Queens Pol Wants Safer Streets — But Also More Parking for Car-Loving Cops

The proposal is likely to draw the ire of safe streets advocates.

Costa Constantinides. Photo: Flickr
Costa Constantinides. Photo: Flickr

Welcome to no good deed goes unpunished — Astoria version: One of Council Member Costa Constantinides’s safety proposals — the construction of a new parking garage for the 114th Precinct station house — is sure to draw the ire of livable streets advocates.

In his “State of the District” speech last week, Constantinides called on the Department of Transportation to study a “complete streets” redesign the length of Astoria Boulevard from Astoria to East Elmhurst, raising the possibility of protected bike lanes. But his proposal to build a new 114th Precinct building with an off-street parking garage may not achieve its intended goal of clearing the street’s sidewalks of illegally parked NYPD-affiliated vehicles.

“Officers in the 114th Precinct have behaved horribly and dangerously for years: parking on sidewalks and in crosswalks,” Astoria safe streets advocate Macartney Morris told Streetsblog. “They should stop their dangerous, anti-social behavior before we start talking about rewarding them.”

Astoria Boulevard is one of Queens busiest streets for motor vehicles, a recipe for danger in the mostly transit-dependent neighborhoods it traverses. Since 2011, four people have been killed on the road and hundreds more injured, according to city data on Crashmapper. The city has only done piecemeal improvements on the street — and nothing as significant as the comprehensive redesign proposed by Constantinides.

“I live near Astoria Boulevard,” Constantinides said in an interview Friday morning. “Robert Moses … constructed this street to function more as an off-shoot of the Grand Central Parkway, not a street where people live. You have these multi-throngs of traffic that make it very difficult if you have a stroller, if you’re cycling, if you’re on a scooter, if you’re on an e-bike.”

But constructing more parking spots for the 114th Precinct may have the adverse impact of encouraging even more officers to drive, according to parking expert Rachel Weinberger, whose research has shown the the availability of parking at a particular location has an exponential effect on the number of people driving to that location.

“Accommodating cars just winds up with more traffic and puts you in this viscous cycle of car dependence,” Weinberger told Streetsblog.

Instead, she suggested the precinct take a comprehensive look at where its officers are coming from and how they get there.

“Everybody in New York has that same problem: ‘How do I get to work?'” she said. “They should take the subway. They should carpool.”

For his part, Constantinides framed his proposal as part of an “all of the above” strategy. It’s not just officers’ personal vehicles crowding sidewalks, he said, but also police cruisers and cars confiscated after collisions or other violations. Constantinides said his Twitter feed is flooded daily with photos of the illegal parking, and pointed to his support for reform.

“Look, placard abuse is a real issue,” he said. “I speak to the de Blasio administration about what can be done, but while we’re having this short-term conversation with the mayor on how to fix this issue, I want to come up with a long-term solution.

“Getting those cars off the street and into a multi-level garage, I think, is a good use of space,” he added.

Constantinides is rumored to be mulling a run for Queens Borough President in 2021.

  • Look at that big stupid blowhard mouth in action. Gross. I like this blog but Jesus Christ, have some decency.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Big fan of Macartney and his tireless advocacy but wonder if his quotation is poor framing for an otherwise good thought. “They should stop their dangerous behavior before we start talking about rewarding them” is word for word the argument nimby’s make against cyclist infrastructure because they once saw a rider salmon down the block. If they never stop to think about why cyclists are breaking laws and try to change that fundamental issue on our streets, we call it out. So I’d argue it’s worth blasting all forms of placard abuse and dangerous parking but also need to see why these cars are so routinely doing this.

  • Reader

    Sorry, Costa, but building parking garages in this day and age is climate denialism. Think of a different solution.

  • William Lawson

    Can anyone tell me why cops need private cars to go to work? As I understand it, they’re not “called out” on an emergency, they come to work normally and punch in like everybody else. Using public transport to get into and around NYC is objectively quicker than driving, so it’s not as if it’s a speed thing. Same with teachers and every other class of placard holders. Defenders of this bullshit always point to the “importance” of the jobs these people are doing. Really, the only difference between them and people who do other important jobs is that they work for the city and are hence considered “special.”

    So then we get “yeah but they save lives.” Actually, the number of lives these people save pales in comparison to the millions of lives saved by virtue of the existence of our modern technological society, which has more than doubled our life expectancies and slashed infant mortality rates since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Countless millions of lives are saved by the collective effort of all of us working as individuals. What about the ConEd workers who provide the electricity which power our hospitals and saves the lives of premature babies in incubators etc. Do they get placards and street spaces for their private cars? How about the people who work in the food and clothing stores which make the purchase of these essential life-giving items easy and convenient? We don’t talk about how many lives are saved by modern society because its life-saving isn’t directly “visible.” But really, we need to stop elevating city professions to a mythical “special” status for which they deserve special driving privileges and exemption from law enforcement. We’re all doing our bit, and these people are no more important than anyone else.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Can anyone tell me why cops need private cars to go to work?”
    The problem most government workers face is that their workplaces are spread throughout the city, not concentrated in Manhattan where transit trips take the most amount of time.

