Why Parking in NYC Is So Annoying & How to Master It

You could conceivably call plenty of things in New York City the worst -- including, but not limited to, hangovers, staying fit, and being single -- but in my studied opinion, there is no city in America worse than NYC for that mundane, necessary, often expensive task we know and loathe: parking that car you don't want to drive anyway. Unlike most American cities, doing so here means dealing with street sweeping and alternate-side parking rules every few days or so. And if you try to opt out, a parking ticket could set you back by $100 or more.

My fellow New Yorkers, it does not have to be this way. Here's everything you need to know to abide by the alternate-side parking rules and avoid unnecessary tickets in NYC.


Step 1: Learn the rules of alternate-side parking, NYC's fender-bending dance of death

Alternate-side parking refers to the clearing of parked cars on New York City streets, usually once or twice a week in most neighborhoods across the five boroughs, to accommodate the Department of Sanitation's street-sweeping schedule. It's overseen by the Department of Transportation and is a ubiquitous part of living in the Big Apple if you regularly drive a car. You can get ticketed if you don't follow the rules and move your car (often early in the morning or late at night) out of its parking space for the duration of time prescribed on signs on the street you originally chose to park on (see the photo above).

Parking signs. Not all parking spots are created equally. In addition to the typical alternate-side parking sign that you'll find on most streets, here are what some of the parking rules are for other signs you'll see on the street. Violating any of these during the times listed on the signs could also run the risk of a ticket.

  • No Stopping: You cannot stop to drop off/pick up passengers, load/unload packages or luggage, or wait with your car.
  • No Standing: You can stop to drop off/pick up passengers, but cannot load/unload packages or luggage or wait with your car.
  • No Parking: You can stop to drop off/pick up passengers or load/unload packages or luggage, but you cannot wait with your car.

Hydrants. The rule is to give 15ft from either side of the hydrant, and though folks outside my apartment building are constantly parked in front of ours, I promise you, you will get ticketed.

Double parking. It's illegal at all times, including during street-cleaning days, despite a persistent myth to the contrary and whatever shenanigans your neighbors pull. As an adult committed to common human decency, I can't recommend it.

Legal holidays. On major legal holidays, standing, stopping, and parking sign rules are generally suspended except in cases where the signs say they are in effect seven days a week, i.e. "No Standing Anytime." (See below for a full distinction between legal and religious holidays.)

Towing. In addition to getting a ticket, your car can 100% get towed in New York if it is parked or operated anywhere illegally or has missing or expired inspection or registration stickers. Them's the brakes [not sic].

government vehicle

Step 2: Alternate-side parking is your enemy. Study its weaknesses.

All this seems complicated. Is street sweeping worth the ASP hassle?
New York City is a notable outlier among most major American cities for sweeping its streets twice a week. As Kristin Iversen of Brooklyn magazine put it not too long ago, the point of this seems to amount to, "making the city more money, and making life here quantifiably more stressful."

When running properly, NYC street sweepers actually do keep streets cleaner, using a combination of water, a rotating broom, and a vacuum-like system accompanied by a conveyor belt that pushes debris up into a bin on top of the sweeper.

The problem -- as Pat Nelson once pointed out in The New York Times -- is that for it to work, brooms need to be maintained, drivers need to travel at no more than eight miles an hour, and the water in the system needs to be replenished. Moreover, several parts of the city can go without sweeping for long periods of time, as Nelson pointed out was the case for Park Slope in 2008. Nelson and others have long argued that a reduced sweeping schedule wouldn't make much of a dent in the city's overall cleanliness, and would also reduce traffic, pollution, and tickets.

OK, what if I see a street sweeper has gone by already? Can I park in that spot?
Legally, no, you still cannot park there. "We do have to go around the block twice in plenty of instances," Paul Visconti of the Department of Sanitation told WNYC in 2014, and there's simply no way of knowing, unless you're the operator of the sweeper, whether or not they have to pass over it again. Second sweeps are much more common in the fall, when leaves can clog the brushes.

Step 3: Plan with the alternate-side parking calendar for 2019

Here are all the remaining legal and religious holidays in 2019 for which alternate-side parking is suspended, per the DOT. Make sure you wake up early to move your car on all the other days of the week.

