Friday, May 18, 2007

Going Places: Parking Diaries II

So last weekend I got a parking ticket and sticker of shame, and this week I almost forgot to move the car to the alternate side...twice, so I figured it must be time to write some more about parking. This time we're talking about parking when we go places in New York, but let me just make one more comment about parking at home. I just got back from moving the car for sweeping tomorrow. And in doing so I left Hazel in front of Blue's Clues and Ginger in the baby swing. I walked out, locked the door, left the building, crossed the street, drove the car to a spot two blocks away, and walked home. Every single time I do something like that - leave the girls alone - either to park or switch laundry or get the mail - I feel slightly sick and envision all manner of horrible things happening, from a cut to a fire, and social services taking them away from me. Then I envision putting shoes & jackets on, taking them outside, buckling them both in car seats, driving two blocks, then walking them home (and inevitably receiving a tantrum from Hazel because she doesn't want to go back in) and I swallow hard and consider it worth the risk. It's just quicker and easier. I do try to do it when they're both sleeping, but sometimes I forget (or sometimes they don't sleep at the same time all day). Ok, enough from the guilty conscience.

I learned early on that when I'm going to drive somewhere in New York City, the biggest concern is parking (and traffic, but that's a topic for another day.) If possible, I call ahead and ask how the parking is in the area, and, if relevant, the street sweeping days & hours. Sometimes there is a parking lot or garage nearby. Sometimes there is meter parking. And sometimes there's just no parking, so I don't go. Once I called a store and they said street parking was crowded but they had an arrangement with a diner down the block that their shoppers could park there. Never would have known if I hadn't called. But for the most part parking takes time and money, and may be several blocks or more from my destination, so that also means ALWAYS take the stroller.

My ticket last week was an interesting one. I went to the grocery store at 8am on Saturday. This store has a small parking lot so I drove there, but over half of the spaces were blocked by big trucks making their deliveries in the back, and the other spots were filled. I noticed the meter spots on the street were mostly open; I attributed this to the early hour, and parked in one, sure to deposit my quarters. When I came out 45 minutes later I found a ticket on the windshield and sticker on the window. I was annoyed at getting a ticket undeservedly, and at the hassle I'd have to go through to contest it. Then I looked up at the parking signs and discovered that street sweeping on that main street is 8-8:30 every day except Sunday. After almost 2 years I should have looked at the signs - you always have to look at the signs. But I'd gotten lazy - I always park in the lot there, so I didn't know the rules on that street. And I'd never seen a daily 8-8:30 sweeping sign - they're usually once a week. There went $45 I could have used for laundry.

In my early days here, I had several experiences of driving to a place, circling for parking, becoming overwhelmed at the one-way streets, parking signs, and traffic, and just turning around to come back home. But I've gotten smarter as I've learned the patterns. For the most part, I know the alternate side parking for the streets around the pediatrician office, dentist, library and most of the parks we like that are too far to walk, and make my appointments and plans accordingly. Meter spots are always best because they're usually closer to where you're going, but always in demand. But I also learned the hard way that some meters are 2 hours, and some are only 1. Garages are always very convenient, too, but quite pricey. The few times I've driven into Manhattan, I've always parked in a lot or garage. Street parking is not worth the enormous investment of time spent looking for a spot you'll probably never find. For a couple of hours we've spent anywhere from $12-35, depending on the area, day and time of day. I think the most was $40 for a few hours in the theater district at night. Two hours on a Saturday near the temple was about $25. Plus tolls of course...

I could go on but I want to mention Dr. Donald Shoup - UCLA Urban Planning professor and author of The High Cost of Free Parking (call out to D-Pulse!). This guy has made urban parking his academic and professional focus, and in my opinion that's good. Parking could use him. I haven't read his book, but I have read a few articles and watched this film (which I highly recommend), so I have the gist of his ideas, which I'll lay out here:

Street parking either costs too much, or in more cases, too little, especially if it's free. A solution to many urban problems, including air pollution, traffic, pedestrian safety, cleanliness, and of course parking, is to find the "right" cost of curb parking. The right cost would be the lowest price that leaves 15% of spaces vacant at any given time. I assume in NYC this price would be more than 25 cents per half hour (what meters cost in many areas) and less than $10 per half hour (what some garages charge.) Revenue from this parking policy should go straight back into improving the specific locality - fixing up the pedestrian realm so it's a place more people want to be.

Anyone involved in the parking world seems to either be a Shoupista or Anit-Shoupista. I'm not so polarized, but since I already pay out my rear end to park in Manhattan, I'd be happy to pay whatever it takes if it means there are readily available spots. It's hard to imagine 15% of curb parking open in NYC, but I'm all for it, especially if the revenue goes to improving pedestrian conditions (or, say, um, putting elevators in more subway stations so I could actually take a stroller...)

Anyway, the point is that parking is a mess. What it means for me is that I go out less, buy less gas (usually one tank per month), walk more and shop online more. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but has taken serious getting used to for a suburban girl like me. Of course having two kids further complicates driving outings, whether parking is an issue or not. That's why all the saved gas money went into a v.e.r.y. s.e.r.i.o.u.s. d.o.u.b.l.e. s.t.r.o.l.l.e.r. Now what I need is a new pair of walking shoes!

Question: Watch the 6-minute film interview with Dr. Shoup and tell me - how do you think this would work in your town or city (or place you've been that has a parking problem...)?


dave said...

So I'm like: hmmm.... technical problem. Geographic problem. Scheduling problem. This is the kind of thing you'd want a Google Maps mashup for. You could look up where you were going and see which streets were, for example, under street cleaning restrictions.

I poked around and found, but its a clunky site and garages are only part of the issue. I'm a little surprised nobody has tackled the issue. Maybe with all my unallocated free time... oh wait.

Disco Mom said...

Well Dr. Shoup has met with the mayor in NYC recently, I'm not following that closely but leadership is certainly "aware" of serious issues. Dave, did you watch the little film? Any help you can offer would of course be great... NY has so many problems that stem from 1) having a really old infrastructure and 2) ridiculous population density. They do have good tap water, though. One of these days I am going to write about all the things I do enjoy about living here...not as fun as complaining but they deserve to be said, too.

Maren said...

I recently found my journal from Turkey, and at the end I had made two lists: one of all the things I hated, and one of everything I liked. It was a bittersweet time... I'm glad I wrote those things down. I'd love to hear your "I love NY" list. It's tough, I think, to love NY if you're not from there. I suspect the New Yorkers made up that song & logo somewhat defensively.

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