Hey, I'm Parking Here

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New York City Council Member Jimmy Vacca (2nd from right.) Photo by Kate Hinds

The New York City Council Transportation Committee met Wednesday to discuss a slate of bills designed to make life easier for New Yorkers who park.

Three bills are under consideration: Int. 762 would make it easier for vehicles to stand near a school or day care center; Int. 527 would require the DOT to post notice of permanent street sign changes that affect parking, and Int. 824 would make it expressly legal for homeowners to park in front of their own driveways -- something committee chair Jimmy Vacca called "a simple bill -- quite frankly, it should be a no-brainer."

That last idea didn't fly with Kate Slevin, the New York City Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner testifying on behalf of the NYC DOT.

"It's unclear what issue the bill attempts to address," she said, adding it was "particularly troubling" that the bill, as written, could effectively provide 'blanket forgiveness" for a variety of parking violations.

Slevin also said the DOT wouldn't support the other two bills. The no-standing regulations near schools, she said, are necessary to protect children. And as for posting advance notice for permanent parking sign changes: Slevin said the DOT maintains over 1.3 million signs -- of which 20 percent are devoted to parking. Providing advance notice, she said, would "essentially double the workload" of staff people who change signage, which would result in increased costs.

Rather than debate if people should read signs, or signs about signs, the hearing first focused on a topic not on the agenda: prices, specifically an already-rescinded rate increase notice the DOT had sent out to people who use municipal parking facilities.

Jimmy Vacca, reading from the letter, said "Effective January 1st, the City Council has approved rate increases for all New York City DOT municipal parking facilities."

"This City Council never approved any rate increase," Vacca said, adding that the same letter had been sent out last year. "This is two years in a row that this is a mistake."

He took the occasion to argue for more Council control over parking regulations, and said he wanted the City Council to be brought in as a partner when it comes to parking rate increases -- not an afterthought. "I don't appreciate agencies telling me what they're going to do, after they've decided what they're going to do."

The often-tense hearing did deliver some choice exchanges that reveal a persistent tension in city transportation planning.

"What do people do who have cars in this city?" Vacca wanted to know.

"Well, luckily for us, we have a wonderful transportation system," said Slevin, "and less than 50 percent of the households in New York City own cars, so there's a lot of other options people use to get around town."

This did not placate Vacca.

"Some people who live in boroughs outside Manhattan do need a car," snapped Vacca. "I hate to break that to DOT. Some people who do not live in Manhattan, especially, need a car. We do not have mass transit options that you think we have, or that we should have."

Slevin told him the new municipal parking lot rates were going into effect in February 2013.