NYC's new parking signs are great information design

The NYC Department of Transport has revamped its notoriously complex parking-rules signs, so that they're slightly less cryptic. It's a very nice example of good information design!

NYC DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, City Council Speaker Quinn and Council Member Garodnick Unveil Newly Designed, Simplified Parking Signs in Midtown (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. So, who else, when noticing that commercial vehicles are permitted to stand, imagined that this exemption was crafted specifically for Optimus Prime?

  2. nice design, sure, but still cryptic.. and it strikes me that there is incentive for the city to keep them cryptic

    1. Better design, true, but not great. Mostly better because it reduces the number of signs that need to be manufactured, which saves the city money. NYC will always benefit from their intentionally confusing parking regulations which result in $100+ tickets and $400+ towings.

    2. I once asked a NYC employee who was checking meters whether I was allowed to park in a certain spot. They read the sign and said “I don’t know.”

    3. Definitely cryptic. The first sign doesn’t make it clear whether private vehicles can park there M-F 7a-6p. The “commercial vehicles only; others no standing” part seems to imply that only commercial vehicles can stand; others may not. But who is permitted to park then?

      Neither sign mentions Sunday. Does that mean Sunday parking is prohibited or free?

      1. A) Before 6 PM, only commercial vehicles may park.

        B) I don’t know but I’m guessing it’s free. It is where I live.

        1. Per Bloombito’s decree, all parking is free everywhere in NYC on Sundays.  Like “No turn on red absolutely everywhere,” which is posted only at a couple of places along the city line, (not including the Hudson River tunnels IIRC) it’s assumed to be known by the audience.

    1. You know what we need? An EZ-Pass for NYC parking; a timer that you pre-pay for parking time, and leave it on your dashboard. That would significantly reduce the need for those problematic muni-meters.

      1. I love it.  I went to DC recently where they have smart parking meters that you can call with your phone and add money to the meter without having to run back.  You enter in your plate number, the meter number and you’re good to go.

      2. They make more money from fines than meters, I’d guess, otherwise they would offer such a service.

        1. If you’re a NYCer than you’d know that just crossing the threshold of a parking garage will cost you $15-$20, and staying more than an hour will run you $20-$30. And that’s before the nearly 20% tax is added on. Parking meters by comparison cost at most a couple bucks an hour.

          I don’t know why you’re getting bent over an idea that would remove the need for interacting with those frustrating Muni-Meters, and that wouldn’t require driving around with a bunch of quarters in the ashtray. Seems like a good idea to me.

          1. I know all these things.

            I am against making it more convenient or cheaper to park your vehicle in public space. It is far too cheap to park in the city and users of private automobiles do not pay the cost for the burden their vehicle places on the public infrastructure. I don’t like subsidizing what is in effect someone else’s luxury expense.

            You want to drive? Pay your fair share. Which is a lot more than a few quarters for curbside parking. And be prepared to pay in time and effort too.

          2. I get where you’re coming from. Sorry I called you an idiot earlier.

            I agree with you in principle, but I think that you’re approach is wrong. IF there is such a thing as public parking, it should be used to the public’s benefit, which means charging market rates. Making it more time-consuming or difficult to park,  however, does the public no good – in fact I’d say it does the public harm. Frustration is not a resource that can be captured.

            Something like an EZ-pass for parking could make the system more efficient, and allow rates to fluctuate based on location and time. And that might also reduce congestion and pollution as well.

            I also think you’re miscategorizing all drivers in NYC as “luxury” – driving is a luxury for most, but it is a necessity for some. Something like an EZ-pass for parking could adjust rates based on the type of usage, i.e. different rates for for commercial, personal, handicapped, senior, etc. Heck, a well designed system could even be designed to charge progressive rates depending on the type of car that was parked; a Civic could be charged $2/hour and a Mercedes could be charged $20.

  3. I’m convinced that there are still improvements to be made such as utilizing pictograms.

    1. That is much better. The New York signs don’t emphasize the time of day enough. The restrictions are irrelevant until I first decide the time of day applies to me.

      1. Good point. Even the new signs need to be read pretty much from the bottom up. 

        Actually (assuming you are non-commercial) you most likely  read the “Commercial Vehicles Only” line in the middle of the Red sign, decide that you are “Other”, look for the relevant green sign, assume that this applies to “Other” (although it doesn’t actually say to whom it does apply), then read the times at the bottom, then having decided that you are in the right time window, and reading the right sign, move up to the top left corner to see what is actually allowed.

        The more I look at these, the more I think they are still awful.

