Let’s save free parking for Monopoly

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What if you could rent a place to store a giant pile of your stuff in New York City for free?

The bad news is you can. If you own a car, you can park it on the street in many neighborhoods without paying a cent. All you have to do is move it once or twice a week.

Of course, that seems totally normal — but maybe it shouldn’t. As Paul Steely White, executive director of the non-profit Transportation Alternatives, points out, streets are actually public space. We think they’re a place for cars to drive and sit (mostly sit), because that is what we’ve gotten used to. His goal is to get us all to think differently.

To that end, his group sponsored a night at the Museum of the City of New York last week called “Streetopia.” Hundreds of people visited three floors of exhibits, all showcasing ways to reclaim the city from automobile dominance, like Barcelona’s “Superblocks.” Choked by traffic, that Spanish city is creating small neighborhoods of about three square blocks and allowing cars to drive only around the perimeter. The chunk of blocks becomes a community — kids can play in the streets again, bicyclists don’t fear cars — while the amount of air and noise pollution plummets.

Another exhibit featured the winners of a contest for how to deal with transit on 14th Street when the L train goes out of service for a year. One idea: Get cars off the block and have buses run every minute.

But the starkest, most perspective-changing exhibit was simply time-lapse footage of a corner of E. 22nd Street where a CitiBike rack sits across from some on-street parking. Over the course of a single day you see people swarming the bike rack, taking bikes out, bringing them back. For a while, almost all the bikes are gone, then the rack fills up again, then off they go. And across the street, taking up twice as much space as the rack, are two cars, just sitting there, parked all day.

You start to realize how much space we have simply ceded to cars, and what a waste that is.

“Parking is a finite public resource,” says White. That space that we think of as the-place-cars-have-a-right-to-sit-all-day could be used differently. It could be used to expand the sidewalk, or make a bike lane. It could be given over to buses. It could become space for businesses to open up cafes or kiosks — and pay taxes on the land. Or it could be planted with grass and turned into a playground. We think of it as “parking” only because we believe that cars have the right to it.

But in fact, the majority of New Yorkers don’t own cars. Why must we sacrifice public land to the minority, for free — especially since studies have shown that 90 percent of people who drive to their Manhattan jobs could get there by public transit?

“For too long the vast majority of New York City’s public space has been dedicated to the convenience of drivers and the storage of cars. The small spaces carved out for pedestrians — crosswalks, sidewalks — leave the public at the mercy of drivers,” says White.

I was talking to a car-owning friend about this, and he said that free parking is no different from free education. Some people don’t own cars, some people don’t have kids. Our taxes pay for schools and on-the-street parking anyway.

But streets are not like schools. Streets are public land that we are giving away. Would we let a private citizen build a house in Central Park? Of course not, because we recognize the park as something that belongs to all of us. It is time to think of our streets that way.

So then: How do we wrest them back from the car owners?

Some alternatives that have been tried elsewhere are working. London charges a giant premium to drive into its business district, and as a result, traffic (and parking) are down, but commerce is not.

Each summer, Paris turns some of its roadways into “beaches,” complete with sand and palm trees. Somehow the Citroens survive.

Los Angeles raised its parking meter fees with the predictable result of cars parking for less time. That means cars are circling for less time, too.

Here in New York, one simple idea is to start charging for all street parking, and give the money to the MTA. Most of us would cheer.

“Streets can be designed for either cars or people, but not both at once,” White said.

It is time to stop giving away New York City’s precious public land.

Read Lenore Skenazy's column every other Sunday morning on

Lenore Skenazy is founder of Free-Range Kids, a contributor to, and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?”

Updated 5:57 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Dmitri from Coney Island says:
Lenore, you're a stupid ——tard.
July 2, 2017, 10:13 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
And lets get a fee for locking your bike to the lamppost!

And register those bikes! And get insurance!

It's for the children!
July 2, 2017, 10:54 am
Rufus' Brains are Leaking from his assshole says:
Whataboutisms!!!!!!! *frothing at the mouth
July 2, 2017, 11:42 am
NN from Boerum Hill says:
I agree!
July 2, 2017, 2:15 pm
Oldtimer from Brooklyn from Brooklyn Heights says:
While we are at it, let's replace taxis with rickshaws and give tax breaks to pedestrians who use pogo sticks. These bike fanatics fail to recognize the difference between a form of transportation and a toy used for recreation. I feel sorry for them. Most will never be able to own a car and know the joy of driving and the sense of freedom it can provide. And when they get to the age when biking is out of the question, they'll be forced to take public transportation and fall vicitm to all the criminal fare beaters who get a free pass from our mayor.
July 2, 2017, 5:17 pm
Res Ipsa from Brooklyn says:
"90 percent of people who drive to their Manhattan jobs could get there by public transit..."

