EXCLUSIVE: Council Speaker Corey Johnson Will Push de Blasio on Placard Abuse This Week

Placard abuse in action. Photo: Eli Forsythe
Placard abuse in action. Photo: Eli Forsythe

The City Council, led by Speaker Corey Johnson, will unveil a slate of legislation this week to root out placard corruption and the street chaos it causes, Streetsblog has learned — proving again that the only bill that’s missing in action on illegal parking is named de Blasio.

One of the five new bills, co-sponsored by Johnson and Council Member Keith Powers, would create a singular application process, and accountability, for parking permits. Another, co-sponsored with Ritchie Torres, would require at NYPD traffic agents to conduct at least 50 “targeted enforcement sweeps” per week, monitored by the Department of Investigations and based on 311 complaints.

“Placard abuse is corruption, plain and simple, and New York City cannot tolerate it any longer,” Johnson told Streetsblog.

The mayor has tolerated it — and, in fact, expanded it. Over 150,000 placards are currently in circulation, up at least 50,000 since de Blasio took over, allowing entitled government employees to evade penalties for illegal and dangerous parking in crosswalks, on sidewalks, in bike lanes, and next to bus stops. They get away with it because NYPD traffic agents are loath to ticket their fellow municipal employees (and fellow cops!).

Parking rules may seem trivial to the larger problem of congestion and failing transit, but 150,000 legal scofflaws, plus the uncounted forged placards, create a culture of disregard that becomes a “gateway drug” to further corruption, as the Daily News’s Errol Louis recently put it. Placards are also easy to forge — though a tracking system is also part of the council slate.

“Placard abuse has become the norm throughout many neighborhoods, including on the already heavily congested streets of Lower Manhattan, particularly in Chinatown and Battery Park City,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district is overrun with scofflaw parking and has already proposed legislation to revoke placards for misuse. “We cannot allow the status quo to continue if we are to ensure the safety of our streets for pedestrians and the general public.”

The other new bills would require that the city’s 311 system accept complaints related to illegal parking and placard abuse, which it currently does not; and require that enforcement agents notify city tow units to remove any vehicles illegally blocking bike lanes, bus lanes, crosswalks, sidewalks, or fire hydrants.

And a final proposal is not without irony: it would make it illegal for city vehicles to block bike lanes, bus lanes, crosswalks, sidewalks, or fire hydrants — all of which are already illegal (not that you would know it from the streets around government buildings all over the city).

The bills aren’t the first from the Council aimed at addressing widespread placard abuse, but the de Blasio administration and NYPD have repeatedly opposed those proposals, which include common-sense bills that would require the NYPD to report on placard abuse and create a system to track misuse of placards.

In opposing the bills, the de Blasio administration said in May, 2017 that it had created a dedicated enforcement unit, but its impact has been negligible, as the watchdogs who manage the @placardabuse Twitter account have carefully documented.

And for months, de Blasio has been telling reporters that further news on placards is imminent. But so far, nothing.

The continued prevalence of parking placards and placard abuse is especially concerning as the city attempts to tackle growing congestion issues. City employees are less likely than the average New Yorker to own cars, but they are more likely to commute by car into Manhattan’s Central Business District, partly because of a guaranteed parking space near their office or school or stationhouse — a benefit worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars that is not currently taxed as income. Illegally parked placard cars also make deliveries more difficult.

“We are in a transportation crisis and the question of how we allocate our street space is of paramount importance,” Johnson said in his statement to Streetsblog.

For that reason, placard reform was one of the top-line recommendations of the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup in December [PDF].

Ultimately, the only real solution would be a dramatic reduction in the number of placards issued by the city. But progress on that front during the Bloomberg administration has been mostly reversed under de Blasio, who in doled out 50,000 new placards to public school teachers two years ago.

  • mikecherepko

    It’s a lot more fun to sue Exxon for selling gas than to tell someone they can’t drive wherever they want and then park wherever they want. There are a lot of politicians who aren’t great on climate issues, but De Blasio is infuriating because he trolls those of us who care.