          1.  That’s the problem with sarcasm in print, people can’t tell if you men what you say. I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or not. Perhaps he should use a sarcasm font, such as Sarcastica Light Oblique, so that we can know for sure?

      2. That’s always my biggest gripe about these sorts of signs.  I’ve got some near me that say something to the effect of:

        “NO LEFT TURNS; Monday – Friday 7:30am – 9:15am and 2:00pm – 3:45pm Sunday 8:00am-12:00pm”

        It takes so long to try to read the sign, determine what time and day it is now, and figure out which rules apply to me that I’m either left holding up traffic or I just give up and don’t turn.

          1. I always hate driving in dense cities without left turn signals everywhere – Toronto is pretty bad about it, in many parts, as an example. 

            There are usually two lanes of traffic in each direction but except at major intersections there are no left turn lanes or left turn signals (and as @google-4be2aa53d1795989d0b320688463d8fb:disqus notes, there are sometimes-cryptic rules about when you can and can’t turn left – with relatively good reason, as it turns out, as I’ll explain below). 

            So if you want to turn left you’re holding up traffic – forcing people to merge into the right lane to get around you, which is not necessarily easy for them even in light traffic. Often you’ll be forced to wait until the light turns yellow before the stream of cars in the opposite direction stops, and then if you’re lucky two or three cars at most can squeeze in and make that left turn before the opposing direction starts moving. At least once I had to wait until a second light cycle to make the left turn, as the first car in line!

            It’s absurd, and not that uncommon a situation, though it only seemed especially bad to me in Toronto and I have generally not found it to be a major issue in other cities I’ve driven in (which includes Manhattan, LA, and lots of places in-between).

          2. LA is relatively new to the left-turn arrow scene.  I’m from San Diego originally, and SD is generously packed with left-turn arrows.  Generally, if the intersection is big enough to include both traffic lights and dedicated left-turn lanes, then those lanes will be graced with their own left-arrow signals.  When I moved to LA in 1991, I found precisely one intersection in my day-to-day travels that provided a left-turn arrow signal: at Sunset & La Brea.  So yeah, at every other intersection I had to get used to waiting for the light to turn green, then creep into the middle of the intersection and wait for all the oncoming traffic to go by (generally after the light has completely gone red), then I and the ambitious car or two behind me could try to complete our turn before the cross-traffic could clobber us.

            Chaos.  Savagery.  No way to run a railroad.  In recent years, however, the left-turn arrows have started popping up here and there, but they’re still relatively uncommon in LA.  Timid drivers new to the situation will find themselves paralyzed, stuck behind the limit line through endless cycles, honked and screamed at by all and sundry before some gentle soul in the oncoming lane stops to wave them through.

          3. @boingboing-096f32c997988c54d6d7c09ff0be4d32:disqus I have encountered plenty of these intersections in LA and it has caused me a lot of anxiety (as someone from the wide-open WNY suburbs), but it’s not as bad as Toronto :) 
            Of course, I haven’t really driven around LA all that much at weekday rush hour and the like when it’s really bad (and when I have I’m usually making a beeline to the freeway, not that the freeways at that time are any less anxiety-inducing, but it’s a different and not as bad anxiety as trying to make a left turn).

    2. And we have different parking for commercial vehicles than non-coms.  Add in taxis, press, diplomats, police, and court employees and now we’re talking about a lot of signs.

    3. LED signs are pretty cheap now. They could be used to display the current parking rules, not the rules for the whole week. Also maybe they could sense the type of vehicle and display relevant information.

      Actually scratch that. Use a smartphone app for the whole thing.

  4. Looks more like the much better LA parking signs. Except in L.A. they say “No stopping” not “No standing” which I think is clearer, but that could be my regional bias.

    Also, they should clarify the definition of a “Commercial Vehicle” to something like vehicles with a Type X permit displayed.

    Lastly, perhaps they can use iconography to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial vehicles to help non-English speakers.

    1. No Stopping is different than No Standing. AFAIK, No Standing means you can stop long enough to drop someone off but you can’t hang out idling while they go inside to get coffee. No Stopping means no stopping whatsoever, short of mechanical failure.

      Some of the changes the NYDOT is taking credit for are due to new Federal traffic signage regulations. The new mixed-case font, for instance, was determined to be slightly more readable (and thus safer) than the old all-caps. They’re gradually changing all the street signs here in San Francisco too, even for numbered streets. I think they look worse, but on the other hand, California is going to make new vintage license plates available soon.

