2009-11-08 19:10 - General
I've lived in New York for six years now. I caught references to "alternate side" parking all the time, generally from the commute section of the morning news, or the free papers. It was a long time before I knew, for sure, what it meant, though. Of course today as I type this, Google gives me the alternate side parking answer with no effort. The deal is that there's so many disgusting slobs all crammed into this city, that they have to force people not to park in certain areas, so street sweepers can drive through. The wind pushes the garbage around, but the curb (and the cars) at the edge of the street blocks enough that it gathers up, there. So all around town you'll see signs like these:
That's actually a pair of signs, from alternate sides of the street I live on, montage'd together. You can see that the street sweeper comes every week, one side on Thursday, the other on Friday. This is where I mention The High Cost of Free Parking. I've never actually read that book, but I've seen a few articles that reference it, and seem to make the same points. It's a strange thing we do, in America, to give away free land for storage, to anyone that has a car. Sure there's occasional restrictions like this street-sweeper example. But just think about what ten-ish feet of ground level sidewalk space is worth in a place like New York!
So, although parking is (largely, there are meters in plenty of spaces) free, it's not totally without cost. See, you have to move your car at least once a week. If you don't, there's a fine. And this nasty sticker:
Ahead of the street sweeper comes the sanitation department car, giving you not only your tickets but these shame-on-you stickers, that are about impossible to peel off. You can see this poor individual's failed attempt to remove the first, and capitulation after just the corners of the second. All this is the real cost of free parking in New York. But there's more! Because this free parking is, in reality, so expensive, people go to crazy lengths to pay for it in non-monetary ways.
I've seen this a few times. Managed to catch it, on the way to work, in low-quality video now that I'm carrying around a smartphone. It's a pretty common occurrence, as I understand things. At the start of the street-cleaning window, everyone parked on the block will trek out to their car, go and double-park on the other side of the street, and wait. Sit in their cars, possibly for hours, and wait. The moment the street sweeper drives past, they all leap into action and park right back where they were. It's quite a spectacle. In the video above, I count at least ten visible cars doing the street sweeper shuffle. Just another New-York-ism!