Council Speaker to permit abusers: Park at your peril

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In a city afflicted by sundry forms of parking banditry, some lawmakers want to clamp down on something that doesn’t get a lot of attention normally: placard abuse.

City council Speaker Corey Johnson announced a new package of bills last week designed to put the brakes on abuse of city-issued parking permits — known as placards — as well as unofficial and counterfeit permits some miscreants use to skate past the law. But the package also seeks to tackle perilous parking practices often associated with such alleged abuse, including blocking bike and bus lanes, crosswalks, sidewalks and fire hydrants.

This new slate of bills would augment legislation introduced last year that similarly attempted to curb placard-related misdeeds, including a bill sponsored by council transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez requiring the police department regularly report on illegal use of parking permits.

“Placard abuse is corruption, plain and simple,” and enough is enough, Johnson said, in a release. “We are in a transportation crisis,” meaning the question of how street space is allocated is huge, especially when it comes to fighting congestion and encouraging alternate transportation modes like buses and cycling.

The new legislative package includes five separate bills, one of which would create a standardized application process for city-issued parking permits, collect information on why placards are requested, and how using them supports a given city agency’s work. Another would require at least 50 targeted enforcement sweeps each week, with locations determined based on the number of complaints about placard abuse in different areas.

A third bill would prohibit city officials from blocking a sidewalk, crosswalk, fire hydrant, bike or bus lane — unless it’s an emergency — while another would require enforcement officers to have violators towed.

The city fielded more than 3,100 illegal parking complaints in 2018, including some for improper parking permit use, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. But just 26 of those were for areas including Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights and Van Cortlandt Village. And even fewer — 19 — came from areas like Riverdale and North Riverdale.

Neighborhoods with the most complaints included Woodside in Queens with 136. A part of lower Manhattan around the Brooklyn Bridge racked up 67, while another Queens community, Maspeth, was close behind at 64.

There are more than 150,000 placards in circulation around the city, according to published reports. The mayor expanded the perquisites in 2017, adding at least 50,000 new placards into the mix. In some areas with a significant number of municipal workers — including parts of the northwest Bronx — government vehicles and other cars with state and city placards are an all too common sight in the eyes of some residents, often spotted taking up sidewalks and bike lanes, but seemingly immune to getting ticketed.

Ruth Ventura, walking along West 236th Street toward Kingsbridge Avenue last week past the 50th Precinct, isn’t a fan of placard use, even though in some cases it’s totally legal.

“They’re taking up all the space on the sidewalk,” Ventura said, in Spanish, pointing to the rows of cars in front of the precinct. “I can’t even walk there.”

That’s problematic when shepherding her two daughters to school or errands. “We have to walk on the street.”

She’s considered it an issue the three years she’s lived in Kingsbridge, not just on streets surrounding the 5-0, but throughout the neighborhood.

“The sidewalk is always full of cars,” she said.

Others, however, appear to have kind of gotten used to it.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” said Megan O’Keefe, a Manhattan College student studying psychology, strolling down Kingsbridge Avenue recently. She’s more irked by people double-parking “because then it’s hard to get around them.”

Bethania Aristi, a Kingsbridge resident of six years, wheeled a stroller along West 236th, relegated to pushing it along the street because of the cars on the sidewalk in front of the 5-0.

“There really should be space so that someone could walk on the sidewalk,” Aristi said, in Spanish. “For safety, to not be in the middle of the street.”

If Aristi had her way, every driver would abide by the same regulations. “If I have a car and I have to park (legally) so that I don’t get a ticket, it should be the same for” everyone else.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to unveil his own plan to further tackle placard abuse by the end of February, his administration is reviewing the legislation, spokesman Seth Stein said.

“The mayor agrees that placard abuse erodes faith in government and has no place in our city,” he said.

Johnson, meanwhile, sees it as an imperative step in fighting broader transportation problems.

“It is clear that cracking down on placard abuse has to be part of any serious attempt to make navigating our city easier and more efficient,” he said.

But the idea of drivers — whether city employees, or anyone — misusing placards, or creating fraudulent ones to reap illicit parking permits, struck Valentina Valladares — another Manhattan College undergrad, studying education — as plain wrong, although not totally surprising.

“It’s taking advantage of the system,” she said. But “there’s a lot of corruption in the world.”