Howto:Park in the city

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The author Calvin Trillin once joked that you can park your car on the streets of New York, or you can have a full-time job – but you can’t possibly do both.

Trillin was joking, of course, but there is a serious side to his observation. Owning a car in New York City, and navigating the maze of regulations related to alternate side of the street and other parking rules, is a time-consuming chore that for millions of residents isn’t worth the hassle. The subway works just fine, thank you. But for many city denizens a car is a necessity. And for those long-suffering souls, we offer the following strategies on how to park in the city.

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Instructions

Strategy #1

Rent a studio apartment for your car. That’s also a joke, but not really. There are some 2,300 garages in the city, but some charge as much as $600 a month for the privilege of storing your car, and up to $800 if you own an SUV – or about as much as a studio rental in the rest of the country. That’s just not an option for most people. There are less expensive alternatives, like outdoor and self-parking lots, but those are not particularly convenient or cheap (closer to $200 a month). The upside of garage parking, if you can afford it, is you can park your car and forget about it. For those willing and able to go that route, one popular resource is the “Park It! NYC” guide, which is available for a price at http://www.parkitguides.com/wp/. The handy guide offers maps of every garage in the city and information on monthly rates.

Strategy #2

Park on the street. For the vast majority of car owners in New York City, this is the only viable, affordable option. A couple of decades ago, parking on the street was akin to throwing money onto the sidewalk. Break-ins were frequent, and “No Radio in Car” signs became en emblem of city life. But such incidents have gone way down, to the point where on-street parking is safer in New York than almost any other city in the U.S. That said, it is a time-consuming route to take. Be prepared to spend at least a few hours every week engaged in moving your car if you live in a densely populated area, and probably many more hours thinking about it. Here are the basics:

  • Alternate side-of-the-street parking. In order for street sweepers to clean, cars must be moved to alternate sides of the street twice a week in most neighborhoods, generally for 90 minutes. So, for example, one side of the street will get swept on Monday and Thursday between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., the other side on Tuesday and Friday during the same time period. Failure to move your car during the prescribed hours (as posted on street signs) will generally result in a $65 ticket. These rules are “suspended” on major holidays but otherwise need to be closely adhered to. You can find everything you need to know about alternate side of the street parking, including a calendar of suspended holidays, at the City’s Department of Transportation website: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/scrintro.shtml
  • The double-parking dance. Double parking is illegal in New York City and will typically earn you a swift fine, EXCEPT during alternate side of the street parking hours. So, during that 90-minute period when you are waiting for the street sweeper to pass, the NYPD will generally look the other way if you are double parked to get out of the way of the sweeper. Many people will even leave their car double-parked and unattended for most of those 90 minutes, although leaving behind a phone number on the dash is always a good idea in case you are blocking someone in. Many others simply wait it out in their double-parked cars – reading, making phone calls – to be on the safe side. Of course, for anyone who is office-bound far from home, or whose schedule simply does not allow for 90 minutes of waiting around twice a week, this is all impossible. So what do you do?
  • Hire someone to move your car for you. This is an emerging market in New York, but one that can offer an affordable compromise in terms of time and money. In short, you find someone who is already moving their own car on alternate side of the street days, and you pay them to move your car as well. Maybe it’s a neighbor who works from home, or a retiree looking to make a little extra cash – whoever they are, these people exist on almost every block. Prices are extremely negotiable, of course. But for less than $100 a month, you can often find someone to do the parking for you.

Strategy #3

Sell the car and rent. For families that only use the car for occasional weekend jaunts, it’s increasingly worth doing the math. Figure out how much you are spending on purchase or leasing costs, gas, maintenance, insurance, tickets – and, yes, time spent circling the neighborhood for a spot – and renting might seems like a pretty good option. That’s especially true with the advent of these new, car-sharing services, where vehicles can be rented by the hour for as little as $8 (not including membership fees and other incidentals).

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