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Gridlock Sam: Parking Policy & Permits

Part Two of our interview: Sam Schwartz and T.O.P.P. founder & Executive Director Mark Gorton discuss how the modal split into NYC's Central Business District (essentially south of 59th Street) has changed over the last half century and how some of those numbers could easily be reversed by revoking free parking permits for NYC Governmental employees.

"Gridlock Sam" Schwartz served as NYC's Commissioner of Traffic from 1982-86 and is a former Chief Engineer/First Deputy Commissioner at the NYC DOT. He also writes a daily transportation column for the NY Daily News.


[intro music]

Sam Schwartz: [00:33] When you look at numbers of people coming into the central business district, in 1948 it’s about 3.7 million people. In 1998, 50 years later, it’s the exact same number. But what’s happened between ’48 and ’98 is in ’48, two-thirds of the people came in by public transportation over a course of a 24 hour day, in 1998, just a half. In 1948 18% came in by motor vehicle, 1998 a third came in by motor vehicle.


Mark Gorton: [01:04] I mean so the policies of the past 50 years have really been to encourage people to drive cars and a lot more people are driving because of that. And even today, I mean would you say that we’re still encouraging people to drive cars?


Sam Schwartz: [01:18] Yeah, many of our policies really do encourage people to drive, and there are more policies that are cropping up that are encouraging people to take transit. On a federal level we’re doing very little to encourage people to get out of their cars. We should be getting the message that we can’t rely on gasoline and we can’t rely on the private automobile to handle mass transportation. It’s as if we took the Sears Tower in Chicago and told everybody that they would get their own private elevator to get to the top floor. That’s what we do. 60% of cars in Manhattan that are coming into the central business district are driver only. That’s so inefficient. Every person is bringing in 200 square feet with them.


Mark Gorton: [02:00] I was talking to an engineer at the Department of Transportation, we were talking about Lower Manhattan, and they commented to me that there was such a high… something like 87% of trips into the financial district are public transit now. And they said to me that such a high fraction of that trip was already public transit, that it couldn’t go any higher.


Sam Schwartz: [02:25] It’s true that during the peak hours it’s in the high 80’s and almost 90% of the people are not taking their cars, public transportation or walking. But when you go to the off peak hours you’ll find a few more people are in their cars. But there is tremendous opportunity in Lower Manhattan to even increase that share. For example, if we had rail that went to the airports. A lot of people now take taxicabs or car services. If we got rid of the government workers who are driving into Lower Manhattan, we could widen almost every sidewalk in Lower Manhattan. Right now so much space is just taken up by government workers who are encouraged to drive in, they get permits then they can put them on their dashboards, and they do, and they use up valuable space right in the heart of the financial district.


Mark Gorton: [03:17] So this is, government employees get a placard, they put in their window and they’re allowed to park practically anywhere with this placards.


Sam Schwartz: [03:23] If you walk the streets of the financial district, you walk the streets of Chinatown, and you take a look in the windshields of the cars, you will see some identifying mark that says that this car belongs to a government employee.


Mark Gorton: [03:37] This is a street totally jammed on the sidewalk, almost no traffic and let’s look what this space is allocated to. Privileged parking for government employees. Privileged parking for government employees. Privileged parking for government employees. Privileged parking for DOT employees. Another government employee here.


Sam Schwartz: [03:59] And as a result other government employees, the Police Department, rarely write summonses, even if they’re committing the most egregious violation, next to a hydrant, next to bus stop, in a No Standing zone.


Mark Gorton: [04:13] You can look here, it says, you know, No Standing Except Trucks Loading, Unloading. Or somebody who works for the DOT who thinks this is a nice place to park.


Sam Schwartz: [04:23] And it’s not just the Downtown area, but adjacent to so many public schools, we allow teachers to park and give them parking. Why do we give them parking? I don’t know. They say, well, it’s hard to get to that school. Well, it’s probably hard for that butcher who has a little shop on that block to get there, and it’s hard for the person, the cleaner, but we don’t give them parking spots. Why are we… why this thing that we give public employees parking spots is beyond me.


Mark Gorton: [04:49] This is a nice one here. So this guy doesn’t even have the legal right to be here, yet he served in the military, he’s in the NASA County Police Department and he’s written a nice note there with his phone number. So…

Transcript Divas Transcription Canada

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Bob Brett

    In Richmond Hill Queens,especially on 118th street one block from the102 preceint a slew of parking tickets has occured .they are all for covered plate.I fought mine and won and gave the paper work to my neighbor so she can fight hers.The tickets are all hand written and not very clear.What gives??Is there a new crisis that these tickets are ordered to be written??I still don't know what I did wrong. Any help will be appreciated.

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