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Rabbi and Cadillac Driver Team Up to Find Upper East Side Parking

By Amy Zimmer | December 7, 2010 6:56am | Updated on December 7, 2010 10:39am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE — Long before the city dreamed up its new high-tech parking sensor network, where apps alert drivers to open spaces, a rabbi from the Upper East Side and a Bronx man who works around the corner teamed up to create their own informal spot-swap system.

It started a few months back when Rabbi Motti Seligson was coming home one Friday to prepare for Shabbat, and he spotted a white Cadillac with the vanity plates, "Jocelyn," pulling out in front of his building on East 93rd Street between First and Second Avenues. Seligson, who works in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for the Chabad Lubavitch Media Center’s website, noticed the Cadillac waiting for the spot again the next time he pulled out. Then it happened a third time as Seligson drove up to the spot just when the Caddy was leaving.

So, when Seligson next saw the car, he left a note with his phone number suggesting they call each other whenever they left their spots. Joe Colon, who drives 35 to 40 minutes from the North Bronx to his job as the manager of facilities at the ASPCA on East 92nd Street, gladly agreed.

Now Colon keeps Seligson’s number in his BlackBerry phone book under the name "car spot."

"There are a lot of people parking here," Seligson said. "It helps us both."

With 33,113 Upper East Side households with cars, or 28 percent of residents, the area has more car owners than any other Manhattan neighborhood, according to the most recently available data from the American Community Survey.

In addition, Upper East Side households are more likely to own multiple cars than other areas of the borough — with approximately three cars for every 10 households, according to the data.

Cars become even more tempting for those who live on the far East Side while the Second Avenue subway remains under construction and public transit remains sparse.

That all adds up to a parking nightmare, locals say.

"It’s like squeezing water out of rocks," Colon said of the parking situation. "But it beats the MTA."

Seligson and Colon's parking partnership, like any marriage of convenience, comes with a few bumps.

Seligson often leaves for Brooklyn before Colon arrives. If Colon is nearby, Seligson will wait a few minutes.

But if Colon doesn’t get to the neighborhood before 9:30 a.m., he has to head to East 90th Street, where he has to sit in his car until 11 a.m., only escaping the wrath of a frustrated office because he's his own boss, he said.

Colon sometimes joins a line of drivers waiting in a local parking lane until 10:30 a.m. for alternate side rules to allow them to legally park there. He’s gotten to know many of these other drivers, most of whom are residents, three of whom work for him at the animal shelter, he said.

On Monday morning, he arrived by 9:10 a.m. and waited in a spot near the corner — the very spot where he and Seligson first "met," aided by Colon's memorable license plates, which he named for his 27-year-old daughter.  When the street cleaner came at 9:26 a.m., he and the other drivers did their morning ritual of briefly moving their cars, essentially double-parking with the other lane, to let it pass before moving back. 

Colon, who has a lung infection and suffers from multiple sclerosis, doesn’t mind waiting. "It’s relaxing," he said. "I read the paper."  He could get a discount at a nearby garage and pay $7 for daily parking, but he refuses. With gas, insurance and the $100 a month he pays to park in the Bronx, it adds up. "Wherever I can cut costs it helps," Colon said.

Seligson doesn't want to park in his building's garage either.

It’s especially helpful when Colon and Seligson exchange spots on Wednesday, when there’s no alternate side parking.

"The fact we got to know each other is quite unlikely," Seligson said. "Joe is here during the day when I’m out in Brooklyn.

"There’s something nice about the good-old fashioned way of neighbors helping each other rather than depending on an iPhone or Android," Seligson added. "It’s really neighbor helping neighbor."