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Exclusive: Carshare parking stymied by cop in case that may be copied

RED HOOK, Brooklyn — It’s been touted as an innovative program designed to encourage New Yorkers to get rid of their cars and, in the process, reduce congestion on city streets.

However, abuse of street parking for carshare vehicles by at least one city employee may not only be representative of wider advantage-taking, it’s also one of a variety of ways in which the fairly new program is turning off the residents that it was meant to attract.

Dennis Flores fits that last description. A lifelong resident of Red Hook, PIX11 News encountered him doing on Dikeman Street what he's done routinely since he learned to drive decades ago: backing his vehicle into a parking spot after the street sweeper cleaned the street. This time, however, there was a problem.

"Nice," Flores said sarcastically. "It means we can't park here."

He was referring to a parking restrictions sign that read, "Carshare Parking Only, Others No Standing." Flores said that "others" means him.

Mayor Bill "de Blasio gets to do whatever he wants with this city," Flores said. "He's pleasing the gentrifiers and not the people who've lived here for a long time."

The city created the program to turn over about 300 public, on-street parking spaces to Enterprise CarShare and Zipcar to use for their cars exclusively. The program was rolled out by de Blasio in a ceremony and news conference on May 31. At the event, the mayor said that if the program wasn't working well after two years, the city would "junk it and go do something else."

"But we've gotta try," he said at the time.

Two months in to the program and the city is trying but its attempts have issues.

PIX11 News obtained a series of photos from a Zipcar user who tried to return his car to its assigned spot on 143rd Street near Broadway in Hamilton Heights on Sunday night. When the driver arrived, he found that somebody else had parked there. It was a minivan with an NYPD placard on the dashboard.

"If I could get one of those, it would be great," Erik Diamond, who works in Red Hook, said in response to the Hamilton Heights incident. "You can't really do anything [to] someone [who] has a city license, or city plate, on their windshield."

Diamond said that his perspective on on-street carshare vehicle parking is similar to that of the person who'd sent PIX11 News the photos of his designated carshare spot blocked by what appeared to be an NYPD officer's personal vehicle.

Both Diamond and the tipster -- who, in full disclosure, is a relative of PIX11 News reporter James Ford -- support the concept of car sharing. Both also say, however, that on-street carshare vehicle parking has problems that still need to be worked out.

Diamond manages Baked Coffeeshop, which has two different locations -- one in Red Hook and another in TriBeCa in Manhattan. The Brooklyn shop is steps away from a pair of carshare parking spaces, which Diamond called convenient. Less convenient, he said, was the carshare parking situation at Baked Coffeshop's Manhattan location.

"You can't take a car [from the Red Hook shop] and leave it [at the Manhattan shop] because you can't find a spot there," Diamond said.

PIX11 contacted Zipcar and City Hall for this story.

Regarding the person who'd tried to park his Zipcar in its designated spot but was blocked by what appeared to be an officer's personal vehicle, a Zipcar spokesperson said, in an emailed statement, that the Zipcar driver had perfectly followed the company's carshare protocol.

"Members are instructed to find the nearest legal parking spot and call Zipcar," the statement said.

The de Blasio administration, for its part, responded through a Department of Transportation spokeswoman. She told PIX11 News by phone that nothing but carshare vehicles can park in carshare parking spaces. Therefore, the DOT spokeswoman said, the officer's act was "an abuse of their placard" for parking.

She said that this is now a matter for the NYPD to look into.