Protests against violation stickers

Violation Sticker

This truck has fallen victim to a violation sticker. At least it's a small one.

Among cities employing violation stickers, New York City must surely be the most prolific. When the stickering program began, New York City streets averaged a cleanliness rating of 73 on a scale of 1-100. In the 1950s, a Queens Department of Sanitation superintendent named Isidore Cohen had come up with the idea of asking New Yorkers not to park on one side of the street between certain hours once or twice a week (depending on need and other factors); the program was instituted citywide in the '70s, arm-in-arm with police attempts to beautify the city by reducing graffiti and other signs of urban blight. The Department of Sanitation – known colloquially as "New York’s strongest" – found that although the program quickly improved the quality of life in the city, alternate side parking was hard to enforce.

People would often accrue hundreds of dollars in tickets, which were hard to collect and often contested. Worse, it wouldn't solve the problem – one misparked car was all it took to prevent an entire block from being cleaned by cleaning trucks. In 1987, sanitation commissioner Brendan Sexton discovered that an owner had begun to affix neon stickers to cars that prevented street cleaners from doing their jobs, and put a program in place that would plant a permanent sticker on the driver's side window of any violating car. After starting with Washington Heights, Park Slope and Red Hook, the program was instituted citywide, adding a bright sticker to a $35 fine.

Over the next 24 years, New York's streets became cleaner, until the average cleanliness hovered in the mid-nineties by the early 2010s – although it's impossible to say whether improved sanitation was due to alternate side parking, demographic and cultural changes, or the public service equivalent of grade inflation. (Fines increased eightfold over the course of the program, too.)

But stickering was wildly unpopular among city dwellers. Critics the program meant that unfortunate recipients didn't get a chance to prove their innocence before they were punished, and amounted to an abridgment of due process. Since car owners were being fined as well as stickered, the program effectively punished drivers twice for the same (not terribly serious) crime. The program was abandoned in early 2012 when 46 members of the City Council that determines municipal policies in New York voted to ban the stickers. Zero members voted to keep the beleaguered program – though Sanitation fought hard to keep it, arguing that it had successfully contributed to improvement of New York's public image.