City Ignores West Side Request for Loading Zones — Putting Parking Over Safety

A Manhattan community board's request for dedicated loading zones along Central Park West and West End Avenue has received silence from the de Blasio administration.

The problem: Too many trucks and not enough loading zones. Photo: Laura A. Shepard
The problem: Too many trucks and not enough loading zones. Photo: Laura A. Shepard

New York City Department of Transportation says community input is paramount — as long as it doesn’t impede on-street car storage, it turns out.

Nearly two months have passed since Manhattan Community Board 7 asked the city to repurpose some parking spots to create delivery zones at select locations along Central Park West and West End Ave. The board hasn’t heard a peep from DOT.

“They treat us with indifference,” said CB7 transportation committee co-chairman Howard Yaruss. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”

A dire lack of loading zones plagues New York City. As a result, companies like FedEx and UPS frequently double-park, illegally, to make deliveries. The phenomenon slows auto traffic and makes cycling more dangerous. There are entire Twitter feeds devoted to photos of FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service trucks parked in bike lanes.

But the lack of loading zones is worsened by another city policy: the Department of Finance’s stipulated fine program encourages illegal parking by forgiving millions of dollars of fines handed out to delivery companies — effectively enabling their dangerous behavior.

CB 7’s request came out of a months-long process that included site visits to determine optimal locations for delivery zones. Members of the committee argued that dedicated loading zones reduce double-parking and, as a result, “improve street safety, ease traffic congestion, and facilitate deliveries,” the board said in a resolution that passed on Oct. 2.

DOT reps on hand for the board’s proceedings weren’t so keen on the idea, however. The agency only installs new loading zones if a building requests it, they told Yaruss and his colleagues. The implication was that the agency would need to ask for permission from each and every building along West End Avenue and Central Park West. (Point of information: It is unclear if this is true. DOT would only tell Streetsblog that it’s “happy to work with the community board and local stakeholders to identify potential areas for parking regulation changes.”)

“This improves safety, it improves traffic flow, it improves air quality, and it improves the general atmosphere on the street, so why wouldn’t the DOT be in favor of it?” Yaruss said.

The question is rhetorical, of course. Yaruss knows why. It’s the same reason the agency ignored the board’s repeated requests for protected bike lanes on West 110th Street.

Simply put, the de Blasio administration and its DOT make transportation policy with “an undue emphasis on parking,” he added. “We’re trying to save lives, they’re trying to save parking spots. If de Blasio is really concerned about human life, he should put that over parking spots.”

The board’s inability to get DOT to play ball on delivery zones highlights the agency’s unequal approach to community board input. Mayor de Blasio has moved forward with street redesigns despite community board opposition, but he’s only ever done so after months of back-and-forth. On some occasions, the city has even backed down on a project, as it did when faced with staunch opposition to a bike lane proposed for Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn.

Only rarely does the de Blasio administration revise street designs to include more safety and fewer parking spots. More often, the opposite is the case. Just north of CB 7, in Morningside Heights, Manhattan Community Board 9 has delayed the installation of traffic-calming unprotected bike lanes on Amsterdam Avenue for almost two years, even as DOT has modified the plan to impact fewer car lanes.

“What’s happening with these two community board is a stark example of the DOT’s inconsistent application of safety standards,” said Transportation Alternatives Organizing Director Tom Devito. “DOT will acquiesce to CB 9 when it comes to Amsterdam Avenue, but they will reject calls for greater safety from community boards that are being proactive.”

On Thursday, TransAlt and Council Member Mark Levine will rally at 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue to highlight DOT’s unequal approach to community input.

  • ohnonononono

    Can someone explain to me how “commercial” parking works in NYC? Much of Manhattan street parking (below the UWS/UES) is already signed as “COMMERCIAL VEHICLES ONLY – OTHERS NO STANDING” or similar on weekdays until 6pm or later. There’s essentially already no legal street parking for non-commercial vehicles in Midtown or Downtown on weekdays.

    Are “commercial vehicle” parking spaces “loading zones”? Is this what we’re talking about? What constitutes a commercial vehicle? Based on this webpage, I don’t understand at all: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/parktruck.shtml

    Based on this write-up, it seems that passenger vehicles are already prohibited from parking on most blocks in Midtown on weekdays. Yet when I walk down the street, half the vehicles parked in these zones are clearly regular passenger sedans and SUVs. Shouldn’t Midtown on weekdays be essentially a wall of trucks and cargo vans on every block? What am I missing here? Is the answer simply that the commercial vehicle restrictions are not enforced? If that’s it, why even discuss changing parking regulations when everyone just flouts the existing ones?

  • r

    We need a new mayor and a new DOT commissioner. 2021 can’t come soon enough.

  • GeorgeSmiley

    Wonderful, ringing denunciation of the powers that be. How does this take into account the removal of all the on-street parking spaces that had lined the west side of 5th Ave. between 86th & 96th Streets, however, which the deBlasio admin did about two years ago, greatly inconveniencing car owners in the city’s wealthiest neighborhood? That one doesn’t fit so neatly into Streetsblog’s beleaguered, self-pitying, “woe-is-us, the-evil-car-parkers-always-get-their-way” weltanschaung, does it? Perhaps – gasp – the truth is more nuanced and complicated than the author’s black-or-white view? Just a thought.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll bet most or all of those vehicles you see parked have parking placards. Until we reform, or better yet just eliminate, parking placards any attempt at parking reform is just pissing in the wind. People with placards park even in places where the placards don’t allow them, like loading zones, bike lanes, and private driveways. Yes, about 15 years ago several teachers parked in our driveway. Just dumped the car there in the morning and went to school. My father was aghast, called the local precinct, and was told there was nothing they could do, the placards allowed them to park wherever they wanted. Of course, this was complete BS. The only vehicles allowed to park on private property are emergency vehicles on call for an actual emergency. After this happened a few times, my father just kept his car at the end of the driveway.

