Agents Orange

I didn’t need last Monday’s Times to tell me that the city was initiating a crackdown on parking offenses. Two nights before, I’d circled—and circled—the streets of my Brooklyn neighborhood, finally shoehorning my way into a space that left me, I knew, somewhat too close to one of our city’s 110,000 fire hydrants. A judgment call, I thought, and in any event, it’s Saturday night; sure, that’s bonanza time in the theater district, but are the parking cops really working such hours in a residential neighborhood?

Well, in a cash-strapped city, all judgment calls are now going to the house, and apparently, Saturday night’s all right for citing. I was a misdemeanant—at a cost of $105, up from $55—at 8:44 p.m.

The city is hiring 1,000 new traffic agents over the next year, hoping to raise $69 million by issuing 1.7 million more tickets a year (4,658 every day). The full force of this Mother of All Traffic Sweeps will be felt by July. Drivers will need to think twice, or maybe thrice, before double-parking, and you might want to keep a tape measure in the glove box to make sure you’re clear of a hydrant by the rather capacious legal standard of fifteen feet.

Unless you’re in the mayor’s tax bracket, one or two traffic tickets will pretty much wipe out your Bush tax cut.

New York City living is a constant negotiation between following the letter of the law as it might be obeyed in a more placid place and recognizing the gloomy realities that govern this overbuilt, over-everythinged metropolis. With respect to parking, this has meant letting certain technically illegal practices slide. Traffic agents have tended to wink, for example, at alternate-side double-parking on street-sweeping days. If the city fathers wanted to be really clever, they’d make this practice legal but ticket the rudies who don’t place their contact info on the dash, leaving the person they blocked in totally helpless (imagine it’s the final hours of the Barneys sale). That would represent a pragmatic adjustment to reality and would still bring in revenue, since so many New Yorkers fail this basic civility test. But it will never happen because it would mean acknowledging that in some cases, double-parking is all right, which is sort of the traffic engineer’s equivalent of Israel’s admitting that it has nuclear weapons.

Since they can’t do that, they do the only thing they know how to do: hire more people to write more tickets, even while the real police force is facing cutbacks. And unless you’re in the mayor’s tax bracket—and you’re not—one or two tickets will pretty much wipe out your Bush and Pataki tax cuts. This is not, of course, what they mean when they say trickle-down economics. But it’s what we get.

No, we’re not talking terrorists. It’s the parking police, who are issuing tickets like there’s no tomorrow (no pun intended).

Agents Orange