2005-03-23 / Front Page

Mayor: ‘No’ To Free Sunday Parking

by john toscano

Metered parking is visible in front of the Church of the Redeemer.Photo Vinny DuPreMetered parking is visible in front of the Church of the Redeemer.Photo Vinny DuPre Despite the fact that the City Council is vigorously pursuing a campaign to end metered parking on Sundays, especially near churches where proponents charge it creates a “pay to pray” situation, the Bloomberg mayoral administration is refusing to give in to the pressure.

The latest sign of the hold-the-line policy was exhibited last Friday when Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall testified before a council committee that Sunday meters are necessary in business districts to give shoppers a chance to find a parking spot.

Without the meters, the DOT commissioner said, some shoppers would hog the two-hour meters. This would lead to a falloff in shoppers and double parking nightmares.

Committee chairman John Liu raised the question of whether the real reason was revenue, since metered parking on Sundays brings in $7 million a year to the city.

Weinshall answered, “Revenue is always nice.” She acknowledged that raising money was not “our sole intent,” although revenue plays a part in justifying metered parking on Sundays.

Meanwhile, several Queens councilmembers—Hiram Monserrate, Melinda Katz and Liu, have been among those clamoring for an end to Sunday metered parking to relieve churchgoers and shoppers of having to feed quarters into the meters for at least one day a week.

The controversy has also become an issue in the mayoral race. About a month ago, the leading Democratic mayoral opponent, Fernando Ferrer, speaking at a Harlem church, supported the call to ban the parking on Sunday because it leads to the “pay to pray” situation and becomes a tax on churchgoers.

In response, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted in the press as saying:

“I don’t know why it is inherently less fair to charge people to go to their place of religion than it is to go where they want to be entertained or shop or go to school or anything else.”

Monserrate (D–Corona), for one, disagrees strongly with the mayor’s position. He filed a bill to ban Sunday parking last May and of late has been campaigning on Sunday mornings near churches around the city to build support for his bill.

On a recent Sunday, he visited St. Constantine–Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Jackson Heights and handed out flyers supporting the ban on parking.

Monserrate stated: “It is time for the mayor to listen to what New Yorkers are saying. Everywhere I go in the city, people tell me they are tired of Sunday parking meters. I will continue this campaign until the mayor gets the message.”

At one point in the ongoing controversy, the mayor softened his position slightly, saying that if a church requested it, he would permit two-hour metered parking near that church.

Monserrate responded: “It again is clear that the mayor still doesn’t get it. I would like to see him come out here to The Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens and tell the people that their church services shouldn’t last more than two hours. No one should be forced to worship around the DOT’s schedule.”

Councilmember Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills/Rego Park) has said the Sunday metered parking is “such a problem in our community and my office gets quite a bit of concerned calls about it.”

When the controversy first emerged, Katz said, she sent a letter to the mayor requesting that the proposal of Sunday regulations, which were put in place three years ago during a fiscal crisis, be reversed now that the city is more fiscally sound. But the mayor never responded to the request.

Liu says the city should make every effort to accommodate the needs of New Yorkers seeking to exercise their right to worship.

Monserrate added “It’s time to give working families a break. Over the last two years New Yorkers have dutifully paid higher-priced tickets to help the city get out of the red. But times are changing. This year, instead of talking about deficits, people are talking about refunds. Now is the time to reward those who have sacrificed to help our city bounce back after September 11th. The least we can do is allow New Yorkers to have their ticket-free Sundays back.”

Religious leaders have also spoken out against the Sunday meters. The Rev. N.J. L’Heureux, executive director of the 300 congregations in the Queens Federation of Churches, calls Sunday metered parking “morally outrageous.”

L’Heureux said many churches have complained to DOT about metered parking on Sundays, but have been rebuffed and continue to suffer in silence.

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