New York City is in the midst of an entirely regular snowstorm that nonetheless has inspired the media to perform some silly stunts. One of the many positive things about the snow, though, from a driver’s perspective, is that the city has suspended alternate side parking regulations, meaning you can keep your car parked in a Thursday spot right where it is until next week.
For the uninitiated, alternate side parking in New York is what the city calls the vast majority of legal street parking, so named because one side of the street might ban parking on, say, Mondays between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., while the other might ban it during a different time, say, Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The bans alternate, in other words, to allow for street sweepers to move through and keep both sides clean.
Alternate side parking suspensions happen infrequently, but if there’s a major snowstorm coming through, you can count on one, and perhaps several in a row—the record appears to be 62 straight days of no parking rules, set back in 1978, when the city was in generally terrible shape and a series of storms rolled through. Further, “only half [of the street sweepers] were in working condition,” The New York Times reported, meaning that even if people were moving their cars it would’ve been for nothing.
In 2018, the city’s in much better shape, but they still suspend alternate side regulations at the first hint of heavy snow, and, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, seemingly earlier and earlier.
But why, exactly? For a long time, I had assumed that it was for safety reasons, to encourage people to stay inside, but considering that it’s plenty dangerous to be out on days when it’s not snowing outside (like this weekend, when it might reach zero degrees overnight) that explanation never felt complete.
The real reason? Not having people move the cars actually helps with the city’s snow-clearing operations, a spokeswoman for New York’s Department of Sanitation told me, since it allows plows to consistently clear the same roadways in the event of a storm, and it reduces the number of snow piles lingering that might be created on a street where some drivers have opted to move their cars for alternate-side parking and others have not. It also reduces the amount of chaos plow drivers have to deal with, since in a lot of areas in the city drivers only move their cars as far as the main roadway itself—clearing the way for street sweepers—before moving their cars back to their parking spots again.
Suspending alternate-side parking removes all of these problems, and keeps more cars off the streets, allowing plows free rein to do their work on the surfaces that need it most.
Just a few minutes ago, the city decided to suspend alternate-side parking for a third day in this current storm, meaning that today, tomorrow, and Saturday you can keep your car right where it is. It won’t be any kind of record, but by Sunday, at least, we might have some drivable streets.