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IDLE COMPLAINT: DOT Opposes Bill To Let Citizens Report Placard Abuse — Fearing Violence 

Parking placards are the root of all evil, but regular people illegally park, too.

Department of Transportation officials worry people will physically assault their neighbors for calling them out for illegal parking if the City Council moves forward with a citizen enforcement program for reporting placard abuse — the latest example of a city bureaucracy simply paralyzed by the sheer magnitude and danger of illegal parking.

In November, Brooklyn Council Member Stephen Levin and Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would allow anyone to report illegal parking in bike lanes, bus lanes, and crosswalks, and on sidewalks — including illegal parking undertaken with a city-issued placard on the dash — and in turn take home some cash.

Council Member Stephen Levin. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper
Here's Council Member Steve Levin, back in his early days of fighting abusive drivers. File photo
Council Member Stephen Levin. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper

But during a virtual Council hearing on the bill on Tuesday, acting DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione said the de Blasio administration is “opposed” to the program out of concern that people would actually beat up neighbors who reported their illegal parking to authorities — even though the public reporting element is modeled on an existing city program to combat idling.

“We have significant concerns about the potential that citizen enforcement could lead to conflicts between motorists and citizen complainants,” Forgione said. "We are concerned this could lead to many verbal and physical confrontations, pitting neighbors against neighbors, causing personal conflicts and safety risks."

Forgione cited violence among the NYPD’s own Traffic Enforcement Agents, who she said are victims of assault nearly 40 times each year for merely doing their jobs by ticketing drivers for parking illegally.

“For NYPD TEA’s, we know that despite legal protection and authority of being uniformed agents, there are typically dozens of cases of assault filed each year — 40 traffic agents every year are assaulted by members of the public," she said. "These are agents in uniform, with a Police Department patch on their arm, the full backing of the NYPD, and yet they are assaulted. We worry with this program, members of public are going to see another member of the public taking a picture of a license plate, and that could result in split-second violent confrontations."

The placard and driving class are known to escalate disputes about public space into violent altercations — just a few months ago, one driver ended up crashing through the window of a Queens bakery after he tried to run the people with whom he was fighting over a parking spot over with his car; and in September, 2019, a community meeting about a Park Slope bike lane descended into violence with one man actually shoving another.

That kind of brutality was supposed to end in 1996, when traffic enforcement agents moved from the DOT to the NYPD, as agents believed that being under the umbrella of the Police Department and having a blue uniform would protect them more.

But as a result of being part of the Police Department, traffic enforcement agents almost never ticket their own, as Streetsblog reported — who cops are simply some of the worst offenders when it comes to reckless driving and placard abuse. Illegal parking contributes to fatal crashes and congestion.

The city opposition to Levin’s bill is bizarre, given that the public reporting component mimics an existing city law to crack down on idling trucks and cars that Mayor de Blasio famously re-launched last year with his “Billy Never Idles” campaign (and like that initiative, people who report illegal parking under Levin's bill would get 25 percent of the ticket revenue).

So DOT’s fears about violence related to civilian enforcement may stem more from reporting about illegal parking specifically, rather than about civilian enforcement itself. Or perhaps the agency just doesn't want the responsibility; under Levin's bill, DOT would have to set up the online portal through which complaints will be filed, and the agency would also have to write the specific rules of the program, such as what evidence would be required when a citizen transmits his or her reports (idling cases involve several minutes of video).

Unlike all other parking tickets, which are heard at Department of Finance’s Parking Violations Bureau, these Levin declarations 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.

Levin said he's fed up with DOT and NYPD for failing for years to rein in rampant placard abuse — a form of low-level corruption that is not only illegal, but also puts cyclists and other vulnerable road users in danger — and frankly doesn't believe that the city has an alternative solution to finally putting an end to it.

"This is not the first step towards a solution, or the second, but years of agencies failing to keep our streets free from obtrusive and illegal parking that has made this bill a necessity," said the term-limited Levin, who has vowed to end placard abuse in Downtown Brooklyn before his term ends on Dec. 31 (how's he doing? Poorly. Very poorly).

"Agencies blatantly ignore the law, and it has grown to be a persistent and endemic problem," Levin added. "We cannot let people who use placards be held to a different standard. After years of banging my head against the wall, I'm not confident the administration, or the police department, has an answer. If this isn't the solution that the city wants to pursue, what, then, is the solution the city is putting forward?"

Both Forgione and NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster said they are committed to punishing drivers — including cops — who park illegally, but offered no other tangible or immediate solutions to the problem.

Forgione said DOT is "interested" in implementing automated camera enforcement in bike lanes, like those that operate in bus lanes and as speed cameras, to catch those that park illegally; and is working with the NYPD to end discretionary enforcement by utilizing technology "in the next few years" that would automatically catch scofflaws. 

"We're very interested in automated bike lane enforcement, we've been very successful with our other camera programs for enforcement. will give some serious thought to going forward seek to do better," said Forgione. "We believe it's very important to take discretion out of enforcement. We are moving in this direction with NYPD."

But DOT's opposition to 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; and after reports that de Blasio's $52-million plan he announced in 2019 to fully digitize the placard system, called Pay-by-Plate, is stalled.

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