City Seeks the End of Cheap, Rusty Parking

MTA driver closing the door to one of the prefabricated metal garages behind an apartment building on Ulitsa Svobody.
Every Muscovite is familiar with the scene: a courtyard lined with unsightly metal garages that blight surroundings, obstructing paths and forming labyrinths that can be dangerous to navigate at night.

To the delight of many who loathe the rusty, ubiquitous rakushki, or metal storage sheds, City Hall has been demolishing them with great abandon over the past several years and putting up multistory garages or other buildings in their place.

But rakushki provide drivers with a cheap alternative to a parking spot at a multistory facility, and owners complain that demolition often occurs illegally and without prior notification.

There is no current legislation regulating the demolition of rakushki. Instead, individual City Hall decrees are used, which do not spell out the rights of garage owners, said City Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, a senior Yabloko official.

Yabloko has sponsored a bill aimed at spelling out and defending the rights of rakushki owners, and the Duma is tentatively scheduled to consider it in a first reading in mid-March, Mitrokhin said Tuesday.

Mitrokhin has been one of the more vocal politicians on the necessity of resolving the issue, and he has arranged several roundtables with garage owners who say they are being unfairly targeted by City Hall.

At one roundtable late last year, Vladimir Lazukov, a representative of a garage cooperative in northwest Moscow, passed around a copy of an order from the head of his district ordering local police "to conduct an anti-terrorist operation" against members of the cooperative.

The operation came after another official tried to have them evicted and called in riot police when they refused to budge, Lazukov said. OMON officers arrived at the scene but opted not to take any action against the garage owners, he said.

The owners complained at the roundtable that they were not adequately compensated for the loss of their rakushki and that local officials were merely looking to turn a profit by clearing out the sheds and using the land for other purposes.

Another discussion is scheduled with City Duma deputies and representatives from garage cooperatives next month.

Part of the problem, Mitrokhin said, is that while the garages are private property, the plots underneath them are usually city property.

"At some point, city authorities stopped extending the terms of lease, without explaining why," he said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio.

Proponents of ridding the city of rakushki argue that they take up valuable space that could be used for multistory garages that could help alleviate the city's dire traffic woes.

The lack of parking spaces has exacerbated heavy traffic jams because drivers park in the road, a practice that could be reduced with the construction of more multistory garages, said Grigory Vengerov, deputy head of the Moscow City Union of Motorists.

But Vengerov, who is working with City Hall to hammer out a legal basis for tearing down rakushki and replacing them with other parking facilities, also gave a nod to aesthetics, calling demolition of the sheds "correct."

"They are making the city ugly," he said, adding, however, that they should be replaced "in a civilized way, without kicking people to the curb."

City Hall grappled with the parking problem in a lively session Tuesday in which Mayor Yury Luzhkov rejected an ambitious plan to eradicate all one-car garages in the next three years and replace them with 395,000 new parking spaces in multistory garages and open-air parking lots.

The plan's feasibility was undermined by a lack of investors, suitable land plots and protests by city residents, city officials said at the session.

Luzhkov dismissed the proposal as underdeveloped and sent it back to be reworked. The plan has been granted priority status, equal in importance to the construction of roads and educational facilities, Luzhkov said.

Luzhkov also said a law was needed to spell out legal relationships among city authorities, construction companies and residents regarding the building and use of multistory garages.

"Rework it radically," he snapped.

City Hall postponed the discussion of the plan until mid-February.

Some Moscow drivers said that while they were no fans of rakushki, multistory garages aren't necessarily the answer.

Not everyone can afford a space at a multistory garage, said Lyudmila Ivanova, an accountant and a Toyota owner.

"I'd prefer if they would build open-air parking lots," Ivanova said.

The cost of a space in a multistory garage will range from $7,000 to $30,000, Konstantin Korolevsky, head of City Hall's Department of Construction Policy, Development and Reconstruction, said at Tuesday's meeting.

Dmitry Strzhezhovsky, a youthful 70-year-old pensioner who lives in central Moscow, said rakushki prevented all the drivers except their owners from using the area to park.

"Besides, rakushki don't make the courtyard look beautiful," Strzhezhovsky said.

Ivanova, 52, said her courtyard in northern Moscow was completely filled with rakushki, making it impossible to drive or even walk through. She said there was no space in the courtyard for her to park her car and that she typically has to drive around nearby courtyards to find a spot and then walk home on foot.

"There are rakushki on the lawns, on children's playgrounds," she said.