      1. I’ve been waiting for those “new vintage” plates.  For a while now, you’ve been able to put the old black plates on, say, that spiffy ’69 Cougar you bought off eBay that unfortunately came with those hideous sunset plates the state issued in the 1980s… except you had to find a matched pair of used black plates (again off eBay, or maybe at a swap meet) and the DMV had to check the numbers and ensure they’d been out of the database for awhile, and you could only use them on cars that originally were eligible for black plates, that is, earlier than the 1970 model year.  And that was a bummer, since my own Cougar is, in fact, a 1970, though it was originally sold in December 1969, so I was stuck with the ugly modern plates.

        But now I can get the more period-matching blue plates.  So that’s cool.  Not as cool as black, but what the hell.

        1. The official DMV press release (which I can’t find now) said that three eras would be available: black on yellow from the late 50s, yellow on black from the 60s, and yellow on blue from the 70s. No “L.A. Law” version, and the car vintage doesn’t have to match the plate — you’ll be able to put yellow-on-blue on a Prius if you’re so inclined.
          I hope they catch on; the current script is hideously dated.

          1. Yellow on black is not only pleasingly retro, it’s very readable. Much more than the current ones.

        2. You can get the black plates, too. :) Yellow with black, even! Coolest DMV change since call-your-number.

        3. I like the 80’s plates. I don’t like the current ones and am still running on my New York plates (in the latest design, which is a “retro” blue text on yellow background) for as long as I can hold out (the car is registered to my parents in NY and I’ll only have to register it myself here once I obtain steady employment).

          I’ll need to register my car here before the old-style plates are available, though, which is a bummer. The latest standard design is absolutely awful – they kept the dated and ugly red script on top and then ruined the simplicity – one of the only positive things about the design – and printed the fucking DMV website URL on the bottom in terrible-looking type.

          1. Yeah, you really need a license plate frame around here these days.  Here’s the plate I ended up getting for the Cougar once I found I couldn’t get black ones.  (This was around 1996 or so, when cars older than 1973 were declared exempt from smog tests.  I was inordinately pleased at the time.)

            Since these plates cost me an extra $80 or so a year, the joke wore thin, and so last year I just went to the Auto Club to pay my renewal (beats going to the DMV), and decided on the spot to just get new generic white plates.  I got to keep the Yosemite NO SMAUG plates (since I’d paid for them when I got them), and they just handed me new plates for a cheaper renewal fee.  The Yosemite ones go on the wall of my garage, among my collection of plates I’ve had since I was a small boy.

            But I’m keeping the Rhino Bucket frame.  Not only are they my favorite band, but Chris is right: the DMV URL at the bottom of the new plate is unnecessarily obnoxious.

          2. That’s an awesome plate. Not sure if I’m going to want to pay a steep yearly fee for a plate either, though, even one so awesome; that’s an issue for sure.

            I am not really a huge fan of the Yosemite plate by itself (with the Smaug reference it’s perfect); the design just isn’t that aesthetically pleasing. I have been considering getting the one with palm trees and sunset, which I take to be a kitschy homage to the 80’s one, but I am not sure if I actually like it or would just enjoy having it ironically (or just to be different).

  5. My best NYC parking moment … I see a parking cop sticking what appears to be the 10th ticket under a wiper.  The car’s passenger window clearly shattered.  I say “I think that car might be stolen”,  Reply: “I’m not a detective. I write tickets.”

    Sure enough, the radio had been ripped out.  I got the address from the stuff in the glovebox and called the guy.  I hope he didn’t have to pay all those tickets.

  6. I’m sorry, but that’s the IMPROVED version? Holy crap, what a mess, I can only imagine how bad the old ones were.

      1. The Before is the pole on the left.  I don’t know if it’s ‘shopped in or if both sets of signs were there concurrently during installation, but there you go.

  7. I think i foresee a problem…

    In the Old Style, the NO STANDING prohibition is extremely prominent.  In the New Style, it’s buried beneath the “3 Hour Parking” / “Commercial Vehicles Only.”  I would’ve in some way more greatly emphasized the No Standing in the New Style, since it’s so easy to get a ticket for standing.

    1. Even with my limited NYC driving experience, 99% of the time I looked at those signs it was to determine whether I could park there; standing was irrelevant.

    2. How is it easy to get a ticket for standing? The cop will probably tell you to move along before writing a ticket, and even if not you can see them coming and drive away.

      1. NYC does not fool around.

        Yes, you can get ticketed for standing. As soon as the officer reaches your car and has swiped your VID number, you’re ticketed (no warning).

