Stephen Dubner, co-author of the global bestseller Freakonomics
and resident of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is
not happy with his lot. Turns out he’s part of that small minority of Manhattanites
who owns a car, and he feels that not enough is being done to make his car-owning
life easier. What would he like to change? He would like to be able to buy a
parking spot. He would like some form of residents’ parking on the UWS so that
he can park there for free while other people can’t, increasing his chances
of finding a spot. And he would like to be able to park in front of fire hydrants.
Weirdly, I feel no pity for Dubner’s sorry state whatsoever. For one thing,
the commenters on his site have done a very good job explaining why people shouldn’t
park in front of fire hydrants. Says Dubner, with his habitual overconfidence
that anything he thinks must, therefore, be true: "The firemen only need
to hook the hose up to the hydrant, and a car parked by the hydrant certainly
doesn’t interfere with that." I think that "certainly"
maybe doesn’t mean what Dubner seems to think it means, as this
photo clearly demonstrates. Fire hoses need to go straight into the hydrant,
and if a car is parked in front of the hydrant, that basically means they have
to go straight through the car.
As for buying parking spaces, Dubner hilariously says that he has "long
wondered why some entrepreneur hasn’t turned a NYC parking garage into
a co-op". Yes, that’s right, a co-op. Because of course we couldn’t
have just anybody buying a parking space: they would have to go through the
co-op board first. Can’t have some crappy old Ford truck next to my Porsche
In any case, Dubner seems to have utterly missed the entire business model
behind parking garages, which is that they quietly sit there, making a relatively
modest amount of money with very little in the way of hassle or expense or property
taxes, until such time as the owner decides to cash out to a property developer.
So clearly you can’t sell individual spaces in perpetuity, because then you
would lose your exit strategy and your opportunity to make an enormous profit
on the land.
Then, of course, there’s free on-the-street parking, a system which abuses
– abuses! – honest taxpaying millionaires like Mr Dubner:
NYC residents like me get abused by the current free-parking-on-the-street
system. Why should someone who, say, lives in New Jersey and works on the
Upper West Side get to park for free on my street when I pay local taxes and
Is it maybe because public parking is for the, um, public, and not
just for people who can afford to live on the Upper West Side? In any case,
Manhattan’s car owners get an incredible deal already. Every time they park
their car on the street for free, they get exclusive use of roughly 160 square
feet of prime Manhattan real estate for nothing. They can store all manner of
stuff in their car(s) – storage space which would cost many thousands
of dollars if you had to pay for it. And they get very easy access to transportation
anywhere in the city, while the rest of us have to schlep to the subway or wait
for a bus or try to find a taxi.
Think of a European city like Utrecht
or Munich. There are many
fewer cars parked on the street than you see in Manhattan, and instead the roads
have wide and well-maintained bike paths. Now imagine all the space given over
to free car parking in Manhattan used instead for bike paths and bike parking,
remembering that you can easily have parking
for a dozen bikes in one parking space.
Who would benefit from such a plan? Most New Yorkers, since biking around the
city would stop being a very dangerous proposition and start being by far the
easiest, fastest, and most efficient way of getting from A to B. Who would lose
out? The relative handful of residents who also own cars. The cost-benefit analysis
is clearly positive, but don’t expect a "freakonomist" like Dubner
to buy it (or, it would seem,
New York City Transport Commissioner Iris Weinshall). After all, look at the
pain Dubner’s in already!