Have you ever pulled up to a colored curb and wondered, Wait, can I park here? Depending on where you live, you might see a variety of curb colors indicating where you’re allowed to park and under what conditions.
In New York City alone, for example, 9.3 million parking tickets were paid out in 2011 at an average of $79.27 per ticket — and that’s not including towing fees. In California, parking in a spot reserved for the disabled will run you $976, a figure that nearly doubles on the second offense.
With that in mind, knowing how to recognize parking zones is a crucial survival skill for city slickers and suburbanites alike. And although these colors aren’t standardized between states, or even cities, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know.
No national curb color standards
While the Federal Highway Administration does not have any universal curb color standards, it does make some general recommendations in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
One thing the Manual suggests is not relying solely on curb colors in areas where snow is likely to bury the curb. Rather, they suggest relying on signs:
Where curbs are marked to convey parking regulations in areas where curb markings are frequently obscured by snow and ice accumulation, signs shall be used with the curb markings…
It also notes that white and yellow curbs are sometimes used for “delineation,” or visibility, so again it is highly recommended that you read signs to ensure absolute clarity. But that doesn’t mean a colored curb without a sign is fair game. (It’s never that easy, is it?)
Here’s what the Manual says about colored curbs without explicit signs:
Curb markings without word markings or signs may be used to convey a general prohibition by statute of parking within a specified distance of a stop sign, YIELD sign, driveway, fire hydrant, or crosswalk.
The moral of the story is this: it’s up to you to figure where you can and can’t park. If you can’t see the curb color or aren’t sure what it means, look for a sign. And if you can’t find a sign anywhere, well, park at your own risk.
California’s colored curbs
Let’s look at the rainbow of examples in California. The California Driver Handbook says:
Red: No stopping, standing, or parking.
Blue: Parking is permitted only for a disabled person or a driver of a disabled person.
Green: Park for a limited time.
White: Stop only long enough to pick up or drop off passengers or mail.
Yellow: Stop no longer than the time posted to load or unload passengers or freight.
Red curbs are typically reserved for emergency vehicles and are often found in front of fire hydrants. They’re also usually long enough to fit a fire truck. And take note: you can get a ticket for being parked in a red zone even if you’re with the car.
Blue curbs are reserved for drivers or passengers with disabilities. These spots require the driver to have either a special license plate or a placard hanging visibly from the rearview mirror. (On a side note, many celebrities, from Usher to Mila Kunis to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, have been sighted parking in one of these spots. Tsk, tsk!)
Green curbs vary. You can usually park there, but only for a limited time. That time can range from 10 minutes to a few hours. Fortunately, there are usually signs, so make sure you read them.
And what exactly is the difference between yellow and white curbs? The main difference is that yellow curbs indicate that a driver must stay with their car. It’s not always enforced … but better safe than sorry.
New Jersey’s curb colors
While few states can match California’s wide range of colored curb options, you should still be on the lookout for painted curbs when you’re parking. Hoboken, New Jersey, for example, has similar statutes, but there are some differences. Here’s what the city’s website says:
Red: Parking prohibited at all times.
Blue: Parking reserved for Handicapped permits only.
Green: Parking reserved for Corner Cars (car-sharing) vehicles only.
White: Parking restricted by meter/permit regulations.
Yellow: Parking prohibited except for certain times/purposes.
As you can see, red and blue are the same in New Jersey and California (and many other states): red is for emergency vehicles and blue for disabilities. Yellow curbs, however, cover a variety of situations, like loading, time limits, extended parking, etc. Green and white curbs in the Garden State have different meanings than in California: Green is for carpooling (rather than limited-term parking) and white signifies metered parking (rather than drop-offs).
When in doubt, check for posted parking signs
If you don’t live in California or New Jersey, don’t assume any of these rules apply to your area! In Florida and Illinois, for example, yellow curbs indicate no parking whatsoever. They’re more akin to a red curb in California.
If you encounter a colored curb and have no idea what it means, look for a sign. In most cases, you’ll find one. If not, don’t risk it. Look it up when you get a chance and remember it for future reference.
So remember: colored curbs carry heavy fines. Pay attention or pay the price. (See what I did there?)
Now get out there and park like a pro.