Chinatown Biz Group Fed Up With Placard Parkers Hogging Spaces All Day

Imagine if your neighborhood’s streets were used as an employee parking lot for a nearby office building, and the people in charge of enforcing the rules turned a blind eye, day in and day out, as they ticketed members of the public but ignored lawbreaking by their colleagues.

Well, there’s no need to imagine: That’s how parking works in Chinatown, and leaders from the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation are fed up after years of abuse.

Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership LDC points to a placard parker who left his car on the street all day. Photo: Stephen Miller
Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership LDC points to a placard parker who left his car on the street all day. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Partnership inventoried the neighborhood’s parking supply in August, looking at regulations and conditions for the approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces within the BID’s service area, which is roughly bounded by Broome Street, Broadway, Worth Street, and Allen Street [PDF]. During the peak of summer vacation, the BID found that 24.4 percent of all on-street parking spots in that area were taken up by cars with government placards.

In recent years, the city and state have reduced the total number of placards available, but the streets of Chinatown continue to fill with private cars displaying government placards, sitting by the curb all day like it’s an employee parking lot. The Partnership isn’t the first to document this longstanding problem. A 2006 study by Transportation Alternatives showed only 12 percent of permits in the southern section of Chinatown were being used legally [PDF]. A survey for an NYPD environmental impact statement in 2006 found more than 1,100 cars illegally using placards near One Police Plaza [PDF].

The problem is most pervasive in the neighborhood’s southern end, which is full of courts and government offices. On a midday walk near the Partnership’s Chatham Square headquarters, more than half the parking spots were occupied by placard holders. “Chinatown’s largest population are government workers,” said Wellington Chen, the Partnership’s executive director. “We are far and above the single most affected community.”

Chen, whose group has proposed car-free streets in the past, said the glut of placards has a negative impact on local businesses. Although most people get to Chinatown by transit, he said, some customers drive to the neighborhood because it is a regional destination. The perception that there’s no parking available in Chinatown has driven customers in cars to competing neighborhoods like Flushing or Sunset Park.

“If you are going to take up a parking spot, please have your three meals that day in Chinatown to make up for what you took,” Chen said of the placard parkers. “When something is out of kilter, when something is out of balance, it’s time to rebalance it.”

After September 11, the 400-space parking garage beneath One Police Plaza was closed to the public, and many of the surrounding streets along Park Row became private driveways for police and court buildings.

A 2008 report from the Asian American Federation of New York recommended construction of a new parking garage to replace the one closed at One Police Plaza [PDF]. But adding more parking to a neighborhood already burdened by traffic is a bad idea — never mind figuring out what should be demolished to accommodate more parking in dense Chinatown.

Chen says it’s important to wring the most value out of the neighborhood’s existing parking spaces before discussing whether more should even be built. “Would a public garage with reasonable, affordable rates be useful? Yes,” he said. “But if you manage on-street parking, you can save millions of dollars… The greatest bang for the buck is to use the existing resources on the ground.”

DOT’s Park SMART program aims to increase parking turnover by recalibrating meter rates. But the placard problem in Chinatown would throw a wrench into any attempt to put a better price on parking. Park SMART has run into some trouble along Atlantic Avenue, for instance, where Corrections Department staff continue to park all day with impunity. If police don’t enforce the rules so that placards aren’t used as all-day free parking passes, changes to the rules are next to useless.

Chen acknowledged that placard enforcement is a “sensitive” issue with NYPD. “Sometimes they think we are raising the issue because we are targeting NYPD. That is not the case,” he said. “At the end of the day, you know what [lack of enforcement] does? It undermines the trust. It undermines the work that Bill Bratton is trying to do.”

Council Member Margaret Chin shares the Partnership’s frustration. “If you need a space for the whole day, then you need to find a parking garage,” she said when asked about placard parking at a recent event. “Enforce the law. I mean, it’s very clear and simple. Enforce the law.”

  • Over 8 years ago….

  • BBnet3000

    People working at One Police Plaza won’t be taking the train or paying for parking until electeds speak up on this, which they never will.

    The placard problem isn’t just the NYPD, but they are the top offenders and they aren’t going to enforce parking regulations against anybody else so long as they themselves do it.

    You even see people half the time with just an NYPD reflective vest or a photocopy of a badge on the dash. Who the hell knows if the car belongs to an actual cop. Frankly, its corruption.

  • Charles

    When employees are compelled to or choose to live in neighborhoods far from the core with poor transit access, it is not surprising that they would also choose to drive to work, especially if they can park for free.

  • Jim Holt

    Obscuring the placards by placing them behind the car’s inspection sticker is a nice little touch: if the placard can’t be read, who’s to say it’s not valid?

  • walks bikes drives

    My favorites are the Amtrak Police Surgeon placards. $250 on the internet with a pledge to treat Amtrak Police officers if they come to you. I think you get a badge too. There is a black Mustang that has his out all the time in the mid 70’s on 2nd ave. I’ve often thought of leaving a note on the car: Dear NYPD, Please ticket this vehicle. Placard is not a legal NYC parking placard.

  • BridgeTroll

    Tell that to the placard parkers permanently blocking the “bike lane” on Centre/Park Row behind City Hall.

    *Edit: Also Wellington Chen is a really cool guy.

  • Charles

    Don’t shed too many tears for these business owners. They have repeatedly rejected efforts to create car-free zones within Chinatown. Whether it’s government employees, business people, or even customers parking (and driving around looking for spaces), the amount of street space devoted to cars in this crowded neighborhood is far out of proportion to their relative share of traffic when compared with pedestrians and transit riders.

  • r

    If only New York City had some sort of “mayor” who could order city agencies to rethink official parking placard policy and institute a crackdown on bogus credentials.