Would this be the same public transit that is currently in a state of emergency? The same one that the MTA says is crumbling because ridership is too high?

I am in favor of improves public transit, but asking people to give up cars without alternatives for transportation is just making life more difficult for no reason. Build the alternatives and THEN implement car-free zones.

Yes, I know some will say "but what about rapid bus service once you get rid of the cars?" Without a commitment from the MTA to run true rapid bus service every 5 minutes on routes that people actually use, this is just a fantasy.
July 3, 2017, 10:19 am
Jdh from Prospect Heights says:
It's sad that you are getting the expected nasty comments. Bikes are transportation. It doesn't mean you have to use them. If you own a car in the city, you're not middle class. You're upper middle class or rich. And we, the majority who do not own cars, are subsidizing you. We shouldn't have parking everywhere that destroys out city's livability. That doesn't mean we have to get rid of it completely.
July 3, 2017, 11:10 am
Dave from Brooklyn says:
As others have said.

Middle class people in NYC do not own cars.

Fact, end of story.

So, time to pay up deadbeats
July 3, 2017, 11:37 am
djx from Harlem says:
Worth noting that charging for on-street parking would actually make it easier to find on-street parking.

The way it should be done is that local people should be allowed to park on the street in their neighborhood, with a permit.

The permit should be reasonably priced (not cheap, but not outrageous) for the first one in a household, then more an more expensive for each additional car at the same address. Perhaps $1K/year for the first car - which is $3/day. Much much more for additional cars.

My car is parked on the street BTW.
July 3, 2017, 11:41 am
boof from brooklyn says:
Great idea, djx. A bonus is it would get rid of many of the drivers currently committing insurance fraud by registering out of state.
July 3, 2017, 11:57 am
Adrian Horczak from Ridgewood says:
There are storage places (like Stop and Stor) you can rent out to store your stuff, but storing cars is free. Why the exception? With most people in this city not owning a car, most of us (>50%) would indeed cheer!

Oldtimer from Brooklyn does not realize that bikes are transportation. In some European cities, bikes are regarded as more important for transportation than cars. Those cities have less noise, pollution, traffic, and safety issues because all these problems are caused by cars.
July 3, 2017, 12:12 pm
Tom from Inwood, Manhattan says:
Great article and many thoughtful comments. Using pricing to allocate street space more fairly and efficiently makes good sense. A residential permit system is a good place to start. I do not own a car, but know middle and working class people in my neighborhood who need one. New Yorkers like them and cycling advocates might be able to find common ground in a policy that eliminates free parking for non-city residents and frees up space for uses that benefit the commuity (including on-street parking for people that need it). Albany, Boston, Philly and DC have it. Why not NYC?
July 3, 2017, 3 pm
TOM from Sunset Park--Brooklyn says:
Residential Parking Permits require an owner be licensed to drive from a verifiable address within NYC near where they will park their motor vehicle, then register it from that address and insure it listing it as stored at that address( Just check the applications for similar schemes around the country). That's a lot of out-of-pocket cash besides car payments.

Owners prefer not doing that , but many do. For example, five per cent of NYC residents reside on Staten Island but 19% of NYC motor vehicles are registered there. A third or more of the vehicles parked in NYC are registered outside NYC but inside NYS(domestic plates) or outside NYS altogether(foreign plates). That's a lot of owners among us. Now add in the number of passengers who regularly ride in those motor vehicles(up to three is enough). Have I gotten to a rough majority of NYC's population yet. Ignore the undocumented residents in NYC since they can't get a license yet.

See what you're up against? Those few owners with the valid RPP's and anyone and everyone with a placard issued by NYC, NYS, USA, the diplomats or whoever will get preference for 'free' parking.

