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Alternate side parking returned this week and even the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) acknowledges some New Yorkers are not happy about it.

“We know this policy may seem like an annoyance to those who own cars, but all New Yorkers agree that we need cleaner streets, and our mechanical brooms are the best tool in our arsenal for this,” said the department over email. “We have issued violations since the policy went into effect, but this is not about tickets or revenue, it’s about cleanliness. We just want people to follow the law so that we can get the streets clean.”

Since Tuesday, July 12, pre-pandemic street cleaning regulations are back including the dreaded alternate side parking—for those who exclusively walk or take transit, it means New Yorkers must move their street-parked cars twice a week, coerced and enforced by meticulous city ticketing. And the lack of available spaces often lead to drivers circling aimlessly until they can claim a spot in often battle royale fashion.

But with the chaos comes the promise of tidier streets, if the cleaning trucks actually come. According to the DSNY, the absence of alternate side parking led to the 50% reduction of street sweeping in some neighborhoods. And more room on the street allows the department to employ truck-wide mechanical brooms that can pick up to 1,500 pounds of trash each go-around. And cleaner communities can lead to safer communities.

“Some of the spaces I’ve seen [trash is] overwhelming, to the point where you can’t even vaguely consider using the space, because of overgrowth of vegetation and the accumulation of trash—small trash items become massive trash items, they’ll become abandoned cars, and abandoned appliances and abandoned furniture,” said Dr. Charles Branas, chair of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “So to the extent that that can be changed, that’s a real structural change of benefit to communities that brings people closer to their local spaces in their neighborhood and to each other, which lead to all kinds of benefits down the road.”

Branas refers to it as the “busy streets theory,” a counter to the “broken windows theory” that argues that bustling neighborhoods indicate safety and comfort for the locals. Clean streets play a part in encouraging residents to leave their homes to participate in community efforts.

Additionally, Branas mentioned the practice of alternate side parking could potentially offer an inadvertent byproduct for flushing out illegal firearm stashing.

“[In] a couple of the studies we did, one of the mechanisms for the storage of illegal guns is to park a car—often an abandoned car as well—in front of abandoned buildings or lots, and to put illegal firearms in that car,” he said. “So to the extent that you can regularly move that car, there’s opportunities to also disrupt illegal guns in neighborhoods.”

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting:

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