Advocates for more equitable use of curb space got a boost earlier this summer when the website Kings County Politics broke the story that New York City’s Department of Transportation had installed new loading zones.
The program, called Residential Loading Zone Evaluation, makes it illegal to park on certain blocks in 12 residential areas, spread across the city, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on weekdays. The pilot appears to focus on blocks that are particularly affected by double-parking, such as those with bus routes and bike lanes.
As we’ve noted before, experimentation with mixed-use has been gaining in popularity in the last year, and we’re excited to see New York stepping up to the plate. It might seem odd to put loading zones on residential streets, but the rise of home delivery services and ride-sharing apps has forced cities to reconsider their approaches.
What’s also noteworthy is the way the city went about it: seemingly in the dead of night, instead of after a longer public process.
Here are a couple of lessons cities can take away from what we know about this project.
Local opposition will occur no matter what, so do what’s right on the larger scale
New York City has a patchwork of local appointed bodies known as community boards. These bodies are designed to foster interaction between citizens and government, and work with city agencies to address neighborhood needs.
For years, complete-streets advocates have criticized NYCDOT for watering down street redesigns in the face of pushback, particularly when it arises at the community board presentations the agency typically holds before making any changes. They claim that those meetings tend to attract people with an axe to grind, resulting in a sort of “governance by grievance” that neuters the professionals who have the tools to make the best decisions. [Even when NYCDOT makes unnecessary compromises, it can still find itself at the end of a lawsuit, as it did when it planned to pedestrianize Manhattan’s 14th Street to cope with the since-canceled total shutdown of the L train.]
That is particularly critical in the case of street design, which needs to take a holistic approach. A crosstown bike lane loses its effectiveness if there’s a gap in the middle because people in one neighborhood threatened to sue, and traffic caused by a double-parked truck during rush hour causes a domino effect that radiates out to other streets.
So if you’re considering a redesign, consider just making the change, like NYCDOT did here. If you do hold a community meeting, make it clear that you are looking for constructive suggestions to tweak the proposal, not personal gripes. In any case, the backlash is usually temporary: after a few weeks, people will have gotten used to the new configuration—and many of the original detractors will realize their doom-and-gloom perspective was flawed.
Do everything you can to make residents allies
Even if you proceed without consulting the affected community, you should still do all you can to bring its members on board. Change is hard enough as it is; don’t complicate it by giving residents additional reasons to complain.
According to the Kings County Politics article, the city put up loading zone signs on a Wednesday, and began enforcing the zone the following Monday, booting and then towing vehicles that remained in the restricted area. To reclaim their cars, owners have to get to an inconveniently located lot and pay a hefty fine.
That would be fair if the cars had been parked with the signs there. Before the signs were added, however, the curb space was designated for Tuesday street cleaning, which means that some car owners would not return to their cars until then. (That lack of turnover is another argument against free on-street parking, but we digress.) Waiting that extra day would have avoided engendering additional ill will from residents—and prevent the spin that the city is only interested in revenue, a charge that often appears in screeds against speed cameras.
We can’t wait to see how this program plays out
Minor gripes aside, we’re thrilled that New York is taking this step toward greater curb equity. Given what we know about the value of the curb, we have no doubts it will be a rousing success.
This post was originally published on August 16, 2019. On August 22, 2019 it was announced that the program was being dismantled because of violations.
This proves that there is a continued need to educate broader communities on curb productivity and that storing cars on curbs is not necessarily the best use of space. One may wonder how these people might react to a double parked delivery truck blocking their way as well... because unfortunately, we can't have it all.