License-plate reading devices mounted above traffic near Manhattan's West 60th Street...

License-plate reading devices mounted above traffic near Manhattan's West 60th Street and Columbus Avenue will be used in the congestion pricing plan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Parking is forecast to grow more scarce — at least initially — in the Manhattan neighborhoods north of 60th Street, a soon-to-be-free land from the long-looming congestion pricing toll that debuts June 30 south of that east-west border.

As tallied via sensors recording E-ZPass tags and photographing license plates at some 110 locations across the borough, the toll will be $15 for passenger vehicles during peak periods.

Transportation experts predict some motorists, at least initially, will try their hand at “rat-running” — toll-avoiding gamesmanship — although the phenomenon is also forecast to be modest and ultimately short-lived.

“Obviously, you would avoid the toll, but you would also be spending time parking, you might have to park in a lot or a garage — as opposed to getting free, or sort of cut-rate, parking on the street,” said policy analyst Charles Komanoff, who once headed the group Transportation Alternatives, which supports congestion pricing. “There’s the hassle factor of shifting modes: You leave your car, you grab your stuff, then you have to get in an Uber or on a bus or on a train, you know, blah, blah, blah.”

First proposed in 2007 and approved in 2019, congestion pricing would be the first such program in the nation and is meant to discourage driving, encourage mass-transit riding, reduce pollution and raise much-needed cash, estimated to be $1 billion per year, for the transit system.

Just how much motorists actually try to game the congestion pricing system has implications for parking rules and garage pricing and locations, particularly in the neighborhoods where it will be possible to park without paying the toll. 

The congestion pricing law requires New York City’s Department of Transportation to do a study on the program’s effects on parking, said Meera Joshi, Mayor Eric Adams’ deputy for operations.

“Based on that study, we will either make changes or not, depending on what the study shows on parking rules around the border areas and also around other areas in our city,” Joshi told Newsday at a news conference on Tuesday. “There is much competition for street space and it’s not just for cars anymore.”

Vincent Barone, a department spokesman, said the study would be published within 18 months of implementation, and it would review parking behavior before and afterward.

Joshi said it would be premature to make parking-related changes before the study.

But Donald Shoup, a distinguished research professor in UCLA’s urban planning department, said more restrictive rules should be put into place in anticipation of increased demand. Parking, he noted, is already a “nightmare” even without congestion pricing.

Cities can get creative where demand surges for parking spots, he said: They can authorize street parking for, say, only two hours at a time, charge fair-market rate for spots (parking is underpriced in the city, where 97% of the 3 million spaces are unmetered and can be worth as much as $60 per day in some places) and use the revenue to benefit neighborhood residents with services such as free transit passes, or explore resident-only parking permits. Another option, which is in place in California and Washington, D.C., is to require employers who subsidize parking to provide an equal cash benefit to employees who are offered free parking but choose not to drive.

In September, the Adams administration floated the idea of fluctuating prices in real time depending on demand; the program hasn't yet been implemented. Barone, the city transportation department spokesman, declined to comment on that program.

Among the thousands of pages of an environmental impact study by city, state and federal transportation officials greenlighting congestion pricing was the forecast about toll-avoiding gamesmanship in neighborhoods outside the toll zone.

“Although there could initially be some modest level of vehicular traffic searching for parking in neighborhoods outside the Manhattan CBD to avoid the toll, the behavior would most likely be short-lived as part of the adjustment process,” the study says, using an abbreviation for the Central Business District, the area south of 60th Street. “Time spent by motorists searching unsuccessfully for free, available parking just outside the Manhattan CBD boundary would eventually result in an overall reduction in vehicular traffic and an increase in transit use.”

The study found that near modes of public transportation such as the Long Island Rail Road, “increases in vehicular trips to public transit would be highest at and near commuter rail and park-and-ride facilities.”

Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” said he expects some motorists would initially try to seek free parking outside the zone, such as in Manhattan north of 60th, in the manner of the tragedy of the commons, a concept in economics in which each individual is incentivized to behave in a way that is ultimately detrimental to all individuals. But, he said, the situation will eventually self-correct, particularly for commuters.

“It’s quite foolish for anybody to think that they can drive to the edge of the district and find a curb space all day long. I mean, that’s preposterous! Do you think somebody who has to get to work at 9 o’clock is going to show up in the neighborhood and think they’re gonna get all-day parking for free?” he said, adding: “They could try it, but they’ll find they’re an hour late for work, because it took them an hour to find a curb parking space.”

And parking will get even more scarce as car-owning residents who live above 60th Street won’t be able to hunt for parking below that border without incurring the congestion toll.

Tiffany-Ann Taylor, a former transit official in the city and Suffolk County who is now vice president of transportation with the pro-congestion pricing Regional Plan Association, said not many people are going to wake up at, say, 4 a.m. to drive into Manhattan to find a free parking space to avoid the toll. Time, she noted, is itself a commodity, and circling and idling waste time.

