Illegal truck parking in Queens (photo: Daniel Sparrow, Council Member Linda Lee's office)
No matter where you look in Eastern Queens, it seems like there’s a commercial truck illegally parked. Whether it’s along a highway or in a quiet residential neighborhood, these four-ton vehicles are hard to miss. Now, it seems like this long-standing problem is reaching a crisis level citywide. Fines and enforcement alone won’t solve this problem -- we need a comprehensive solution that involves government agencies, elected officials, and the private sector to solve this problem for the long-term.
Around 90% of the goods shipped within New York City are carried by truck. Nearly 9 million New Yorkers rely on these trucks and their drivers for our food, medicine, building materials, and just about everything else that makes our daily life possible. On top of servicing New Yorkers’ needs, trucks also support JFK and LaGuardia airports, two of the busiest in the country and both located in Queens, as well as the Port of New York and New Jersey, the third busiest in the country.
As a result, trucks transport approximately 890,000 tons of freight within New York City each day, with many trucks requiring a berth in which to park each night. That number is expected to grow by nearly 70% by 2045, a trend driven by the rise of e-commerce and home delivery that has only increased during the pandemic.
While trucking across New York City has increased dramatically and will only continue to do so for the foreseeable future, the infrastructure to support these fleets has not kept pace. Currently, there are only two commercial truck parking lots in Queens, at JFK and in Long Island City, both of which are usually at capacity and maintain waitlists for truckers looking for a spot to park. Despite the expected continued rise in commercial trucking in the city, there are no current plans to create new space to park these trucks.
It’s also important to note that truckers have little choice about when to park. Federal regulations limit the number of hours a trucker can drive per day, and they must pull off the road when they hit their hours. Mandatory rests can come in the middle of a shift, or just before reaching the drop-off or pickup point at one of the shipping hubs across the city. As a result, without adequate parking facilities in which to rest, drivers are forced to pull to the side of the road to park overnight, resulting in illegal parking in residential neighborhoods.
The result is a hazard to our neighborhoods, a problem Queens residents are familiar with. Illegal truck parking is more than just an eyesore -- by limiting residential street and highway space, it increases congestion, in turn causing longer travel times, more pollution, and more accidents. Parked trucks contribute to littering and illegal dumping and impair visibility for drivers and pedestrians at intersections. The same neighborhoods where trucks often park lack adequate transportation options and therefore residents primarily use cars to get around. Working-class families in Queens rely on street parking to get to school and work, but often those spots are taken up by trucks parked illegally.
As much as New Yorkers rely on trucks for our daily lives, we’ve also collectively decided that this type of behavior is unacceptable. The New York City Department of Transportation posts “no overnight parking” signs in areas with frequent illegal truck parking, but this limits parking available to neighborhood residents. While the NYPD tickets and cites illegally parked trucks, truckers without anywhere else to park treat these tickets as the cost of doing business.
Senator Leroy Comrie and Assembly Members Clyde Vanel and Alicia Hyndman have authored bills in the New York State Legislature to stiffen penalties for trucks left unattended, and we call for passage of legislation to combat this issue by the end of the state’s legislative session next month.
But this legislation alone won’t fully address the issue until we can offer truckers somewhere else to park besides our neighborhoods. Without that parking, shippers will continue to treat these fines as the cost of doing business, and ultimately pass those costs along to consumers. At a time when inflation is being keenly felt by ordinary New Yorkers, we can’t pretend that an enforcement-only approach doesn’t come with costs.
We cannot approach this problem piecemeal, we need sustainable solutions that address the root cause of the illegal parking problem: the constrained supply of commercial parking. Government and the private sector must work together to develop space that will allow truckers a safe and reliable place to pull over when they have met their maximum hours without causing havoc in residential neighborhoods.
The city Department of Transportation’s Freight Mobility Unit must take the lead in identifying the most commonly used corridors for freight trucks across the city and potential nearby lots that can be used for parking. The city’s Economic Development Corporation can lease city-owned land to a private or not-for-profit entity to develop commercial lots and manage them on behalf of the city. These steps will not only get the trucks off our neighborhood streets, but also generate revenue for the city.
We must also pass state legislation (S3258 and S3259) to raise the fines on illegally parked commercial trucks to provide a real deterrent against continued bad behavior, not the current slap on the wrist that is being ignored. The NYPD must commit to robust enforcement and ticketing, including towing these trucks when necessary to penalize repeat offenders.
The private sector also stands to benefit. For instance, numerous big-box retailers across the city should consider renting out their massive parking lots that sit empty and unused after their stores close each night. Trucking companies would jump at the opportunity to pay for these spots, providing a much-needed shot in the arm to an important economic sector that has struggled greatly in recent years.
The economic trends are clear -- commercial trucks are only going to proliferate across the city in the coming years. Rather than fight against the same drivers and companies that facilitate our daily lives, we must work with them to create the infrastructure they need to avoid negatively impacting our communities.
City Council Members Linda Lee and Nantasha Williams co-chair the Queens Delegation of the New York City Council, representing Districts 23 and 27 respectively. Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers chairs the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and serves as the Majority Whip to the Council. On Twitter @CMLindaLee & @CMNantashaW & @CMBrooksPowers.