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No Standing, No Parking

Eileene got the car towed late last night, which gave us quite a scare—she thought it had been stolen. Her transgression was parking in a “No Standing” zone. Her reasoning went something like: “Signs often explicitly prohibit both parking and standing, so if this sign prohibits standing, parking is still okay.”

Naturally, New York City doesn’t see things the same way. The city’s position makes a lot more sense. Under what conceivable circumstances would a particular patch of pavement be too precious to allow someone to occupy it for two minutes, but available for someone to occupy for two hours? For that matter, a driver in a standing car can pull away if someone really needs that space for some emergency, while a parker, leaving the vehicle, is unlikely to be available at all for just such an emergency.

We’re used to thinking of standing as a special kind of parking, where we stay in the car and leave it running. But this is a misleading habit of thought, born of the fact that most people park a lot more often than they stand. For practical or legal purposes, parking has to be considered a special kind of standing, because it produces all the problems of standing and more—and therefore carries all the state’s legitimate interest in regulating standing, and more. At any given moment, parking cars constitute a huge majority of standing cars, but are still a subset, just as yellow bananas constitute a subset of all bananas. So a sign forbidding standing forbids parking, too; signs that explicitly state “No parking, no standing” are merely a kind of courtesy to avoid confusion, sort of like saying “No firearms beyond this point, including shotguns.” Ironically, the inconsistent application of that courtesy produces a different kind of confusion, such as Eileene experienced last night.

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