Tyler Cowen has a great NYT column today about the harmful distortions caused by "free" parking. Manhattan offers plenty more ammunition to his case. Both sides of most crosstown numbered streets (17th, 18th, etc.) are devoted to "free" parking, which adds to traffic gridlock by creating one-lane streets, frequently blocked by delivery vans or by stopped taxis. Those using those "free" slots have to expend a lot of effort to keep moving their cars to comply with various random restrictions, like opposite side restrictions for street cleaning on different weekdays, or weekend vs. weekday, or work hours vs. night.
In short, just about everybody loses except for the readers of Calvin Trillin.
It also adds to my puzzlement about New York -- how can it be the premier world city it is with so many market distortions and/or breakdowns on providing public goods?