Justice! The Fire Hydrant That Earned NYC $33,000 a Year Is No More

Justice! The Fire Hydrant That Earned NYC $33,000 a Year Is No More

Last month, we told you about one ambiguously marked fire hydrant that netted New York City $33,000 a year in parking tickets. (Yup, that's more than minimal wage! For a fire hydrant!) Thanks to open data and sleuthing by I Quant NY's Ben Wellington, the city has repainted the block.

As Ben describes in his original post about the fire hydrant (below), what looks like a protected bike lane separates the parked cars and the fire hydrant. So why were those parked cars being ticketed? Because that ambiguous space is not a bike lane but a curb extension. Confusing much?

After Ben crunched the numbers, his parking ticket analysis went viral. That put pressure on NYC DOT to actually do something other than profit. As you can see in the photo below, the spot's been repainted to clearly show you cannot park there.

Chalk this up to a win for open data empowering citizens to improve their own city. It's pretty hard to believe that someone at NYC DOT would not have known about this especially lucrative fire hydrant. But now it is no more, thanks to open data and some old-fashioned public shaming. [I Quant NY]

Justice! The Fire Hydrant That Earned NYC $33,000 a Year Is No More

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Pending approvalOriginal post by Ben Wellington - I Quant NY

NYC's Most Lucrative Fire Hydrant Earns The City $33,000 a Year

NYC's Most Lucrative Fire Hydrant Earns The City $33,000 a Year

The fire hydrant. For decades, it has been feared by any New York City driver who dares to venture out without a tape measure. If your car comes within 15 feet of a hydrant, the next thing you know you may be at the tow pound, picking it up with a several hundred dollar bill.

Ticketing and towing cars both serve a public service. Nevertheless, I was curious to see which hydrants in New York are responsible for the most tickets. If a particular address had a huge number of tickets, I suspected that something might be amiss. And with some help from NYC Open Data, I launched my so called "investigation".

And look what I stumbled upon.

Meet the hydrant opposite 152 Forsyth St in Manhattan.

NYC's Most Lucrative Fire Hydrant Earns The City $33,000 a Year

Between August 15th and March 26, 2014, cars here have been ticketed 187 times! Those fines add up to $21,505 or annualized more than $33,000 a year. And that is before towing fees. That is the highest revenue generating hydrant in all of New York City. But, and there is a huge but, I'm guessing that all of these cars were parked legally.

Let me explain.

If you look at these shots from Google Street View, there is what appears to be a protected bike lane between where all of these cars are parked and the hydrant:

NYC's Most Lucrative Fire Hydrant Earns The City $33,000 a Year

So that raises the question: can you legally park in front of a hydrant if there is a protected bike lane between you?

Let's ask the DOT:

Designated Parking Space? Check. Sign Authorizing Parking? Check again.

And yet on September 9th, two tickets were given here at 9:42 and 9:43 AM, one was given at 1:06PM, one was given at 3:42PM and one at 5:49PM. And that's just one day.

So what's the deal? One theory is that technically, the lane behind the cars is not a protected bike lane. You would never know it by looking at it, but it is not painted and there are no markings. It is simply an empty space that people bike in. Should that matter? Probably not, but the NYPD might think otherwise. Unless this is a deliberate attempt to craft a "honeypot," there should be clearer markings on the pavement to avoid this seemingly arbitrary ticketing.

[Ed. Note: The Department of Transportation confirmed in a statement that this is indeed not a protected bike lane but a curb extension. The DOT said it has not received complaints about the location, but it "will review the roadway markings and make any appropriate alterations."]

And amazingly, the fun on Forsyth does not stop there. There is another hydrant, just down the block, opposite from 104 Forsyth:

NYC's Most Lucrative Fire Hydrant Earns The City $33,000 a Year

This is the the second most ticketed hydrant in all of NYC. 139 tickets in 7.5 months. Another $25,000 a year at this rate.

What can we do about this? I'd like to see the DOT use this sort of data to identify hot spots that need better signage and street markings, or where enforcement might need to be changed. It may mean slightly less revenue for the city, but procedure fairness is a virtue.

And wait a minute, what's that on the Mini Cooper's windshield on Google Street View?

NYC's Most Lucrative Fire Hydrant Earns The City $33,000 a Year

Sorry buddy. See you at the tow pound.

For comparison purposes, please see this properly painted spot in the same situation, where the DOT has added stripes to mark the spot as illegal.


This post originally appeared in two parts on I Quant NY and is republished here with permission.

Ben Wellington is a visiting assistant professor at the City & Regional Planning program at the Pratt Institute. His blog I Quant NY tells stories gleaned from analyzing NYC Open Data.

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