On Id al-Adha, a New York Gift on Alternate-Side Parking
New York Times
For many in New York City, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a day to digest turkey, jostle with shopping hordes — and curse the fresh parking tickets tucked beneath untold thousands of windshield wipers.
Every year, a sleeping army of New Yorkers and their out-of-town guests forget that Friday is not a holiday and fail to move their cars for street cleaning. But the city does not forget: Traffic agents give out parking tickets furiously, more than three times the number on a usual day. The post-Thanksgiving bonanza of roughly 20,000 tickets is worth some $900,000 to the city.
But not this year.
Because of a quirk of the calendar, Friday was a city-recognized holiday after all: Id al-Adha, a Muslim celebration. Alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules were suspended through Saturday, giving New Yorkers one more reason to offer thanks while depriving the city of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The intersection of American tradition, Islam’s lunar calendar and the street-cleaning schedule made for a peculiar holiday mash-up that pleased car owners and imams alike. “On Id day we share the blessings with all New Yorkers,” said Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. “The blessing is that they have the opportunity to have free parking.”
Did drivers lament the money that the city budget lost and what it would mean in these tough economic times? Not exactly.
Parking in New York is a battle of inches won by perseverance, so much so that Laura Conner, an ultrasound technician, tries to park her car outside her Upper East Side office by 7 a.m. even though she does not go in until around 9. She listens to the radio, sends text messages to her husband, eats bananas. On Friday, she sat in her Jeep Grand Cherokee in a spot where she would normally have gotten a ticket. But, she said smiling, “I’m not getting one today!”
Moving parked cars so city trucks can clean the streets is a hallowed, and hated, New York tradition. It can mean double-parking on wider streets, or circling blocks for an hour — in the same manner, it should and probably has been noted, that one would trace Dante’s hellish rings. Like so many other city obsessions, the parking dance has inspired blogs and Web sites.
Samuel Ramirez, a doorman on East 84th Street, said he watched traffic enforcement agents assemble on his corner each morning, ready to pounce as soon as the clock struck 9. Across the city, traffic agents issue roughly 6,000 alternate-side parking tickets a day out of a total of about 27,000, according to the Department of Finance. With fines of $45 to $65, depending on the borough, drivers’ failure to move cars for street cleaning earns the city roughly $270,000 a day, and more than $70 million each year.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, the city handed out more than 41,000 parking tickets, the most on any day that year. Roughly half were for alternate-side parking, generating nearly $900,000 for the city, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
That means that suspending alternate-side rules on Friday for Id al-Adha cost the city $630,000 more than it would have had the holiday fallen a week later. It floats on the Western calendar and can occur throughout the fall and winter. The last time it fell on the day after Thanksgiving was in 2003.
The celebration is known as the Festival of Sacrifice, and it commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim, or Abraham, to sacrifice his son to God.
The number of parking tickets issued has soared since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office, the Times analysis showed, and they have become a symbol of what critics call City Hall’s callous attitude toward New Yorkers’ everyday concerns. Last week, the City Council passed a bill that would provide a five-minute grace period to drivers who were late to feed a meter or move their cars on street-cleaning days. Mr. Bloomberg vowed to veto the legislation, saying it would only lead to confusion.
City officials have long maintained that parking tickets are issued to keep the streets clean and traffic moving, not to fill the city’s coffers. But many residents are skeptical.
“It’s clearly just an opportunity to raise revenue,” Andrew Kelman, a mortgage trader, said next to his parked car. Mr. Kelman, who said he had paid his share of parking tickets over the years and was generally cautious, added that before he parked his car Friday, he read the street signs carefully, then read them a second time, then a third, and then checked with the doorman of a nearby building.
Like many New Yorkers, Mr. Kelman was unaware of the Muslim festival, but, he said, “I knew it must have been a religious holiday because they wouldn’t be so nice as to give you a day off.”
Carol O’Cleireacain, a former city finance commissioner, said the revenue lost from the suspended parking rules was small enough that “I don’t think the finance commissioner would lose much sleep.”
But she said she appreciated the unusual confluence of calendars, and said the city was giving New Yorkers “a holiday they never knew about.”
“Aren’t they lucky!” she said. “People can sleep in and this year they won’t get a ticket.”
All other parking rules were in effect Friday, as Bill Palumbo, 72, found out the hard way.
Mr. Palumbo received two tickets in two hours on the Upper West Side, each for $115. He got the first one for driving while using his cellphone; he said he had pulled over first. Two hours later, he received his second ticket, for idling at a fire hydrant. Mr. Palumbo’s profession: driving instructor.
Khalid Latif, the director and chaplain of the Islamic Center at New York University, said he hoped the parking holiday would inspire more New Yorkers to learn about Id al-Adha, perhaps out of a sense of gratitude, if nothing else.
“That extra two or three hours of sleep undisturbed is going to be a great gift for a lot of people,” he said.
But parking warriors should not get too comfortable. Next year, Id al-Adha falls in mid-November, which means that on the morning after Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl for parking tickets, enforcement agents will be back on the prowl.