Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Move the cars to remove the snow

Jason Mazzone

One of the strangest things about New York City is the free parking on public streets. That's right: New York City permits individuals to leave their 4,000-pound personal possessions on some of the most expensive real estate in the world without paying a dime. In my neighborhood, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, there are metered spaces on portions of the major avenues but anybody can park without paying on any of the cross streets.

(You might think that New Yorkers already pay for parking through city taxes. But there are far fewer parking spaces (and cars) than there are taxpayers in New York City. And New York law does not limit free parking to city residents.)

Every time there is a snow storm, the foolishness of New York's parking system becomes evident. Plowing a street takes longer and is less effective when the street is lined with cars. On side streets, plowing creates a narrow, snow-walled ally through which traffic must then pass; if a car stops, every vehicle coming behind it (taxis, ambulances, sanitation trucks, police cruisers) must wait. Then there are the car owners who undo the work of the sanitation department by dumping the snow back into the plowed street as they dig their vehicles out. For pedestrians, a plowed, car-lined street is a unique hazard. With the snow pushed up against the side of parked cars rather than distributed evenly across the street, crossing the street requires scaling an icy wall. Parking in New York City might be free to the car owner but for the rest of us, there is, literally, a steep price.

There are two good solutions to these problems.

The first is no parking on city streets ever. This would greatly expedite snow cleanups as well as the delivery of other public services. (A variation on this solution is to prohibit parking when snow is forecast but the benefits of such an approach are less predictable: disorder could result when residents move their vehicles on short notice.)

The second solution is to force the vehicle owners to internalize costs: charge them a fee to park that is high enough to generate sufficient revenues to allow city services to be delivered with the same efficiency that would exist on empty streets.

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