It is illegal to park cars on city sidewalks.
It’s a simple notion made clear in city law, subject to fines of more than $100. Yet, every day it seems car dealerships and auto repair shops across the city park vehicles on sidewalks with little fear of consequence from police or city officials.
In Kingsbridge, one woman is on a quest to get a Broadway car dealership to behave.
“Its funny we have to ask the NYPD to enforce the law,” said Armenoush Aslanian-Persico, who is waging a war against the Riverdale Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership on the corner of West 240th Street and Broadway.
“Why are car dealerships allowed to park all over the sidewalk? Are they paying the city for this space?”
In short: No.
The Kingsbridge dealership owns a parking lot behind its storefront and rents space in another indoor lot nearby. But on a given day, a dozen cars will be parked along the sidewalks on Broadway and West 240th. Often, cars only take up half the sidewalk space, but sometimes they’re parked in twos, blocking entire sections of pedestrian pathways.
Sidewalks remain public property, and stopping, standing or parking on a sidewalk could result in a $115 fine. Although city planning maps appear to show the dealership lot ending where the sidewalk begins, police seem not to care, Aslanian-Persico said.
Aslanian-Persico filed several 311 complaints over the last six months, and each response was frustratingly unclear. At least two complaints were resolved by explaining the police visited the dealership and determined police action was not necessary because the “building is a dealership.”
“The police department responded to the complaint, and with the information available, observed no evidence of the violation at that time,” according to a message from 311 in response to a June 26 complaint filed by The Riverdale Press. Cars were parked on the sidewalk adjacent to the dealership at the time.
Ruben Perez, a sales manager at the dealership, said the sidewalks can get a little crowded when they unload a new shipment of cars. Once the new cars are inventoried, they’re moved to the two lots. In the meantime, Perez said the dealership tries to keep the sidewalks as clear as possible.
“There should not be two sets of laws in this city,” Aslanian-Persico said. “If I set up a tent and camped out in the middle of a traffic lane, cars could get around me too, but it’s still illegal.”
The dealership’s owners has a permit to park on the sidewalk, Perez said, but he could not produce the permit, nor could The Press locate one. The dealership’s owners could not be reached for comment.
Permit or not, Perez insists the dealership is a net positive for the community. It sponsors a Kingsbridge Little League team, supports events at Van Cortlandt Park, and offers discounts to customers who live nearby.
Blocking the sidewalk at all is unacceptable, Aslanian-Persico argued. It forces people with walkers, in wheelchairs or with strollers into the street. And it’s antithetical to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.
Five pedestrians were injured in four separate incidents at the corner of West 240th Street and Broadway since 2013, according to police data. Those statistics, however, do not indicate any role the parked cars played in each case, if they did at all. Images from Google’s Street View tool shows the dealership parked cars on the sidewalk as early as 2011.
While restaurants and sidewalk cafes can apply for permits to place tables on public sidewalks, the city has no system set up for sidewalk parking. That doesn’t stop dealerships and other businesses placing vehicles on sidewalks, which are only hit with the occasional fine.
Cars parked in the immediate vicinity of the Kingsbridge dealership received at least six tickets for sidewalk parking through June 16, according to data from the city’s finance department. While the parking ticket data does not indicate if each vehicle was owned by the dealership, five of the tickets were issued the morning of April 30.
That same morning — after months of unanswered emails to the 50th Precinct’s neighborhood coordination officers — Sgt. Mark Giordano finally replied to Aslanian-Persico.
“I have spoken to the dealership and we are working on a solution that will work for everyone,” Giordano wrote. “I am trying to accommodate the business, but it goes without saying that pedestrian and civilian safety is my first concern.”
Police have been working on a resolution for several weeks, Giordano told The Riverdale Press.
“We have spoken to management and are trying to arrange a compromise,” he wrote. “Parking is a premium in NYC, and they are a legitimate business and a valued member of the 50th Precinct community. I did not want to just go over there and start issuing summonses.”
But he empathizes with those who see this as a problem for pedestrians and agrees that parking on the sidewalk is not ideal.
For the last few years, a group of Queens city council members has tried to create a law that would levy more severe penalties for dealerships parking on sidewalks. If a car dealer receives two violations in a calendar year for illegal parking, the bill would give the consumer affairs commissioner the authority to revoke their license, effectively putting them out of business.
The Kingsbridge dealership received one of these violations from the consumer affairs department in April after Aslanian-Persico reported them.
“To me, this is clear cut,” Aslanian-Persico said. “Streets are for cars. Sidewalks are for pedestrians.”