    Sadly, this “mayor” might be dependent on votes from unions and outer-borough drivers who benefit from these placards, so I guess it’s just a crazy idea.

  • Alex

    Then the solution is simple: Stop letting them park for free. Then they’ll also vote for politicians who support better transit. Double win.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Eliminate them 100%. Ticket them and tow them just like anyone else.

  • BBnet3000

    The NYPD aren’t actually on this map, and a lot of those dark purple neighborhoods actually have pretty good access to transit, albeit a bit far out on the line.

  • r

    And access to transit should be one factor in deciding who gets a placard. Right now there’s no standard.

  • Josh NYC

    Proof NYC needs more parking.NYC should build free parking lots.

  • dporpentine

    When maggots are eating the meat I leave out on the counter, my solution is to throw on more meat. That way I control where they go!
    Some might say I should stop leaving rotting meat on the counter. But they just want to take away my freedom!

  • Joe Enoch

    “That’s how parking works in Chinatown.”

    And on every other single block in Manhattan.

  • Komanoff

    Gotta love a forum that produces gems like this. Priceless!

  • BBnet3000

    Living far from transit is one incentive for people to buy a car or pay for parking, but their jobs don’t need to be throwing out freebies on that basis.

  • Kevin Love

    Most cities in the world do not have a placard system. Government officials who are car drivers have to pay for car parking just like every other car driver.

  • ahwr

    Who is even using the placards for “government business”? Don’t all the higher ups have drivers to wait in the car?

  • Kevin Love

    Who? The fraudsters and abusers, that’s who. Here is the solution: Tow them away. Like NYPD started doing in 2007.

  • Local NY’er

    You’re full of ignorance, Charles. Many businesses in Chinatown were thriving before the invasion of the ILLEGAL placards. Let’s have them park on YOUR block, Charles – ALL WEEK 9-5, every day, and see how you like it, and see how your neighborhood businesses like it. These ILLEGAL placard abusers cost the city about 1/2 BILLION dollar in lost meter revenue during Bloomberg’s bought mayorship !

  • Local NY’er

    This placard problem has existed since 9/11 – How cool is that for Wellington to wait this long?

  • Local NY’er

    That’s right, since 9/11/2001 – Two Thousand and One

  • Alex Gonzalez

    Why can’t they use citibikes or their own bikes? Bikes are just so much more convenient in the island of Manhattan! Reduce the number of cars that these individuals get and or maybe they can car pool. I don’t understand how they operate but that’s really an abuse of these placard holders.

  • Joe Ha Yeah

    Umm…while Little Italy BID got streets closed to traffic from late spring to late summer, Chinatown business owners did vote down the proposal to close streets to traffic, ironically, arguing that closed streets to traffic would affect their businesses…ask Chinatown BID…

  • JEng

    Is that going to alienate Chinatown from government agencies? Are those cars belonging to law enforcement? I’m pretty sure the Chinese didn’t make a good impression when we protested the closing of Park Row to protect One Police Plaza after 9-11 however justified they may have felt.

    Did BID ask the merchants if this was okay because that’s the lunch crowd, right? Are all the merchants against this as claimed by a storekeeper in an older article? I know govt office workers and court officers and correction officers don’t get to use Columbus Park as much as they like during lunch or break because it’s crowded by Chinese elderly so those car owners might be longtime employees very familiar with Chinatown.

    Parking sucks because the area is extremely crowded even on weekdays despite claims to the contrary.

    I think BID can really be a force for good for the city and Chinatown Little Italy but I don’t get the feeling that they are interested in helping us lower operating costs unlike BIDs elsewhere.

  • JEng

    That area is all agencies – it’s courthouses, the DA, the police and multiple government agencies nevermind the tombs – where are they going to park and Chinatown needs their business – the restaurants, the pharmacies – everything has these commuters forming a connection and a famiiarity with the ORIGINAL Chinatown and Little Italy (buying special deli meats during lunch and sharing it with nonItalian coworkers etc.)

  • JEng

    I’m afraid agencies will then be encouraged to move to places like Harlem and LES further chipping away at the sweet location of Chinatown and Little Italy while rent regulation is strengthened, property taxes increase and retail lease regulation is threatened. Tourists are not necessarily satisfied with spending an afternoon in the area anymore.

  • JEng

    What was the reason for this? because of deliveries? or because customers like to jump out and do pickups?

    Is closing the streets a security measure for terrorism?

    Do the merchants VOTE and say all of them want the street closed?

  • JEng

    Isn’t that going to alienate the current administration from these voters?

  • JEng

    Seriously, I thought Chinatown retail was luckier than LES BECAUSE Chinatown has the govt agencies and courthouses. My brief retail experience (required by a very strict lease) did not have had any real patronage from Chinatown and was mostly those govt employees. What if we lose the agencies to other neighborhoods like Harlem – it could happen. Dept of Probation is gone, right?

    Have the merchants ALL voted against these regular daily customers taking up a quarter of the parking spots in the area? They are the ones who will be damaged if these agencies feel their employees would be happier in bigger, newer, cheaper more comfortable digs uptown.

  • joe redford

    this country is filled with asholes. I want to find another country to live in. I certainly cannot live in a big city.

  • joe redford

    I once parked in a half full parking lot. It was 2 rows of parking. row 1 was full or nearly full. Row 2 was empty. I had a new car so i parked in one space in row 2. I was not taking up 2 spaces. When I came back I found a suv pinned against my drivers door practically. He was 3 inches from my drivers door, so I had to climb over, the passenger door to get in. This evil act done intentionally to piss me off was unreal .He had 20 open spaces and goes out of his way to ruin someones day. If I had a gun his windows would have been shot out. I am not vindictive but that deserver retribution ,enough said.


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