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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.