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Corey Johnson

Pol Introduces Bill To Let Citizens Report Placard Abuse — And Win Cash!

12:01 AM EST on November 19, 2020

Council Member Stephen Levin. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper

This is a citizen's arrest — for placard abuse!

Everyday New Yorkers will soon be compensated for tattling on their neighbors for illegally parking in bike lanes, bus lanes, and crosswalks, and on sidewalks, thanks to a new bill to help crack down on rampant placard abuse that for years has gone unchecked.

Brooklyn Council Member Stephen Levin, together with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, are today introducing new legislation that will allow anyone to report illegally parked cars — including those with city-issued placards — and in turn take home some cash.

Levin, who for years has been saying he will do something to rein in the illegal parking that puts vulnerable road users in danger by blocking bike lanes and bus lanes, says his new civilian enforcement program will mimic an existing city law to crack down on idling trucks and cars (famously re-launched with the "Billy Never Idles" campaign this winter).

“We all know how dangerous it is when cars park in the bike lanes, bus lanes, with impunity,” he said. “Rather than banging my head against the wall, why not give the public the power to enforce?”

Here's why you can't trust cops to do bike lane enforcement. File photo: Dan Miller
Here's why you can't trust cops to do bike lane enforcement. File photo: Dan Miller
Here's why you can't trust cops to do bike lane enforcement. File photo: Dan Miller

The online portal through which complaints will be filed will be overseen by the Department of Transportation, which will be required to write the specific rules if the bill passes, such as what evidence will be required when citizen's transmit their reports (idling cases involve several minutes of video). Cases would be adjudicated before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. If found guilty, the city will slap the perpetrator with a $175 fine — up $50 from the current $115 fine, according to the bill.

And like the "Billy Never Idles" anti-idling campaign, those who report the illegally parked car will get a check in the mail for 25 percent of the summons money, Levin says — finally giving the city the teeth it needs to put an end to the low-level corruption.

“The fines exist as a means of dissuasion,” Levin said. “When the word gets out that someone can actually take a picture of your license plate and you get a $175 fine in the mail, I think that’s a pretty strong incentive to stop doing it.”

And if it works like the idling program, New Yorkers will be making their neighbors pay — so far this year, the city has paid out nearly $183,000 to the public for 1,600 reports out of the roughly 9,000 complaints made to the Department of Environmental Protection, according to an agency spokesman. (The New Yorker profiled a particularly prodigious idling vigilante in 2018.)

But the self-enforced placard abuse program comes with a few caveats — violators must be within a 1,320-foot radius of a school building, and it will not apply to those parked near a hydrant, a relic of city-state jurisdiction rules. But Levin says the school radius encompasses the majority of bike lanes and bus lanes in four of the city's five boroughs, excluding Staten Island.

“We mapped it out, and the vast majority of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx would be covered under this bill. It’s still illegal to block a bike lane, the independent citizen enforcement only applies to this violation,” Levin said.

And there is a general concern that snitches get stitches, but safe-street advocates and placard abuse watchdogs who have been begging Levin for years to do something about the rampant illegal parking in his district, specifically in downtown Brooklyn are cautiously optimistic about the new legislation. Putting enforcement in the hands of the public instead of police — who are often themselves the ones doing the illegal parking — will go a long way.

“This sounds like it could do a lot to start reining in placard corruption. By bypassing the dirty insiders who refuse to take action, this could allow law-abiding New Yorkers to reclaim their own streets,” said the watchdog Twitter account, @placardabuse.

Still, the enforcement will only work as well as those enforcing it, and will still not do anything to physically move the illegally parked car — that will still come down to the city agencies' flawed response to 311 reports.

“The remaining concern is the integrity of the Administrative Law Judges who will make the determinations based on the evidence submitted. We have seen cases where valid tickets have actually been written to placard perps, only to be tossed when the placard was submitted as a defense, even though it was a clear violation of the placard's rules. And we have seen too many judges who were personally guilty of placard corruption over the years, who would benefit from some mutual leniency,” said @placardabuse. “Despite these remaining concerns, this would still be a productive step forward, and would help to isolate and shine a spotlight on any dirty dealing within the adjudication process.”

But the two city pols are hopeful that the notion that anyone walking by can simply report your illegally parked car for which you'll be slapped with a $175 fine will make people finally get the message to stop parking where they should not be.

"Placard abuse remains a scourge on our city streets despite repeated efforts to bring it to an end. This new bill would give New Yorkers the power to do what the NYPD and others have failed to do for so long: end placard abuse through real time crowd-sourced reporting and appropriately harsh penalties. Placard abuse is a street safety issue and a governmental trust issue," said Johnson.

The bill comes months after the mayor axed two units that supposedly were dedicated to cracking down on placard abuse — though neither made any real progress, and one was never even actually created.

Streetsblog reported in August that the NYPD’s placard abuse team issued just 2,444 summonses for the violation, “Fraudulent use of parking permit,” which is the equivalent of fewer than seven tickets a day across the entire city, between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. The DOT unit never issued any tickets.

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