        They have undercover cop cars that have the full markings of a yellow Taxi cab. The better to ticket people not wearing seat belts.

        They even ticket double-parked Fedex and UPS trucks. (What is the UPS guy supposed to do? Circle for 20 minutes looking for a parking place to deliver one of his 300 packages?)

        1. They should build a package launcher into the top of the truck to shoot boxes into the windows of buildings without skipping a beat. Claim it’s anti-terrorist for federal dollars.

  8. I worked on 35th between 7th and 8th for three years where people came and went all day. The problem with the signs, as far as I could see, was always that commercial drivers assumed they could park without paying (where else in the US do you have to pay to drop a package off at a business?), and regular drivers thought they could park as long as they paid. I mean, the new commercial vehicles sign even states, “others no standing.” Even though that’s not even English, don’t you think it sort of implies that commercial vehicles can “stand”, i.e.: “idle?” Well they can’t.

      1.  I would say that I saw at least one ticket handed out every day (I used to take a lot of smoke-breaks). If I stood outside for long however, I could probably see several in an hour. Every one of them claimed not to understand why they got a ticket, but then again, that’s pretty much what everyone says.

  9. If you don’t understand the new signs, you’re probably unfamiliar with parking in NYC. These sorts of signs don’t tell you when parking is unregulated–they specify when it is not allowed or when certain conditions are required, like meter payment. These new ones are a vast improvement. 
    The only ticket I’ve gotten in my life was at the corner of 42nd and 5th. I needed to make a right turn and after reading 10+ signs at the light and with my mother-in-law yammering in the back seat, I gave up and turned. A cop stepped out and waved me over. I joined a long line of violators getting ticketed. It turned out a pedestrian had been killed in that crosswalk the previous week and they were cracking down. But if you have a LINE of cars making the same mistake, something is wrong, probably.

  10.  Red (not allowed) and green (allowed) don’t cover all the cases.  They are:
    1. Not allowed to park
    2. Allowed to park but you have have to pay
    3. Allowed to park – you don’t have to pay (Sunday?)

  11. Now I understand the the signs are “before” and “after”, and bringing to bear the lengthy experience I have parking in numerous continents’ cities, I get it.  It is a little bit of progress.

    Crumbs, I thought *both* signs were in play.

    But LED would be so much better, especially linked to a smartphone app.  And in the long run, surely cheaper?  I don’t know how often those signs change, but costs of maintenance + cleaning + manufacture + installation + removal + overtime for the workers +++ …. and with LED displays you could actively manage how the parking works – imagine if each vehicle registered its precise location to a receiving unit so could be constantly updated and warned of changes – eg easy to clear for a parade day.

    I mean, imagine pitching up in the middle of town, with an app that knows where you’re going and how long you’ll be there – and it reserved a spot and directed you there?!?!  Please!  Please!  Please!

    I’m going to use my two Raspberry Pis to pitch this to NYC.  Simples.

    btw I live in London and out of abject fear I park hardly anywhere at all.  I got fined £65 the other day while I picked up beer.  Beer!  Surely there’s a qualifying exemption?!

    1. You still have the costs of maintenance + cleaning + manufacture + installation + removal (when broken or damaged) + overtime with LED. Plus the added cost to the city of powering the LEDs. I suspect pilferage would become a real issue with LEDs, too.

      LEDs tend to not be as crisp and legible as a printed sign, too. Text, especially, is an issue with LED signage, especially at smaller sizes and long-ish distances.

    1. Heh, I remember when those were rolled out sometime during the Koch administration. They engendered some paranoid kerfuffle about the Government attempting to encode thoughtcrime into law, although in hindsight that may well have been one lone vociferous nut writing lots of Letters To The Editor.

      1. The guy who came up with those signs later wrote the “traffic forecast” column in one of the NY tabloids, the existence of which blew my mind when I first came to NYC.

    1. Really?  This is in a busy commercial/wholesale district, where huge numbers of pickups and deliveries take place, and where after business hours there are a large number of dining/entertainment establishments.  The simple version of the rules is:

      “During business hours, commercial vehicles can pay for up to three hours of parking.  After business hours, anybody can pay for up to 6 hours of parking.  After midnight, parking is free.”

      1.  That’s what I got too.  My only worry is being ticketed for standing while stopped to read the sign to see what it says.  Though the current one is a lot better than the previous.

        As to the idea that they need an LED sign or something, the only practical improvement I can think of would be to LED-frame or else backlight the current conditions, while in effect.  Don’t make the sign change its text, just highlight the box surrounding the current rules.

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