  • William Lawson

    They need to also push the security threat posed by placard abuse. To allow a culture to persist among law enforcement officers in which vehicles with easily forgeable pieces of card on the dash are essentially made invisible to the law is to hand terrorists a very useful tool of evasion. And as we’ve seen, this rotten culture is perpetuated intensively in the very areas of NYC most at risk of terrorism. We’ve already seen, a few New Year’s Eves ago, that a van with illegally blacked out windows and no plates can evade the attention of the NYPD right by Times Square for two full days. Traffic enforcement agents paid it no further scrutiny than a quick glance merely because it had something which looked official in the window. It’s fucking insane how dangerous that is for New Yorkers and tourists alike.

  • it’s this or we have to start taxing these cars ourselves. here’s my proposal: for every illegal placard that we citizens discover, we helpfully smash the rear view mirror, which costs about 400 to replace. thus we effectively create the tax ourselves.

  • Reader

    Scrap the whole placard system. Full stop.

  • AMH

    This is what drives me nuts. The dangers caused by cars are completely ignored while people obsess over things like bicycles. I remember a recent demonstration or parade or something where the NYPD was cutting all the bikes off the street for “security” but the cars got to stay.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve thought about spray painting illegally parked cars, but you idea is even better. Perhaps pop the tires for good measure.

  • Joe R.

    If placards are issued at all, it should only be for city-owned vehicles, and then only if the person using them can prove there’s no other way for them to effectively do their job without one. Absolutely no placards for private cars. This makes enforcement easy. Check the license plate. If it’s not a city-owned vehicle, it definitely can’t have a placard, and it gets towed away.

  • AnoNYC

    Let’s just print out and laminate a bunch of placards and hand them out at major intersections like Canal Street. Overwhelm the system.

  • AnoNYC

    The school placard handout was especially insane. Teachers and school administration have no reason to have parking priority. They work the same hours that mass transportation is offered at peak service.

    The placards only incentivize people to live outside the city and drive in. NYC workers should be required to live in NYC.

  • Placard abuse is probably just the tip of a much larger abuseberg.

  • djw

    Placards *are* corruption. They shouldn’t exist, there’s no need for them, most cities don’t have them, and they’re literally a license for lawless behavior. I suppose some of these bills might make the problem the problem less bad, but the notion of reducing abuse of thing that’s designed to be abused is hilarious.

  • William Lawson

    Who could forget the furore over the 2nd Ave bike lane years ago, when an outraged reporter for NBC or CBS or whichever shitty local news outlet speculated, quite seriously, about “what would happen if a terrorist on a bicycle threw a bomb while cycling past the Israel embassy.” Terrorists on foot or by car = no problem! But heaven forbid they might be on a BIKE….
    Total and utter stupidity is the soup of the day among the anti-bike crowd. You get numb to it after a while.

  • The only way to reduce placards is 1) to remove the decision to ticket from the TEA and 2) make each department in the agencies pay for the summonses .
    TEA should ticket all cars , no privileges. If the specific plaque has a deal with the city – like FEDEX or UPS) , then it is up to their boss to fight that with the department of finance. It would become such a pain that with or without authorization it would be an incentive to park legally . No one wants to aggravate their boss.

  • Crosby

    I once called 311 to complain about an illegally parked placard abuser that was blocking my car in after a snowstorm. I was enraged when the operator told me that the police “came by” but did not notice the situation. I said “I bet if I went out there and set the car on fire you’d come by and move it huh.” Then she started rambling about terrorist threats. So I went outside again and police car just happened to be driving by then I flagged them down. They had no choice but to ticket the car and have it towed. It was literally blocking me in, I could not move my car. Needless to say they were bummed. I told them, if this car does not get moved NOW I am going to call every news station in NYC and invite them here to film this, then I will give them YOUR badge numbers so you can explain why this car was not moved. Good times!