In the City: Parking Adventures

A parking space is a commodity in this city. So much so that monthly rates for spaces in garages in Manhattan can cost a person more than renting an apartment in most of the country. For example, after some quick poking around in the tubes, I found rates on the Upper East Side that ranged from $430 a month to $1200. That’s $1200 a month…for a parking space. In my neighborhood, as in all of the neighborhoods of the outer boroughs I checked, the rates are far cheaper. Another couple minutes of looking and I found a garage for rent a couple blocks from my apartment for $200 a month. Take that, Manhattan.

Even though it’s cheaper out here in the boonies, parking is still a problem for people with cars, and the explanation is simple geometry. My apartment building is about 25 feet wide. I measured it. There are five apartments — two up, two down, and one in the basement. Including myself, there are 11 adults living here. The average car is 15 feet long or more, depending on type. This means if only two of the people who live in my building own cars and park in front of the building, the lengths of their vehicles will surpass that of the building. If two people from every building on this side of my block owned cars, then the total length of their cars would surpass that of available spaces in front of the buildings by around 40 feet, and that doesn’t include the space between bumpers. Apply this formula to the entire neighborhood, then to the entire city, and it becomes clear parking is not just a nuisance in this city — it’s an actual civic issue.

One of my neighbors around the corner has come up with his own parking solution. He lives in a five unit building, like mine, but it’s freestanding on one side, with a precious driveway leading to a couple of garages in back. (Of course, it’s against the law to block driveways in New York, so there goes another precious strip of street space.) He doesn’t use the garages, though, and neither does anyone else in the building. They’re crammed full of stuff, and the back turnaround is corralled in to give someone’s dogs a place to run around. This means the fellow has to park his car in the driveway, between his building and the one next door. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. This being the big city, it is.

This building’s driveway wasn’t built for parking. It was built as a pathway to where the parking spots are in the rear. It being an older building, it also wasn’t built for wide cars. Most cars would have trouble passing through it. Vans and SUVs? Forget it. Those tiny European cars, the kind which are illegal to drive here, would be able to drive down it, but they wouldn’t be able to open their doors wide enough for a person to get out. Our hero drives a Hyundai. Not a beast of the road, but still too wide to fit in the driveway. Even with the side mirrors folded in, there wasn’t enough room. Then he noticed that a few inches above the mirrors, there was just enough space. So one summer day, he broke out the table saw, made a crude form out of some 2x4s, filled them with cement, and made a pair of short ramps for his car to climb the necessary inches and fit snugly in the driveway. Great, now he could get his car into the driveway, but the clearance on both sides was so tight the doors could be opened no more than a couple inches. They couldn’t even be opened enough to clear the jams. Well, what about the windows? No go. He could get his arms above the roof of the car, but it was still too tight. So what does he do?

When my neighbor comes home for work, errands, or leisure time, he turns into his driveway, pulls in the side mirrors, and creeps ever so slowly in, foot riding the break until it reaches the foot of his Quickrete kludge ramp. Then he steps on the gas, just a little bit, enough to get it up the ramp without losing control, without veering side to side and running his panels down the sides of the building. He makes his way in, off goes the engine and the headlights, and then the trunk pops open. Our hero leans the driver’s seat back as far as it can go, folds down the center of the back seat, and crawls out of his car through the trunk. He does this every day. Every goddamn day. This ridiculous and humiliating public ritual can be seen by everyone on the street, but you know what? No one cares. This man has a parking space, in the same spot, every day, next to the place where he lives, and it probably doesn’t cost him a dime. Except for the 2x4s and the cement. And his dignity. A small price to pay, and worth it.