“As New Yorkers, we always try to find a way to make the rules work for us, for better or for worse, but at the end of the day, there’s only a finite amount of space,” she said.

“Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, a longtime city traffic official who for a half-century has studied driver behavior, notes most motorists are expected to continue to drive into the congestion zone.

In other cities where congestion pricing has been implemented — Singapore, London, Stockholm, Hong Kong — between 80% and 85% have still driven into the zone, he said. The MTA has a similar forecast for the Manhattan zone, he said.

Some garage prices might go up, particularly north of 60th Street, but others in the zone or elsewhere might lower prices, he said.

Taylor said that with fewer vehicles, some garage owners might repurpose the facility be used for other purposes.

Henry Grabar, author of “Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World,” expects a boost for private parking just north of the border.

“I think it'll be great for garages immediately outside the zone, as well as those near transit hubs. But evidently prices will have to come down at those inside the zone. Hopefully this leads to more lots and garages below 60th Street being developed as much-needed housing,” he said.

And parking could become even more scarce as vehicle-owning residents who live above 60th Street are unable to seek parking below that border without incurring the congestion toll.

Congestion pricing won’t solve the long-standing problem of government workers, such as police officers, firefighters and teachers, who get a de facto perk no one else does: free on-street parking for their personal vehicles — and sometimes, illegally, on sidewalks, in driveways, in front of fire hydrants, and in bus and bike lanes.

Schwartz, now a professor of urban studies at Hunter College, says he’s concerned about government workers who will use parking permits, some of questionable legitimacy, to drive into the city and park uptown, downtown or wherever, especially in areas newly cleared with fewer drivers and parking-spot seekers.

“They get free parking. They get placards to put in their cars, the police leave them alone; they park all over the place,” he said, adding, “Why do we have this elite group of people that are entitled to free parking and they don’t even have to pay taxes on it?”

On Friday, outside the federal courthouse at which a judge was hearing a last-ditch effort by the teachers labor union and other foes of congestion pricing to block implementation, private cars belonging to retired police officers who now work as court security sat parked on the street.

One of the cars, with a police union card on the dashboard, had New Jersey license plates, and a cover that could block speed and red-light cameras — and congestion-pricing scanners.

Parking is forecast to grow more scarce — at least initially — in the Manhattan neighborhoods north of 60th Street, a soon-to-be-free land from the long-looming congestion pricing toll that debuts June 30 south of that east-west border.

As tallied via sensors recording E-ZPass tags and photographing license plates at some 110 locations across the borough, the toll will be $15 for passenger vehicles during peak periods.

Transportation experts predict some motorists, at least initially, will try their hand at “rat-running” — toll-avoiding gamesmanship — although the phenomenon is also forecast to be modest and ultimately short-lived.

“Obviously, you would avoid the toll, but you would also be spending time parking, you might have to park in a lot or a garage — as opposed to getting free, or sort of cut-rate, parking on the street,” said policy analyst Charles Komanoff, who once headed the group Transportation Alternatives, which supports congestion pricing. “There’s the hassle factor of shifting modes: You leave your car, you grab your stuff, then you have to get in an Uber or on a bus or on a train, you know, blah, blah, blah.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Traffic experts predict drivers hoping to skirt Manhattan’s congestion-pricing toll south of 60th Street will hunt for free parking in the neighborhoods north.
  • But the gamesmanship is thought to likely wind up being short-lived and level off as drivers realize the hunt is time-consuming and there aren’t enough spots.
  • Some cops, firefighters and other government workers are expected to keep taking up spots by illegally parking their personal cars — with enforcers ignoring the violations.

First proposed in 2007 and approved in 2019, congestion pricing would be the first such program in the nation and is meant to discourage driving, encourage mass-transit riding, reduce pollution and raise much-needed cash, estimated to be $1 billion per year, for the transit system.

Just how much motorists actually try to game the congestion pricing system has implications for parking rules and garage pricing and locations, particularly in the neighborhoods where it will be possible to park without paying the toll. 

The congestion pricing law requires New York City’s Department of Transportation to do a study on the program’s effects on parking, said Meera Joshi, Mayor Eric Adams’ deputy for operations.

“Based on that study, we will either make changes or not, depending on what the study shows on parking rules around the border areas and also around other areas in our city,” Joshi told Newsday at a news conference on Tuesday. “There is much competition for street space and it’s not just for cars anymore.”

Vincent Barone, a department spokesman, said the study would be published within 18 months of implementation, and it would review parking behavior before and afterward.

A call for cities to get creative

Joshi said it would be premature to make parking-related changes before the study.

But Donald Shoup, a distinguished research professor in UCLA’s urban planning department, said more restrictive rules should be put into place in anticipation of increased demand. Parking, he noted, is already a “nightmare” even without congestion pricing.

