(Photos: Jess Rohan)
Alec Baldwin was in court this morning defending himself against allegations that he attempted to assault a guy over a parking space–an impulse that is no doubt familiar to the nearly half of New York households that own cars. A data collection firm found that nearly a third of US drivers surveyed had been in a fight over a parking space in the previous year. It’s hard to imagine that figure isn’t higher in New York City, home to some of the country’s most aggressive drivers, and the third-most congested city in the world.
A major target of city driver ire is the daily dance known as alternate side parking, which forces drivers without the benefit of a driveway or expensive parking-garage spot to move their cars in the middle of the day as they await a zamboni.
Re-parking is incredibly time-consuming, leading many people to just double park on the other side of the street–or sometimes, if there’s a bike lane, in the middle of the street. And car ownership is on the rise in the city–up 9% in the past four years–possibly due to new rideshare drivers.
We talked to some brave souls occupying their double-parked cars in the East Village on street cleaning day to find out what they think about during their two-hour purgatory.
Failing to move during street cleaning is a $65 fine in most of Manhattan, and it’s $115 for double parking–but head down any Village side street during its alternate-side parking hours and you’ll see a solid row of unattended, double-parked cars.
“It’s a whole day’s salary for some people,” said Fabrizio Duque, who was waiting in a friend’s car that he borrowed for the day. “So I understand why it’s frustrating.”
Alternate side parking is such a city institution that the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer once described it to Natalie Portman (and Times readers) in mind-numbing detail, and David Foster Wallace chose it as the occasion for grisly murder in his novel Infinite Jest. For over 20 years, New Yorkers would find their unmoved cars affixed with “stickers of shame,” until City Council voted to end a practice they considered “not reasonable behavior in the 21st century.”
Brigitte Landou has a strategy for parking her 18-year-old beater car, which is covered in the work of the painter Kenny Scharf, a staple of the 1980s East Village art scene. When she can’t find a spot on her usual street, which is partly blocked with construction right now, she parks on the block of the nearby police precinct, which is exempt from the alternate side parking hours.
Brigitte Landau’s car, painted by Kenny Scharf.
But Landou rarely has to resort to the NYPD’s block, she said, because she’s good at finding spots. She credits her cool-headed driving to her mother, who learned to drive at 18 to flee the Nazi occupation of France and, she says, ended up receiving an award as the “best driver in France” for going 67 years without a single accident.
Still, things can get dicey on the streets. “Sometimes you’re ready to park and someone–from New Jersey, probably–comes and tries to take your spot,” Landou said.
Stephen Singer, an actor, studies scripts during street cleaning. He’s lived in the city since 1971, but just got a car two years ago, which he uses for occasional trips out of town. Singer hopes the City finds a better parking solution soon; the last time someone stopped to talk to him during ASP day, they gave him a survey from an app developer for an algorithm to find open parking spaces. There are at least five such apps already–and more on the way
Once, Singer said, he got hit by a street cleaner. It was on the zamboni’s second pass on the street, after it had hit another car and flattened the tire.
Annie Dumke, who uses her car to visit her mother in Westchester, reads during street cleaning; a recent pick was the book Car Trouble by Robert Rorke. Dumke and her husband are staying in a friend’s East Village apartment while they find a place in the city, where they’re returning after a stint in the suburbs.
“I’m not so sure it’s worth having a car in New York City,” Dumke said. “My friends in the city don’t have cars, and maybe there’s a reason for that.”
One of her kids lives in Brooklyn, Dumke said. “Maybe it’s more humane there.”
It won’t end the city’s street cleaning ritual any time soon, but some drivers hope that if the proposed congestion pricing goes through next year, our parking woes might be ever-so-slightly alleviated.
“The less cars, the better,” Dumke said.
Landou, on the other hand, is totally against congestion pricing, which she said will be difficult for older Manhattanites on fixed incomes who need a car for running errands and going to appointments.
Despite the difficulties, Landou said, having her car is worth it: “My car is my freedom.”