Last month, a hit-and-run driver leaving a Bushwick laundromat backed over and killed 4-year-old Luz Gonzalez on the sidewalk. The parking lot — a narrow strip directly abutting the sidewalk — was illegal, and the Department of Buildings shut it down.
Clean City Laundry was ordered to paint over the parking stall markings and barricade the space to prevent vehicles from entering, according to a DOB spokesperson.
But there are parking lots like it, where drivers have to back over the sidewalk to get into or out of a space, all over the city. Many of them are perfectly legal. In fact, the parking is often required by city code.
Take 491 Knickerbocker Avenue, just a few blocks away from the Clean City site in Bushwick:
The strip mall houses a U.S. Army recruiting center, a MetroPCS store, and a laundromat. While parking is legal on this parcel, the number of spaces violates the certificate of occupancy, which allows for 19 spots. On Google Maps, 28 painted spots are visible, plus a few vehicles occupying space ad hoc. According to the Department of Buildings database, the agency has issued no fines to the property owners for exceeding the number of legal parking spots. DOB said it “has not received any recent complaints” about this parking lot or others we brought to its attention.
This surface parking lot outside the Chase Bank at 391 Eastern Parkway has no curb cut along the building’s street frontage, but is required by the city’s commercial zoning rules, according to DOB.
As with the Clean City parking lot, accessing these spaces essentially requires driving in reverse over a sidewalk at some point, in addition to jumping the curb.
Another parking lot only accessible by jumping the curb is at 361 Third Avenue in Gowanus. The same building has a second narrow parking zone around the corner on Third Avenue. Dangerous as they may be, these spots are also mandated by zoning.
Conditions like the one that created a fatal risk for Luz Gonzalez are also pervasive at car dealerships, which store their merchandise on sidewalks. Though the practice is against the law, the rules are rarely enforced.
Despite the dangers these parking zones create all across the city, there is no initiative from the DOB to systematically identify and remedy them. As long as that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time before someone else loses their life.