Placard Abuse Allegations

Critics say police decline to target municipal employees’ illegal parking
Our Town | July 8, 2009

By Shayndi Raice

Cars parked on East 66th Street between Second and Third avenues, which critics say has been a haven for parking scofflaws. A placard (inset) for the Corrections Department. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Can't find a parking spot on the Upper East Side? It might not just be typical city traffic. According to some frustrated residents and transportation advocates, police have been using parking placards, and allowing city employees with placards, to park illegally on city streets.

The city issues parking permits to municipal employees who need to park during the course of their work. While placards allow employees to park in some "no parking" zones and waive meter fees, they do not permit holders to park in front of a fire hydrant, in a "no standing anytime zone" or with a tire up on the curb of the sidewalk. Yet critics say police seem to be turning a blind eye to co-workers and other city employees who park illegally, especially in the "no standing anytime zones" on East 66th Street between Second and Third avenues.

"'No standing anytime' is the strictest parking regulation in the city," said Wiley Norvell, communications director for the group Transportation Alternatives. "Those signs are there for a reason. It would actually be a safety hazard to park there. No permit in the world would let you park there."

For the past two years, residents and local elected officials have complained to the 19th Precinct's commanding officer, James Murtagh, about the parking situation. The situation became so frustrating that this past May, Community Board 8 sent a letter to Murtagh demanding a change. The board has yet to receive a response. Murtagh declined to comment and the NYPD press office did not return a reporter's calls.

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to cut back on city-issued placards. In 2008, the number of placards went from 144,000 to 60,000, a 54 percent decrease. Still, transportation advocates say no change has been visible, which means that city employees could be using outdated placards and police may be lax on enforcing the law.

"If you go to a police precinct, you'll see 15 placards parking more or less legally," Norvell said. "Then you'll see one with a police handbook in the window. These are people who have not been authorized. They are showing with a wink and a nod that they are fellow municipal employees, and it's disheartening for people who have worked on this and who have won these reforms on paper."

Council Member Dan Garodnick has been working with the 19th precinct on this issue.

"Just having a placard does not give you carte blanche to park wherever and whenever you choose," Garodnick said. "The response has been positive, but we have not seen sustained results. We make some progress, but then we see that placard parkers re-emerge."

There has also been some effort to change signage on the north side of 66th Street to allow for more resident parking, but the initiative has yet to be acted upon by the Community Board.

Garodnick added that the Upper East Side has an especially high rate of parking placards.

"I think it's a problem in other pockets of the city, but in our area we have a police department, a fire department, a local press outlet, all within a very close proximity of one another so there is a high concentration of placards," he said. "Not all of it is illegal, but the illegal parking is frustrating for residents and should be enforced."