Good luck to us all.
July 3, 2017, 4:21 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I take it that both Paul Steely White and Lenore Skenazy don't know what it's like to drive a car on a regular basis let alone with parking. First of all, what is this free parking that they are speaking of and where can I get it? The streets are being paid for via taxes for infrastructure, so in a way, it is being paid for even if not directly. Another thing maintaining a vehicle isn't cheap either, plus we have to pay almost every year registration, insurance, and inspection while being fined for failure to do so. In other words, there is nothing free to driving a motor vehicle here. As for closing off roads to vehicular traffic, I find this to be a bad idea on numerous levels especially if it's on a major thoroughfare because it will just relocate traffic to streets that can't handle it on a normal basis. If you think they are bad during rush hour, then just wait when they have to deal with the traffic on a normal basis. Then again, that's probably how those such as White can promote congestion pricing just by creating the very congestion itself hence the Bloomberg Way.
July 3, 2017, 4:21 pm
RP from Flatbush says:
Vote for Tom Inwood (above) as the next Exec. Dir. of Transportation Alternatives and encourage him to employ folks like djx! They each seem to look for compromising solutions rather than adversarial confrontations. As long as TA sees all drivers as (un)entitled adversaries, they will be viewed as a militant special interest group and finding common ground will continue to be extremely difficult. If the focus stays on the general common good and people are asked for constructive input rather than compelled to take sides, they might well find that common ground.
July 3, 2017, 4:25 pm
Mission Control from Brooklyn says:
Dmitri from CI: You're being kind. She's a ditz and I would not offer her a ride home in my car either. Let her learn.
July 3, 2017, 4:27 pm
AMH says:
YES YES!! I would love to get rid of some of the cars that clog my neighborhood and belch fumes in my windows. I can't see whether it's safe to cross the street because of cars parked too close to the corner and even in the crosswalk. I can't bike down the street without feeling squished between moving cars and parked cars. One of these days an INDY500 turn or a red light runner is going to get me. For all drivers love to complain about how miserable their lives are, their driving makes everyone else's lives even worse.
July 3, 2017, 5:57 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Just a little envy from Lenore and company.

Agenda 21 promotion - get on the bus comrades! It will be here in oh, 20 minutes maybe.
July 4, 2017, 8:17 am
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Sad how many of these comments just confirm the childish entitlement of drivers. The curbside space belongs to the public, which is NYC. Motorists have no special claim on that space. If NYC decides to use the space for loading zones, bus lanes, bike lanes, sidewalk extensions, outdoor cafes, pedestrian plazas, microapartments, or even container storage there is no legal recourse for drivers.

The problem with free curbside parking is two-fold. One, it indirectly subsidizes car ownership in a place where such ownership should be actively discouraged, perhaps even prohibited altogether, due to the space cars use and harm they cause. Two, often parking spots block lines of sight at intersections, and therefore cause deaths/injuries.Regardless of what else it does, NYC should immediately prohibit parking within 15 or 20 feet of crosswalks like nearly every other city or town does. A pedestrian can't safely cross a street if their view of oncoming traffic is blocked by parked vehicles.

The idea of paid parking permits is interesting, and perhaps has limited application on residential side streets where there really isn't a need for bike lanes, bus lanes, or loading zones. On major arterials however the curbside space is too precious to use for private car storage, even if that storage is paid for.

It's important to remember even a total lack of curbside parking doesn't necessarily imply you can't own a car. It just means off-street garages will be competing economically with apartments. If car owners are willing and able to pay enough for a garage such that a developer can make more from building garages than apartment buildings then there will be place to park. If not, there won't be.

Incidentally, 100 years ago cars were "toys" of the wealthy and walking or bikes were how most people got around. For many reasons we need to return to that by making car ownership, at least in large cities, costly enough so only the very wealthy can afford to own a car. This isn't a "war on cars". It's an acknowledgement that when you have limited space, you have to prioritize the most space efficient means of transport. If someone really wants to have a car, there is the rest of NY state and most of the other 49 states where they can live. There should be a few places in this country where one can not only live without a car, but live free from cars. NYC is one of the places where it'll be easiest to make this happen.
July 4, 2017, 10:33 am
Joe R. from Flushing says:
One more thing. NYC needs to prohibit vehicles with out of state and out of city plates from parking on public streets overnight. A large number of NYC car owners, perhaps even a majority, register their cars in other cities or states to save on insurance. Strictly speaking, many of these people couldn't afford to own a car if they had to pay NYC rates. That's why we need to crack down on this insurance fraud yesterday. If an out-of-state relative is visiting by car, they'll have to park their vehicle either in a garage, or in someone's driveway. NYC residents who register their cars elsewhere would have to do the same, or face having them confiscated if they leave them on the streets overnight. Failure to crack down on insurance fraud is a slap in the face to NYC car owners who play by the rules, which is why law-abiding car owners should support it.

And parking placards need to be eliminated as well. They represent a special privilege for a class of people who don't deserve them. Police and others can already park where they need if they're on call, and their sirens are on. They don't need special placards so they can park their private cars in places where others can't.
July 4, 2017, 10:51 am
Tom from Inwood says:
A few additional points on the residential permit idea: TOM from Sunset Park seems to have some useful data on proportion of cars registered outside of NYC (1/3!). That sounds plausible to me as 20% or more of cars parked for free in my neighborhood have out of state plates (most often NJ, PA, CT). Curious about the source of that data, but more importantly it shows that non-residents using precious curb space in residential neighborhorhoods is a large problem and seems to make the case FOR residential permits not against it.

Also, a permit system would for the most part not affect major thoroughfares or meter parking. In fact it would make smart meter schemes already in use in some cities work better because free neighborhood parking a short walk away would no longer be available to non-residents.

