In terms of misdemeanors, the NYPD's traffic division has been doing a fairly good job of enforcing rules governing alternate-side parking, metered parking and no standing zones; if they make Jimmy Vacca and his friends mad, they're probably doing something right. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be doing very well at enforcing the laws that protect pedestrians and pedestrian and transit spaces, especially outside Manhattan. It is not at all unusual to see cars and trucks parked on sidewalks, in crosswalks and in bus stops all over Queens. These appropriations put pedestrians in danger and slow down walking and transit trips, but I almost never see a traffic cop writing tickets for those offenses.
To a large extent, traffic calming facilities like bollards, sidewalk extensions, signal timing, lane reconfiguration, and restoring parking and two-way traffic flow, discourage the illegal behaviors that the NYPD doesn't punish. They can be thought of as making up for the deficiencies of policing. In most cases, though, they're actually better than police enforcement, because they work automatically through physics and psychology, and they're usually cheaper than paying for cops.
There's another way to make up for inadequate policing, but it's much less effective. If there's some kind of special permit requirement, the city can use that to enforce the laws. For example, taxi drivers and owners have to go to the Taxi and Limousine Commission to get their licenses and permits renewed, and any complaints can count against them. So how's that working? And as every New Yorker knows, taxi drivers conduct themselves with greater care than the average driver. Or maybe not. Actually, what you get is regulators who over time develop sympathy for the people they're supposed to be regulating and wind up going easier on them than the actual police.
That brings me back to last night's post, where a raft of politicians want to set up a special permit system for intercity buses in New York City. Most of the problems they complain about are enforcement issues:
- The buses often idle. "Some neighbors believe" they can make residents' asthma worse (Gotham Gazette).
- The buses make it "difficult to maintain a steady flow of ... pedestrian traffic" (Gotham Gazette).
- "and automobile traffic" (Gotham Gazette)
- and "to regulate trash and parking" (Gotham Gazette).
- Competition also creates "the possibility of accidents and even violence" (Gotham Gazette).
- Parked buses "could tie up deliveries, and other businesses in the area will be affected as well" (Tribeca Trib).
- "Noise" is a problem, according to Council Speaker Quinn. (Greg Mocker).
- The buses park in local bus stops. (Tri-State).
- "People's homes and businesses are being blocked by buses, commercial areas, residential areas," says Senator Squadron. Whatever that means (Metro).
Unfortunately, this is not like traffic calming, where you can simply set up infrastructure that will restrict the ability of these buses to idle, block the sidewalk or road, or litter. You could of course set up attractive infrastructure: build a nice big bus terminal with dedicated on-ramps to exclusive bus lanes on the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, for example. You'd probably get a lot of buses off the streets that way.
But no, Squadron and his colleagues Chin and Silver want to set up a whole new layer of bureaucracy and create a new class of entrenched interests protected by high barriers to entry. What could possibly go wrong?