  • Joe R.

    If I wanted to store furniture or other items on public streets I wouldn’t be allowed to do so. A car is similarly private property. Where you store your private property is not the city’s problem. It’s yours. If you can’t afford to pay for a garage or other off-street place to keep your car then you can’t afford to own a car in NYC. The fact the city let you park where you mention until recently doesn’t mean you retain that privilege going forward. Yes, NYC allowing curbside parking is a privilege, not a right. That privilege can be revoked at any time for any reason if the city finds a better use for that space.

  • Reader

    You pointed out that that area is the “city’s wealthiest neighborhood.” Given that car owners are wealthier than the average, I want to congratulate you for making the case against free-on-street parking.

  • AMH

    “The implication was that the agency would need to ask for permission from each and every building along West End Avenue and Central Park West.”

    The persistent belief that public curb space belongs to an adjacent property has got to stop.

  • GeorgeSmiley

    That’s great, and good luck with that political formulation – “let’s ban all on-street parking and ensure that all car owners in NYC are our enemies.” No wonder there are so few allies for congestion pricing, or any other meaningful, worthwhile reforms that will improve things for pedestrians, cyclists, and straphangers. Not as long as Savanorolas like Joel R. and David Meyer are seen as leading the way. Best of luck with those legislators in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island! In the meanwhile, the rest of us are not going to hold our breath while you pile on the denunciations of possible allies. What’s the legislative strategy here, folks? That’s right – crickets.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s a good compromise which I’m sure most livable streets advocates will get behind. Let’s continue to allow free on-street parking but at the same time let’s also let people use that space (for free) for storage containers. After all, everyone pays for the streets. Why should only car owners get to store their private property on them but not non-car owners? Once we pass this legislation, the market will dictate how much curbside space ends up still used for cars and how much gets filled with storage containers. My guess is eventually most Manhattan streets which allow free parking will be filled with storage containers. In the outer boroughs my guess is at least half. And note we’ll only allow the containers on streets which have free curbside parking. Metered blocks will still be for cars only. If you don’t want your block to be overrun with containers you’ll have to ask the city to install meters. Once you’re paying the city for the parking, I really have nothing against you using that space.

    Would you go along with this? If not, why not? I think it’s fair in that it allows non-car owners to get the same rights to store their property for free on public streets.

  • GeorgeSmiley

    Such a wonderful thought experiment! Since Joe R. seems completely willing to punt as far as coming up with any solution that might actually get traction in the Legislature, let’s just get further and further out there: a bureaucracy to means-test car owners to see if they “qualify” as worthy enough in Joe’s eyes to deserve to park their cars on the street, a lovely assumption that every car owner in, say, Manhattan is a multimillionaire (inconvenient to this theory that so many Manhattan public housing developments have parking lots, and that so many retirees and seniors in “nice” neighborhoods wait patiently to alternate-side-park their beat up old cars every weekday, though, isn’t it?) — and storage bins on almost every street. *Now* we’re really getting somewhere as far as a realistic strategy, right? How about making all cars illegal and providing human-transporting drone devices for every City resident instead? No wonder nothing is going anywhere, at least not so long as the most extreme and intolerant voices are seen as leading the charge. No outer borough legislator sitting on the fence is going to go for this nonsense — but it sure must make you feel so smug and superior, huh?

  • Joe R.

    inconvenient to this theory that so many Manhattan public housing developments have parking lots, and that so many retirees and seniors in “nice” neighborhoods wait patiently to alternate-side-park their beat up old cars every weekday, though, isn’t it?

    There shouldn’t be parking lots on public housing developments. That’s wrong for two reasons. One, the space can be used for more housing. Two, if the residents can afford cars then that means they can use that money to pay more rent instead.

    I know all about that silly alternate side game they play in Manhattan. All most of those car owners do is move their cars from one side of the street to the other. Many are afraid to actually use them for fear they won’t find a parking spot when they return. All this means the car is a security blanket. It’s seldom or never used for transportation. That means they can get rid of it with few or no negative repercussions on their lifestyle.

    I’m not against cars. I just don’t want people owning them or using them unless they really have no viable alternative. In the most transit rich place in the US it’s hard for most people to make a case that they need to own a car. It’s even harder to make the case that the city should allow you to store it for free. However, in the end I don’t care if people want to own cars, whether they really need them or not. It’s your money, waste it however you want. I do care when NYC indirectly subsidizes car ownership by allowing free parking. I also care when we fail to install bus lanes, bike lanes, or wider sidewalks because we insist on using that space for car storage. Buses go at a crawl, delivery trucks have to double-park and block traffic, pedestrians and cyclists fight over scraps, all because we refuse to stop using curbside space just for people to store their private property.

    Nothing is going anywhere because every time we want to do something beneficial it’s the same old song about parking spots. I’m getting tired of it. If anyone really wants a car-oriented lifestyle there is a glut of suburbs in the US where you can choose to live. Lots of people live in NYC expressly because they want a car-free lifestyle. The city streets don’t have enough space if everyone here chose to get around by car.

    How about making all cars illegal and providing human-transporting drone devices for every City resident instead?

    Not my idea, but there have been calls to ban cars in Manhattan from before I was born (1962). I think the city would have been a far better place now if we had done that.

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