2019 Dates Alternate Side Parking is Suspended

  • Tuesday, January 1 -- New Year's Day*
  • Sunday, January 6 -- Three Kings' Day
  • Monday, January 21 -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Monday, February 4 -- Lunar New Year's Eve
  • Tuesday, February 5 -- Lunar New Year
  • Tuesday, February 12 -- Lincoln's Birthday (Observed)
  • Monday, February 18 -- Washington's Birthday/Presidents Day
  • Wednesday, March 6 -- Ash Wednesday
  • Thursday, March 21 -- Purim
  • Thursday, April 18 -- Holy Thursday
  • Friday, April 19 -- Good Friday
  • Saturday-Sunday, April 20-21 -- Passover (1st/2nd Days)
  • Thursday, April 25 -- Holy Thursday (Orthodox)
  • Friday, April 26 -- Good Friday (Orthodox)
  • Friday-Saturday, April 26-27 -- Passover (7th/8th Days)
  • Monday, May 27 -- Memorial Day*
  • Thursday, May 30 -- Solemnity of Ascension
  • Friday-Sunday, June 4-6 -- Eid al-Fitr (Idul-Fitr)
  • Sunday-Monday, June 9-10 -- Shavuot (2 Days)
  • Thursday, July 4 -- Independence Day*
  • Sunday-Tuesday, August 11-13 -- Eid al-Adha (Idul-Adha)
  • Thursday, August 15 -- Feast of the Assumption
  • Monday, September 2 -- Labor Day*
  • Monday-Tuesday, September 30-October 1 -- Rosh Hashanah
  • Wednesday, October 9 -- Yom Kippur
  • Monday, October 14 -- Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples' Day
  • Monday-Tuesday, October 14-15 -- Succoth (2 Days)
  • Monday, October 21 -- Shemini Atzereth
  • Tuesday, October 22 -- Simchas Torah
  • Sunday, October 27 -- Diwali
  • Friday, November 1 -- All Saints Day
  • Tuesday, November 5 -- Election Day
  • Monday, November 11 -- Veterans Day
  • Thursday, November 28 -- Thanksgiving Day*
  • Sunday, December 8 -- Immaculate Conception
  • Wednesday, December 25 -- Christmas Day*

* These count as Major Legal Holidays. The rest are designated religious holidays, and typically, regular parking, standing, and stopping sign rules are still in effect as usual, unless the DOT says otherwise.

alternate side parking signs map

There are maps and apps that lay all of this out for you

Don't we all know it. The DOT does its best, but its online NYC parking map, while a janky piece of technology is still the simplest way (on desktop) to quickly find out what alternate-side parking looks like for any given street. It gets the job done, but not terribly well.

The best and simplest app for my money is SpotAngels. Available for iOS and Android, it offers a map that's not a nightmare to navigate, sends notifications for when alternate-side parking is in effect and how much time you have left to move your car, and is supported in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and other cities in addition to NYC.  Smooth Parking is another good Android alternative; it has an accurate and up-to-date map and times for alternate-side parking in the city and also takes street parking holidays into consideration.

Popular parking apps SpotHero and BestParking are also useful if you're looking to spend the cash on a garage or just need to know if you can park on certain sides of the street, but they have either incomplete or unlisted alternate-side parking times.

Step 4: Prepare for surprises by following NYC alt-side parking religiously

The city tweets out alternate-side parking updates twice daily at @NYCASP, at 7:30am and 4pm, as well as during emergency situations. The most current information for parking rule suspensions can also be found on the NYC.gov homepage, through an email signup, or by texting 311-692, dialing 311, or using the 311 mobile app. WNYC and other local radio outlets also announce parking rule updates periodically throughout the day. Above you'll find the most up-to-date tweets that directly answer the age-old question: Is alternate-side parking in effect today?

my last nyc parking ticket
My last NYC parking ticket. Ugh. | Eric Vilas-Boas/Thrillist

Step 5: Learn the ancient art of parallel parking

As Staten Island's Wu-Tang Clan announced themselves "with the game and soul of an old-school flick" and steeped their hip-hop in the discipline of kung fu, you too must apply that ethos to moving your car. Parallel parking may be a giant pain in the ass, but the only way to overcome it is to remain calm, collected, and work hard to master it perfectly, every time. (Here are some other next-level driving tips that may help.) And never sleep on moving your car. It takes discipline to get out of bed and do it every morning, but the payoff and the zen you will discover will be worth it, and will help you kung-fu-kick parking tickets away -- just like the RZA.

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Eric Vilas-Boas is a Cities Editor at Thrillist. Follow him @e_vb_.