What’s So Bad About Parking in Front of a Fire Hydrant Anyway?

According to the Associated Press, “a survey of 49 American metropolitan areas found that monthly parking rates in midtown Manhattan were the country’s most expensive, averaging $574.”

What’s particularly amazing about that figure is that most people who park in midtown only park during the day near their offices, then drive home at night.

I live on the Upper West Side, where I park my car for the relatively cheap rate of $350 a month. It’s possible to park for free on the street in New York, but competition for free spots is pretty stiff and you have to move your car every other weekday for street-cleaning. (Calvin Trillin wrote an entire book about this sport, called Tepper Isn’t Going Out.)

I have long wondered why some entrepreneur hasn’t turned a NYC parking garage into a co-op, selling off the spots instead of renting them. I am guessing it could be a great business. I for one would much rather have an option to buy a spot than to be forced to rent. There are a few apartment complexes in Manhattan that have outdoor lots and which do sell those spots, but only to residents of those complexes. (Believe me, I’ve tried to buy one as a non-resident, and it’s impossible.)

People have argued for years that NYC residents like me get abused by the current free-parking-on-the-street system. Why should someone who, say, lives in New Jersey and works on the Upper West Side get to park for free on my street when I pay local taxes and he doesn’t?

Furthermore, there is the issue of fire hydrants. During the recent NYC heat wave, there’s been a lot of concern about people opening up fire hydrants to spray water to escape the heat. The Dept. of Environmental Protection claims that “one illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute, while a hydrant with a spray cap” — which the Fire Department will give you for free — “only puts out around 25 gallons per minute.” The concern, of course, is that if there’s a fire, the nearest hydrant won’t be able to provide enough water pressure to fight it.

But this got me to thinking about fire hydrants and parking. We all know it’s illegal, in New York and presumably anywhere, to park in front of a fire hydrant. The law in New York states that you must be 15 feet away. But the scarcity of NYC street parking has led me to wonder: what’s so bad about parking in front of a hydrant? The firemen only need to hook the hose up to the hydrant, and a car parked by the hydrant certainly doesn’t interfere with that; the fire truck itself is inevitably double-parked anyway. I’m sure it would be impossible to gain political traction on this issue, but it would sure be interesting to see a movement to allow parking in front of hydrants. There are roughly 4 hydrants per long block in NYC. That’s a lot of parking spaces.



I'm sure there's some abuse of handicapped parking privileges. But don't make the assumption based on whether the driver APPEARS able-bodied. Do you know for certain that that well-dressed businessman doesn't have rheumatoid arthritis, for example? Last year I suffered a long sciatica episode that had a strange effect: about halfway through my chiropractic rehad, I went through two weeks where I could move and walk painlessly, but after about 50 steps would begin experiencing pain that would worsen until I sat down. Then after a minute or so I was back to "normal" and could go another 50 steps or so. The spasms were immune to prescription painkillers. If you'd seen me get out of my car in the parking lot of the grocery store, you would not suspect anything was wrong with me -- unless you happened to see me collaps gratefully in one of those power chairs. More than once I got a dirty look when I'd get out of the chair to retrieve a product from a shelf.

The point of all this detail is you never know!



Since this is an economics blog, we should be asking whether more parking spaces are good or bad. On the Upper West Side, the street spaces are free. As a result, they generate no revenue for the city. There aren't enough of them because they are underpriced, and thus demand outstrips supply. Adding more spaces would simply enable a few more people - at most 6 per block - to park for free, making driving a slightly more attractive option, increasing the number of cars in the city, exacerbating traffic.

Fire hydrant spaces can also be useful. There is one near my apartment, and when I have to bring a large purchase to my apartment, or load or unload luggage for a road trip, it's great to be able to pull in there for a few minutes without risking blocking traffic. I'd suggest allowing free use of the hydrant spaces but only for a few minutes maximum, which lets many more people use the space than if someone simply parked there for 2 days.


Douglas Knight

In case it wasn't clear from other people's comments, there are cities (or at least streets) that have fire hydrants in the parking lane, with a bit of sidewalk-paving breaking up the parking lane. I just noticed the hydrants somewhere recently, but a few years ago I was told the bumps of sidewalk in Cambridge, MA, were part of "traffic calming."


To echo blgibbons, you can't judge whether or not someone needs a handicapped spot by simply seeing them get out of a vehicle and walk around.

My sister has a serious but intermittent condition that means some times she is able to walk just fine for hours on end, and then will suddenly be crippled with pain and have to sit down and wait while someone goes back to the car to retrieve her wheelchair.

More than once we've had people give us dirty looks when the family gets out of the car and we all happily walk into the store or mall with no obvious deformities, but those people never stick around to see if someone is being wheeled back to the car when we're leaving.


I have no real issue with handicapped parking, but I have never understood why in a metered parking situation the handicapped spots are almost universally not metered.

At my local mall I've enjoyed watching them try to figure out how to monitor the newly-installed "pink parking" spots for "new and expecting mothers." Can you park there if you think you are pregnant? If you are a new dad running to the mall without your baby can you park there? If you are pregnant but not showing? If you expect to one day become pregnant but are not currently?

In my LA neighborhood, I wonder how many additional spots could be used if hash marks indicating the "length" of the spots were painted on the ground. People who park when the street is not crowded tend to not be thinking about maximizing the number of cars that can park on the street. But later on in the evening you are thinking not-nice thoughts about the guy who guessed incorrectly.


