April 30, 2004
Alternate Side of Reality Parking Rules
By CLYDE HABERMAN
LET us suppose you have a chest of drawers that you sorely need for storage space but cannot fit into your small apartment. What to do?
Here is one thought: Why not put it on wheels and leave it curbside in front of your building? Naturally, you accept a theft risk and an obligation to move the chest across the street every few days to comply with alternate-side parking rules.
Absurd, right? You can't just leave personal property on the street.
But what if we call that thing on wheels, oh, a car? Suddenly, it becomes O.K. to gobble up precious public space for your own benefit. Not only that, but on most streets you also need not pay a dime for this storage area.
For a city ill-suited for the internal-combustion engine, New York may be said to be more than generous about certain parking privileges.
The City Council has a special gift for finding new days to suspend alternate-side parking regulations, which exist so streets can be swept. In bursts of me-tooism, one ethnic or religious group after another demands to be accorded New York's ultimate expression of cultural respect: the right to park all day on both sides of the street. Merrily, the politicians have gone along.
As a consequence, normal parking rules will be suspended a total of 43 days in 2004; that does not include unexpected snow days. Even if you discount holidays that fall on weekends, the equivalent of more than a month will go by this year with streets uncleaned because parked cars are allowed to stay put.
Year round, few benefit more than the wealthy and the uniformed.
In Midtown and in the financial district, you can see lines of black cars outside the offices of big law firms and brokerage houses. Typically, they sit beneath signs that say, "No standing anytime." All the same, they linger for hours, unmolested and unticketed.
Then there are the thousands of police officers who deem it their inalienable right to drop off their family cars wherever they wish on streets near their station houses. Many New Yorkers have a sense of authority being abused. Just this week, newspapers carried articles about resentment over officers' questionable parking habits in Chinatown and at Shea Stadium.
Once in a while, tensions have the air of a schoolyard fight. Come to think of it, an actual schoolyard fight has been under way for months in the East Village.
At Avenue B and East Sixth Street sits a building with 800 students in three separate schools - Public School 64, Tompkins Square Middle School and the Earth School. Years ago, there was only P.S. 64. But by the 1980's, its enrollment had declined to the point that the building was underused. Might as well put the offices of the school safety division there, the authorities decided. In short order, the P.S. 64 schoolyard became the division's motor pool.
But nothing stays the same, not in this city.
With the addition of the two other schools, the building is bustling. So are the students. They need room to exercise outdoors during recess, their parents say.
There is a small play area with two jungle gyms, but it is barely adequate, even for the younger children. In the middle school, "there's just no place for these big kids to get some of their energy out," said Tessa Huxley, the mother of a seventh grader. "The space is just too tight."
WHY not use the old schoolyard?
Can't. It remains the safety unit's motor pool, even though the division itself skipped off to Brooklyn last fall. The people may have left, but their cars and trucks stayed.
Let's see, cars or kids? Whose needs should come first?
You might call this one a no-brainer. Parents at the school do. So do elected officials who support them, like the public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, and the local councilwoman, Margarita López.
In fairness, so do officials at the Education Department. A solution to move the cars is being worked out, they promise. "By September, the folks will have their schoolyard back," Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, City Hall's point man on education, said yesterday.
For Lisa Donlan, another middle school parent active on the issue, his remark qualified as a breakthrough. "September is at least a time frame," she said. But after a pause, she added, "If it actually happens."
Hers was a caution born of a simple fact: the cars have long been winning.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company