    And among the best off the place of residence is generally out in the suburbs, where taxes are lower (no local income tax) and public services are better and more conscientiously provided.

    A better question is why won’t they carpool. Instead of giving every cop and teacher a placard, those could be reserved for drivers willing to carry other members of their caste as passengers.

    In any event, just remember their representatives in the state legislature — those assigned to the city and suburbs — have to look out for them, but don’t have to give a damn about the rest of us.

  • AMH

    On sidewalk biking: “No more bike lanes until those damn cyclists obey the law!”

    On sidewalk parking: “Let’s give these heroes a parking garage!”

  • Peter Chowla

    The 114 precinct already has land in use as a parking lot at street level it seems. I see no problem in letting them use the same land already dedicated to parking, putting in place a multi-story parking lot, having it for use of police vehicles, but then charging private vehicles for use. Charges should be high enough that the parking lot makes a significant profit and the profit goes back to the city, preferably for bike and public transit infrastructure. And of course parking rules outside on the streets should be extra rigorously enforced in this area.

  • Joe R.

    A better question might be why doesn’t NYC provide housing for its workers? For example, you could have city worker housing near police precincts, schools, bus depots, subway yards, and so forth to enable a lot of people working for the city to walk to work. The cost to the city of running this housing would likely be less than all the damage caused by parking placards and excessive car use among its workers.

  • Joe R.

    I agree with everything you said but the part about doubling life expectancies since the start of the Industrial Revolution is only a half truth. The real story is the horrid living/working conditions caused a dramatic drop in life expectancies compared to past generations. Those not subject to these conditions lived nearly as long on average as people do now. For example, I had a great-great grandmother who made it to 102 years, 8 months. She was born in 1842. People living well into old age wasn’t uncommon even during Roman times. So long as you didn’t die in war, a lot of Romans made it into their 60s or 70s. Maybe when you look at the big picture, compared to the times when people had the best living conditions possible for their era, modern technology has added maybe a decade and change to average life spans. We may well have added more, but modern technology, starting with the Industrial Revolution, added toxins to the environment which caused cancers and cardiovascular disease. Modern medicine more or less compensates for this. And more recently, the automobile added sedentary lifestyles.

    Modern medicine hasn’t increased maximum possible lifespans thus far. They remain at 115 to 125 years.

  • carl jacobs

    why doesn’t NYC provide housing for its workers?

    Just a guess, but I would assume it might have something to do with the fact that people don’t like to be told where to live. Because compulsion as a condition of employment is the only way you would get people into such housing.

    Confer with “taxes are lower … and public services are better and more conscientiously provided.”

  • Joe R.

    You’re missing one thing. If you don’t like the conditions of employment working for NYC, you’re perfectly free to not do so. NYC used to have a residency requirement for its workers. While not quite the same as worker housing, you’re still restricting the area where they can live. NYC had no trouble attracting a work force even with such a requirement. At the very least we should reinstitute a residency requirement for city workers.

    Worker housing is a perk. If it’s offered free of charge to the employees, NYC would have no trouble filling positions.

    As a counterpoint, why should we, the serfs who pay taxes which pay these worker’s salaries, have to deal with all the negatives caused by city workers having parking placards, driving to their jobs, and living in the suburbs? That costs US money. Workers spend their salaries outside of NYC, which effectively drains money from our economy.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s a great example near me of how more parking doesn’t necessarily translate into the police not parking on sidewalks:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7304106,-73.8109464,3a,75y,149.74h,67.09t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s_4GsXlfg6pR1AKJZ1ZKNsA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    Note the very nice parking lot built just for the 107th Precinct:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7303267,-73.8101747,3a,75y,194.86h,71.57t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sacdkmC1-crg4Ed4ELxc4PA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    NYC can end this problem tomorrow by putting bollards protecting the sidewalks around police stations.

  • macartney

    Hey Dave!!! While I am sensitive to the issue of adopting language and structures that can backfire in the long term (i.e., appeals to “safety!” above all else often empower those we’re fighting), I think there’s a big difference when you are punching up vs when you are punching down. Does the target have power? Does the target have power over others? I think therefore your comparison to NIMBY’s complaints about bike riders falls flat. Public employees abusing the public good should be held to the highest standards possible. There’s a dramatic and real difference with a public official empowered by the state parking on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk and a regular Joe Schmo riding his bike through a red light.

    And while I totally think dialogue and understanding are good and a necessary first step, I think we are past that point with NYPD car drivers/commuters. They are parking like this because they can and because they just don’t GAF. Don’t believe me? Just ask em! Like I have repeatedly to the 114, who has repeatedly advised us to get over it and get a life.