Cities can get creative where demand surges for parking spots, he said: They can authorize street parking for, say, only two hours at a time, charge fair-market rate for spots (parking is underpriced in the city, where 97% of the 3 million spaces are unmetered and can be worth as much as $60 per day in some places) and use the revenue to benefit neighborhood residents with services such as free transit passes, or explore resident-only parking permits. Another option, which is in place in California and Washington, D.C., is to require employers who subsidize parking to provide an equal cash benefit to employees who are offered free parking but choose not to drive.

In September, the Adams administration floated the idea of fluctuating prices in real time depending on demand; the program hasn't yet been implemented. Barone, the city transportation department spokesman, declined to comment on that program.

Among the thousands of pages of an environmental impact study by city, state and federal transportation officials greenlighting congestion pricing was the forecast about toll-avoiding gamesmanship in neighborhoods outside the toll zone.

“Although there could initially be some modest level of vehicular traffic searching for parking in neighborhoods outside the Manhattan CBD to avoid the toll, the behavior would most likely be short-lived as part of the adjustment process,” the study says, using an abbreviation for the Central Business District, the area south of 60th Street. “Time spent by motorists searching unsuccessfully for free, available parking just outside the Manhattan CBD boundary would eventually result in an overall reduction in vehicular traffic and an increase in transit use.”

The study found that near modes of public transportation such as the Long Island Rail Road, “increases in vehicular trips to public transit would be highest at and near commuter rail and park-and-ride facilities.”

Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” said he expects some motorists would initially try to seek free parking outside the zone, such as in Manhattan north of 60th, in the manner of the tragedy of the commons, a concept in economics in which each individual is incentivized to behave in a way that is ultimately detrimental to all individuals. But, he said, the situation will eventually self-correct, particularly for commuters.

“It’s quite foolish for anybody to think that they can drive to the edge of the district and find a curb space all day long. I mean, that’s preposterous! Do you think somebody who has to get to work at 9 o’clock is going to show up in the neighborhood and think they’re gonna get all-day parking for free?” he said, adding: “They could try it, but they’ll find they’re an hour late for work, because it took them an hour to find a curb parking space.”

And parking will get even more scarce as car-owning residents who live above 60th Street won’t be able to hunt for parking below that border without incurring the congestion toll.

Tiffany-Ann Taylor, a former transit official in the city and Suffolk County who is now vice president of transportation with the pro-congestion pricing Regional Plan Association, said not many people are going to wake up at, say, 4 a.m. to drive into Manhattan to find a free parking space to avoid the toll. Time, she noted, is itself a commodity, and circling and idling waste time.

“As New Yorkers, we always try to find a way to make the rules work for us, for better or for worse, but at the end of the day, there’s only a finite amount of space,” she said.

Impact on garage parking, prices

“Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, a longtime city traffic official who for a half-century has studied driver behavior, notes most motorists are expected to continue to drive into the congestion zone.

In other cities where congestion pricing has been implemented — Singapore, London, Stockholm, Hong Kong — between 80% and 85% have still driven into the zone, he said. The MTA has a similar forecast for the Manhattan zone, he said.

Some garage prices might go up, particularly north of 60th Street, but others in the zone or elsewhere might lower prices, he said.

Taylor said that with fewer vehicles, some garage owners might repurpose the facility be used for other purposes.

Henry Grabar, author of “Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World,” expects a boost for private parking just north of the border.

“I think it'll be great for garages immediately outside the zone, as well as those near transit hubs. But evidently prices will have to come down at those inside the zone. Hopefully this leads to more lots and garages below 60th Street being developed as much-needed housing,” he said.

And parking could become even more scarce as vehicle-owning residents who live above 60th Street are unable to seek parking below that border without incurring the congestion toll.

Congestion pricing won’t solve the long-standing problem of government workers, such as police officers, firefighters and teachers, who get a de facto perk no one else does: free on-street parking for their personal vehicles — and sometimes, illegally, on sidewalks, in driveways, in front of fire hydrants, and in bus and bike lanes.

Schwartz, now a professor of urban studies at Hunter College, says he’s concerned about government workers who will use parking permits, some of questionable legitimacy, to drive into the city and park uptown, downtown or wherever, especially in areas newly cleared with fewer drivers and parking-spot seekers.

“They get free parking. They get placards to put in their cars, the police leave them alone; they park all over the place,” he said, adding, “Why do we have this elite group of people that are entitled to free parking and they don’t even have to pay taxes on it?”

On Friday, outside the federal courthouse at which a judge was hearing a last-ditch effort by the teachers labor union and other foes of congestion pricing to block implementation, private cars belonging to retired police officers who now work as court security sat parked on the street.

One of the cars, with a police union card on the dashboard, had New Jersey license plates, and a cover that could block speed and red-light cameras — and congestion-pricing scanners.

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