Let's start with parking at home. Later we'll move on to going places, but for now we'll just talk about coming home from them. I live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn where maybe 75% of the population has cars, which is high for NY but we probably do have more street parking and there are streets where houses have driveways. But my street has lots and lots of apartment buildings, so street parking is a premium.
Here are the parameters I have to work with, or rather around: alternate side parking (street sweeping), the night rush, and other restrictions. And let me just clear up any questions - there is not a parking lot for every building. Some have a small parking lot with a long wait list (like years long), but most, including mine, do not. You're on the street, and you're on your own.
Alternate Side Parking
The entire city is apparently street-swept once or twice a week. Every street that allows parking at some time has signs that describe when that street will be swept, and you're not allowed to park there. This was a mind-blowing concept when I first arrived. "You mean I can't park here ANY Friday from 8-10am?!" Outrageous. Totally unjust. Now I don't even think about it. It's second nature to take note of the parking signs when I come home, so I know when I'll have to move the car. In our first NY apartment it was no problem. We lived on a corner - one street had Monday sweeping on one side, Tuesday on the other. The other street was Thursday on one side, Friday on the other. So if it was Monday night, I couldn't park on the Tuesday side because it was going to be swept the next morning, but I had three other curbs to choose from. In our new apartment, every street within 5 blocks is Thursday/Friday sweeping, so come the end of the week you need to really claim your spots carefully. For example, all week I've been parked in a "Friday spot", so this afternoon while the girls napped I snuck out and moved it to the Thursday side.
So what happens if you forget and leave your car where you shouldn't? A pain in the butt, that's what happens. Uniformed people in little striped cars that say SANITATION drive around and give you tickets for $45 and a bright chartreuse sticker on your back window that does not come off without much Goo Gone and razor blades. These are informally called "stickers of shame," and they inevitably draw knowing smiles from onlookers. We've gotten a handful of these. At least the sanitation people have the same attitude toward holidays as other government agencies - take as many as you can. And in New York you gotta take Jewish and Muslim holidays as well as traditional government days. So that's something.
My friend here Corey used to live in an even denser-populated neighborhood of Brooklyn and she would tell me stories of working around alternate side parking regulations. People would go outside the second it was in effect and move their cars to the other side of the street, double parked, and sit in them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until it was over and move back, just to ensure having a spot. It's not quite that bad in Bay Ridge but still annoying. In Manhattan, oh I don't even want to think about it, but some people make it work. In fact, it's an even bigger part of life for car-owners there. For some, it is life (see The Alternate Side Parking Reader.)
The Night Rush
The most important thing to know about living here, and by "here" I mean our apartment building, and which we learned the hard way, is that if you come home after 4:30pm, be prepared. Have snacks, have stroller, have books, have time. You may be parking far away, and it may take a long time. During the day it's no problem finding spaces within a block. Enough people drive to work that there are lots of free spots. That makes life as a stay-home-mom somewhat livable. I can run an errand during the day and park when I get back (actually, I can't run any errands ever, but it's not because of parking - it's because of incompatible schedules of 2 kids!) But hypothetically, one could run an errand. When we first moved here Hazel and I drove to a park to play and came home around 5. I had to park 4 blocks away, and carry a sleeping toddler, diaper bag and 10 shirts from the cleaners on hangers home...while pregnant. I only had to experience it once to know to ALWAYS take the stroller in the car, just in case.
In general, I don't need to go out at night so it's not too much of an issue. It's not like Ed comes home at an earthly hour and I can go out to do something. But sometimes, on the weekend mostly, we do come home in the evening and the key is patience. I tend to drive around in expanding concentric blocks looking for spots. Ed double parks in a strategic spot and watches like a hawk for people leaving. He tends to get luckier than I do, but we have been known to wait 20, 30, 45 minutes - once I waited an entire hour and finally went and parked by our old place and walked the 15 minutes home. Time of my life gone that I'll never get back.
- You can't park near a fire hydrant. Nobody knows the exact distance, so everyone eyeballs it and crosses their fingers. And be careful because on streets like ours, packed with pre-war apartment buildings (=kindling just waiting for a space heater to spark) there are 4-6 hydrants per block.
- You can't overlap a crosswalk. It doesn't have to be a painted-lines crosswalk, just a dipped-curb-at-the-corner. We learned that our first week here with a $115 parking ticket.
- You can't overlap driveways, obviously.
- You can't park in front of a church. I'm still figuring this out, but every church, and there are a lot of them, has no parking signs out front.
- You can't park in front of schools because of the morning and afternoon buses. This is a bummer because schools are big and all that curb space goes open so much of the time.
- You can't park anywhere near where you want to. This is not a strictly enforced rule, but rather an observation. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if they do enforce it.
Stay tuned for more on tickets, meters, and the Shoup philosophy...