Bruce Hayden

I ditto the comments on handicapped spaces that you don't really know. I have a friend who sometimes needs close in parking and sometimes does not. She is proud enough that it took twisting her arm to get her to get a handicapped packard, and she only uses it when she can't walk that far.

But on the other hand, my parents had plackards for both of their cars. They were good about it - my father wouldn't use a handicapped space unless my mother was present. But when I borrowed one of their cars, I wasn't so honorable - esp. in cases where there were a lot of very convenient empty handicapped spaces available, but the regular spaces were pretty much filled up.

No more of this though, as their plackards expired in May.

Jeff S.

Starting at $40,000 you can buy a parking space in Philly at the Parkominium.


John Jay

I know this is an OLD thread but I'm just now researching NYC hydrant-distance laws (15 ft). To avoid running a hose through the hydrant, require 1 foot clearance on either side.

ALSO ... combine bus stops with hydrants. I have seen many a block where 30% of the curb was taken with a hydrant no-parking zone, then a few cars parked, then a large bus stop. Why not combine the two?

FINALLY ... any hydrant on a corner can be accessed from multiple angles, so you can park right up to a hydrant if it's on a corner.

Kevin K

Thank God this is an old thread and I came about it looking for something ele... but here goes--- All the above people are idiots about the fire service or the importance of a fire hydrant. They would be the first one to scream and sue the Fire Dept of NYC if they or a loved one was injured, burned or killed at a fire when the Fire Hydrant outside their building was blocked by someone parkling there 'only for a few minutes' or just because it was a 'free' parking spot.

The FDNY (Fire Department of New York) needs all the room it can get in and around the hydrants. The Fire Engine is over 20 feet long and it needs to be parked as close to the hydrant for many reasons. A few of them are : 1) so the other responding Fire companies can get close to the building like a ladder truck to raise an aerial or tower ladder to a window or the roof of the fire building. 2) so other Fire trucks can pass the Fire Engine who is hooked upto the hydrant- the fire buidling might be further down the block and if the first Engine "doubled parked" on the hydrant, because someone was dropping for their groceries it would delay the Firemen from getting to the front of the fire building, possibly delay or prevent a ladder getting into position to rescue someone in need 3) pay the parking garage fees and lets not be selfish and respect the power of Fire. If and when if happends to you----you want that hydrant free of cars and for the Firmen to do their job!

Kevin K.
NYC Firefighter



As a volunteer firefighter I will tell you what we will do if there is a car parked in front of a hydrant. We WILL NOT wait for you to move. If your car is there when I am, I will have to bust out your windows, open your doors, run a hose through and you will not be allowed to leave with your car until we are done. This will damage your car a lot, and the police will make sure that insurance will not pay for it. When we do this, we are not liable because we were doing the public a good service. So next time, think again.


Unfortunately, there are stereotypical cops who enjoy being lazy, eating donuts, and writing bogus parking tickets. The officer reputation is ruined by 'sissy' cops who have nothing better to do than give you a bogus parking tickets.
Cars should be allowed to park close to a hydrant! Not blocking, but definitely close. Fire trucks only need room for pipe access, so 15' is a ridiculous amount! So many people would be happier with the extra spaces created if the distance was reduced to 5 or less.

Furthermore, any hydrant located on a corner can be accessed from multiple angles! Therefore, you should be able to park up to a corner hydrant.




Ray, some of those SUVs are pretty tall...


Bob, if you are a volunteer firefighter, then you should know better re: the 15ft law. additionally, you are still obligated to comply with the law...


I live in Syracuse, NY. We have small, 5' tall signs marking every fire hydrant so the fire department can find them during the snowy season. It works well and I see no reason it could not work for locating hydrants behind parked cars.


Some of the cops in NYC are just downright nasty when it comes to hydrant rules. My bumper was stuck about foot and a half into hydrant zone. I'm sure it would not have mattered if there was a fire in the area. Nevertheless, my car had been towed at 3 am in the morning, so coming out of the club in the City (i live in Jersey)was not a pleasant experience. Furthermore, we find the "beat" cops in the area and they informed us the cars had been towed to Jamaica impound lot. Nota bene, it's Friday night, so they tell me i will have to come on Monday to pick it up.
I offered to pay the ticket, the towing charge , two days worth of storing fees, etc. just to take the car and go home, but they will not let you do it. On Monday, i had to waste a day just to come and pick up the car. On top of it, the bumpers had been scratched and plastics broken during the towing process. I understand the laws are there to
be enforced, but little understanding an cooperation from the dept wouldn't hurt either.



Hi Stephen,

I like your story, but I need to correct you on something. People that leve in New Jersey and work in New york do pay local taxes. Everytime we buy something in New York City we pay local city taxes. Also people that live in New Jersey pay New York State taxes and New York Federal taxes. The only taxes that people in New Jersey pay are Realty state taxes. I agree with parking in New York tuff, that is why I move to New Jersey from New York city. But people that live out of New York City put in alot of money in New York city.

Thank you


I work for a transit company. I can't even stop my busses in front of fire hydrants! I think that would be an excellent use of geography - so long as you don't have timed stops at the hydrants, there's no reason that I can think of that you shouldn't be able to double them up as transit stops.


We have a guy on my block in queens who parks by a hydrant from 6PM until 10 AM every day.
He could find legal parking two blocks away but is to lazy to walk. I've started calling 311 and he's been getting ticketed

As stated above a parked car at a hydrant can cause valuable seconds may be lost resulting in injury or death. The law is not to block the hydrant. It's that simple.


They should put no parking signs next to the fire hydrants. Some people don't know about the no parking in front of a fire hydrant rule.