In 2009, Madison Avenue in Lower Manhattan closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian and bike boulevard as part of a streetcar infrastructure master plan. Some, including bicyclists and a staunch advocate for new transit, were outraged when we asked questions about what would happen to the roadway once the line was completed. For the time being, all traffic that wasn’t on bikes was supposed to be temporarily halted.
That never happened. Hundreds of cars, on every major avenue on and off Madison Avenue from 14th to 59th streets, snarled traffic in the off-ramp lane all the way to Lexington Avenue. That traffic was so bad that tens of thousands of motorists took it upon themselves to set up a makeshift self-serve “green zone” along the center, which clogged up what should have been quiet lanes for buses and taxis.
Which is how I wound up staring at an email from Alexander Cohen, a lawyer for The Maritime Hotel, wondering whether we were interested in a situation where a company parked “15 to 20 cars per row” right along 14th Street — while it awaited a decision from the MTA as to whether it would have to move.
Our surprise was raised by the mere mention of a street parking lot. We, along with many New Yorkers, can’t believe how can or should someone be able to be so rude as to block cars and make commuters late while they wait for a decision.
To make matters worse, you could say “sorry, we don’t have any parking slots,” as the marina did when we asked whether it would be too difficult for drivers to get through to get back to their cars.
Mr. Cohen said one thing that seemed obvious to us is that by law, if someone had parked on a closed street to prevent cars from using the street, they could be prosecuted. Mr. Cohen could not be reached for comment.
That answer begged a lot of questions. We, along with a host of other observers, found that even though the owner of the pier, Five Points Development, was in debt for tens of millions of dollars, it had ample parking for work and was holding onto the rights to place cars there to hold some financial clout.
Who were the dedicated spotters, crews, and maybe even drivers who manipulated the schedule to hit new service overnight and in the daytime? We even found five free spots with a timer, but they were used as decoys, because by city standards, “any vehicles parked during the open hours for any reason may be deemed as illegal parking,” we wrote in our initial report.
No one could give us the answer to all these questions, and, frankly, some of our questions were unclear at best.
We also took the job to bolster the story to new heights. The upper floors of a midtown building offer employees a first-floor-level view of the Madison Avenue street where a parking lot is taking up prime land.
We had them look at the row of cars parked right beside their offices, giving them clear eyeful of what they were dealing with and showing that the city had little if anything to say about the unfolding situation.
Where was Mayor Bill de Blasio? We left messages for him, but no one could say when or how he might get back to us, and the phone rang and rang and rang and rang. We abandoned our original story.