen the vehicle at all! Ridiculous.

    The solution is not to equip government vehicles with expensive high-tech credentials, as officials would surely propose. It is to call off this circus in which any person connected to our government is allowed to ignore its laws. This buddy system that the NYPD enjoys is a fundamental threat to democracy, and on top of that it’s open to exploitation by imaginative criminals on the outside, too. How much would it cost, really, to convincingly impersonate one of New York’s exempted class? $10,000, $20,000? Big whop. “They” can raise that money. If we continue to look the other way as people in official-looking vehicles are allowed to do crazy and illegal things all the time (emergency! let’s zoom up this separated bicycle lane the wrong way!), we’ll undoubtedly suffer beyond the inevitable deadly “accidents” they cause.

  • TKO

    It is interesting. In DUMBO on York Street near Washington Street a red SUV was parked for about six weeks. It never moved and never received a ticket. Two snow storms it sat through too!

    Finally it was gone, all that was left was the street dirt that sat under it for so many weeks.

    Was it a police or government plant? Or was it a vehicle that had something special that gave it carte blanche parking?

  • I would have picked up a garden hose, busted out the driver & passenger side windows, then run the hose through them…

    …should get the point across.

  • Herzog

    Would you really?

  • Jack D. Johnson

    As the late great Leona Helmsley once said, “only the little people pay taxes and get parking tickets”.




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