    The only thing I’d clarify about the quote David used, is that I don’t think anyone–whether they park on the sidewalk or not– should be rewarded with a parking garage. As I also said to David, “Our city council needs to implement policies that drastically reduce our dependence on private vehicles, not ones that would encourage more police officers to drive their cars in from Long Island every day.” and “No one who wants to be considered a climate change leader should call for building a multi-level parking garage in the year 2019.”

  • crazytrainmatt

    In the bronx, the 52nd precinct has been parking for years on the Mosholu greenway on the MNR Harlem line overpass. They park on the sidewalk outside their dedicated and fenced parking lot. There were always free spaces available inside, but evidently it was easier to park on the sidewalk.

    https://goo.gl/maps/Uw935ZDWiW22

  • William Lawson

    It’s not true that horrid working and living conditions caused a dramatic drop in life expectancy. However awful the conditions of the Industrial Revolution seem to us now, the truth is that they were a vast improvement from what went on before. And if you think that is unlikely, you clearly haven’t really looked into how utterly awful things were before then. The vast majority of people lived an utterly wretched, cruel life of subsistence. Read about the conditions in Britain pre-1800’s, not just in the cities but rural areas too. Most kids never reached the age of 10, and you’d be lucky if you’d ever experienced a full stomach by that age. Kids were dying in ditches of liver poisoning because they were full blown alcoholics. There was no education to speak of, you basically spent your whole childhood on the streets. Child prostitution was rife. If you weren’t a child prostitute you were a thief or a vagabond. The reason why people flocked to the cities from rural areas after the Industrial Revolution is because the jobs – and the living conditions that went along with them – were a vast improvement from what they had experienced before.

    About life expectancy. To say that life expectancy doubled is not to say that everyone who died of natural causes lived longer than before. There were still people living to a ripe old age before the Industrial Revolution, although significantly fewer than after. But the infant mortality rate greatly skewed life expectancy averages before the IR. With only a fraction of the previous rate of infant deaths, then old people were weighted more heavily in life expectancy averages. But whether it was from everyone living longer or more babies surviving, the fact remains that the IR improved living conditions so effectively that the world population exploded exponentially.

    Even with all the toxins and pollutants and extra ways to die we have created for ourselves – and I agree we have to change that – we’re still living longer, healthier lives on average than before, and our kids are surviving childhood. You can look at population graphs and see what a profound, undeniable effect the Industrial Revolution had on human survival rates.

  • carl jacobs

    NYC used to have a residency requirement for its workers.

    And why doesn’t NYC have that requirement anymore?

    While not quite the same as worker housing

    To say the least. There is a difference between saying “You must live in the city” and “You must live in this neighborhood in this apartment that we provide for you”. That difference is measured in parsecs.

    Feel free to try this strategy. I’m not sure you would ever find a politician fool enough brave enough to suggest it. But it sure would be entertaining to watch. Well. Not for the politician of course.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    You can’t take the train from Comack or Mineola or Mahopac, etc. etc. to Astoria or Crown Heights or Throggs Neck, so they drive. Bringing back residency requirements and/or having a functioning regional rail system might help. But if you can park for free, evade the tolls and speed cameras, of course you are going to drive from whatever cul de sac you live on in Rockland County.

  • spikex

    Congestion pricing- particularly tolling the east river bridges would likely reduce the number of public employees driving into the city greatly and encourage car pooling. Otherwise with free parking in the city, why would they not drive?

  • Joe R.

    Well, what’s your answer to solve the problem of lots of city workers using private cars to get to work? Only things I can think of offhand are eliminating parking placards and city employee parking. That still might not fix the problem.

  • carl jacobs

    The most obvious solution is to reduce the demand for transit by redistributing employment outside of the city core.

  • Joe R.

    No it isn’t. Low-density development has huge costs in terms of energy use, cost of utilities, etc. We tried the low-density model since the 1950s. The fact Streetsblog exists and lots of people are gravitating towards cities tells me it’s not working.

    Also, if you’re talking about redistributing employment from city centers to other areas in cities, to some extent that’s been happening for the last 15 or 20 years. However, the densities are still high enough to make transit viable. Transit just needs to adapt. In NYC the subway system has been geared mostly towards getting people to/from Manhattan. We need to add lines so it can do an effective job getting people around within boroughs.

  • AnoNYC

    The vehicles parked outside the lot are mostly official police vehicles. The cops park them that way to quickly exit in case of emergency like a mobilization.

    One short term solution is to eliminate parking on the other side of the street and push the moving lanes over, to get the cars off the sidewalk but maintain the back-in parking.

  • Joe R.

    There’s actually back-in parking further down the block:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7303909,-73.8087281,3a,75y,58.59h,81.01t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s8TpJ4L_2crwdYQU0qhhtGw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    Simple enough to do what you say near the police station. There’s zero excuse to park on sidewalks.

  • AnoNYC

    No excuse but the police are going to want to have access to the vehicles immediately outside the entrances.

    And yeah I always felt that emergency vehicles should have priority for curbside space around these facilities. Remove the free general parking across the street, shift the moving lanes and boom no more blocking the sidewalk.

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