Permits should be very inexpensive - just enough to cover the cost of administration. Extensive paperwork should not be required as license plate can be electronically linked to registration to prove place of legal residence. Albany is taking advantage of this technology.

Suburban communities all around NYC restrict on street parking and commuter lot parking near transit prevent their streets being used for free park and ride.

Finally, other large, but much less crowded cities have residential permit systems. Why not NYC?
July 4, 2017, 12:41 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Seeing some of the latest comments from the anti-car fanatics shows how little you know about us motorists. First of all, not all of us who drive regularly are rich. If anything, I feel that most of the rich resides in areas that are near major transit hubs, which someone such as myself couldn't afford on my income. I won't be surprised if those such as Paul Gordon [Transportation Alternatives] and Mark Gorton [Streetsblog] are rich to live close to everything as are most other anti-car fanatics and bike zealots. Another thing that they need to understand is that boundaries of NYC aren't where the subway lines stop as transit deserts do exist within city lines hence the need for driving. More importantly, I feel that some of you only look at the effects to why there are those of us who choose to drive, and it's mainly because we're coming from areas that don't viable alternatives to getting around. Also, not everyone has a regular work schedule that allows for them to catch an express bus to and from Manhattan let alone take commuter trains and buses during peak hours, which makes driving the only options. I do agree with what Res Ipsa said, because as long as there isn't sufficient transit in certain areas, those living there won't be getting out of their cars anytime soon. Unless you can get the MTA to build the other lines of the IND 2nd System or even the Triboro Rx, they will continue to drive. As for residential parking permits, there are some neighborhoods I know in Queens that actually do have them such as Forest Hills and Sunnyside Gardens as well as in Manhattan Beach over in Brooklyn and the Rockaways, but it's mainly for those communities. The reason why this is heavily opposed is because it will mean even lesser spaces for others wish to come to the areas making them park even further than they have to and making those areas into gated communities. I would rather just have the parking minimums for the residents so that they won't have to compete for parking spaces on the streets all the time. Unfortunately, those anti-car websites will never support this because they just hate anyone who drives altogether. Maybe the reason why residential parking permits can work in other cities in the US is mainly because they aren't that crowded as NYC is, plus some of them don't have a lot of good transit either. For those who still think us motorists are getting everything for free, we aren't as we are paying for the roads we drive and park on along with the crossings via taxes for infrastructure. In reality, driving is hardly subsidized, because the vehicles we use and the cost to maintain them sure aren't, and the only thing that is remotely subsidized when it comes to driving is the infrastructure we use. In other words, please tell me again how is driving heavily subsidized when it seems more true for other forms of transportation.
July 4, 2017, 4:18 pm
Joe R. from Flushing says:
July 4, 2017, 5:56 pm
Old time Brooklyn from Slope says:
Some of the comments should have a laugh track
I must be a millionaire as I have two cars
July 5, 2017, 10:34 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I won't argue with those who don't like the fact that they are seeing cars registered out of state here, but it could be because they originally came from those said states. Even if a law was put saying that those who reside in a state must have their vehicles registered there, it will mean nothing unless it's better enforced. Another thing that needs to be enforced better is the placard abuse and these are not for places that never allow for parking or even next or within 10 feet of a fire hydrant yet so many with those placards get away with that either because the meter maids just let them or that they have friends in high places that help them avoid paying for such parking tickets. Nevertheless, this isn't a reason to take it out all motorists that do actually abide by the law such as myself. I'm sure some of you bike zealots wouldn't like it if we said all cyclists were bad just because of a select group, so now you should know how we feel when you do that over on places such as Streetsblog. Again, many city motorists are paying for the very streets they drive and park via taxes for infrastructure, so in a way, it is being paid for even if it's not directly. As for residential parking permits, they will only discourage using mass transit because they will see that they will always have a place to park whenever they come back to their homes, plus it will be seen as regressive if only the rich can afford it while others who have to drive can't. Also, the only reason they may work in some other cities could be the fact that they are either not as densely populated as NYC is and/or don't have very good viable alternatives to getting around. Keep in mind that most other cities be it in the US or around the world, subways and trains don't run 24-7 as they do here, which is why those who don't have a normal work schedule find themselves driving a lot.
July 5, 2017, 3:36 pm
Fred from Cobble Hill says:
Reading some of the comment, I would suggest eliminating parking near intersections and extending the curbs to create an amenity zone and shorten walking distance at intersections. I would also extend sidewalks in front of restaurants to add outdoor cafes for eyes on the street and social gathering places. Businesses win with more visibility and people win with more opportunities to connect with neighbors and friends. Plus,
Pedestrians are safer.
July 8, 2017, 6:16 pm

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