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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Councilman Felder is a hero

NEW YORK, NY — Several City Council members announced on Sunday that a bill had been introduced that would create a five-minute grace period before drivers are issued summonses for parking violations like expired meters and alternate-side parking rules.

The bill addresses a longstanding pet peeve among many city lawmakers, whose constituents often complain of feeling victimized by unforgiving traffic agents.

“When people park, they shouldn’t have to feel that there are vultures, certain agents, waiting to give them a ticket the moment they are in violation,” said Councilman Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the legislation, which was introduced on Wednesday.

The grace period would apply to parking meters and to places where parking is prohibited during certain times of the day — when streets are being cleaned, for example, or when school is in session — and in periods when parking is allowed only for commercial vehicles or for loading and unloading.

An analysis by The New York Times in November of more than 10 million parking summonses issued in New York City in 2007 found that at least 276,000 drivers received tickets for breaching alternate-side parking rules within five minutes of the rules’ going into effect. Of those, 28,000 were written precisely as the rules took effect, the analysis showed.

Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office, the number of parking summonses issued citywide has increased by 42 percent, Finance Department statistics show. The fines for specific infractions have also risen, and nearly 800 additional traffic agents have been hired to enforce the rules.

Agents no longer abide by an informal grace period, police officials said. Agents are now instructed, instead, to use discretion when writing the summonses — a subjective concept that Mr. Felder and some of his colleagues on the Council said was rarely employed.

“If traffic agents can’t use their own good judgment, then we’ll make them do it,” one of the bill’s supporters, Councilman Vincent J. Gentile of Brooklyn, said at the announcement, which was held on the steps of City Hall.

The council members said the stricter enforcement is part of the Bloomberg administration’s strategy to raise more money at a time when the city finds itself strapped for cash. Over the last fiscal year, the city collected more than $620 million in parking fines; during the 2003 fiscal year, the city collected $429 million in fines.

A mayoral spokesman, Marc LaVorgna, denied the suggestion, saying that the agents “are there to enforce the law, and the laws are there to keep traffic moving and to keep parking spaces in front of businesses turning over.”

He declined to comment on the specifics of the bill, as did Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker. Through a spokesman, Anthony Hogrebe, Ms. Quinn said the bill had been referred to the Council Transportation Committee, where it would receive “a thorough review.”

The committee’s chairman, John C. Liu of Queens, has yet to take a position on the legislation, but he said the concept behind it is “an understandable reaction from New Yorkers who too often feel they’re being squeezed as cash cows for the city.”

The bill could be the third parking-related measure enacted in recent months. On Dec. 29, Mayor Bloomberg signed legislation temporarily suspending alternate-side parking rules during snowstorms. Four weeks earlier, he had signed a bill allowing drivers to park at a missing or broken meter for as much time as they would be allowed to park if the meter were operational. Prior to that, parking at missing or broken meters was allowed only for up to one hour.