Driving and Parking

Perhaps the only thing worse than getting caught in parade-related traffic is returning from a parade to find your car has been towed for being illegally parked. The city’s Parking Violations Bureau is notoriously unmerciful during Mardi Gras, so if you’re driving, make sure you’re aware of parade times and routes in order to avoid traffic snarls, and know what to look out for when you’re parking your vehicle.

Satirical float in the 2002 Knights of Chaos parade depicting parking violations and boots.

Getting around, staying ticket-free and out of the impound

Parking ordinances are strictly enforced during Mardi Gras — a veritable bonanza for tow companies and the city’s parking violations bureau, which has been known to issue more than 20,000 tickets during the festivities, with many citations mailed out of town.

If your vehicle is towed, it will cost you $125 to $175, depending on the nature of the parking violation. Impounded vehicles can be retrieved under the freeway overpass at 400 N. Claiborne Avenue (Ph. 504-565-7450). Make sure you know the vehicle’s license plate number, and bring your driver’s license. Payment must be cash, Visa or MasterCard.

Especially during the last five last days of Carnival ending Fat Tuesday, finding street parking near a parade or in the Central Business District, the French Quarter or Faubourg Marigny is notoriously difficult. Also note that the closer to a parade you get, the more likely you are to get stuck in traffic. So if you’re driving to a parade, allow for extra time to find a safe, legal parking spot. Parking enforcement is especially strict along or near parade routes, so don’t park too close to a curb or a fire hydrant, or block driveways.

Consider paying for off-street parking — at a church, say, or school. However, if you’re paying for off-street parking in a residential neighborhood near a parade route, be sure the person who is responsible for the property is handing the transaction and not someone who’s just out to hustle a quick buck. And be sure not to leave any items inside your car in view.

When Mardi Gras is in full swing, trying to navigate the streets of the French Quarter can be quite a headache. You may be better off taking a cab. But if you do drive, a parking lot or garage in the vicinity of the Quarter may be your best bet. Canal Place, at the foot of Canal Street, can be a good option, provided that access is not blocked by a parade on Canal Street. Also, off-street parking is usually available in the Central Business District. Note, however, that “special event” rates may apply for parking at any lot or garage in the French Quarter or downtown.

If you’re driving during parade season, keep a parade guide with schedule and routes handy. Traffic snarls are often encountered in the vicinity of a parade route, so knowing when and where floats are rolling, and planning your route accordingly, can save time and aggravation.

Tip: If parades are rolling on the uptown route, a good way to commute between Downtown and Uptown is via Claiborne Avenue.

Remember that streetcars always have the right of way. And don’t think just because New Orleans permits the consumption of alcohol in the streets that police are somehow lax about drinking and driving — far from it. If anything, they’re particularly vigilant during Mardi Gras, because they know people are partying. If you’re driving around the city at night or heading to or from the suburbs, don’t be surprised to encounter an alcohol checkpoint.

More guidelines:

  • Parking along a parade route is prohibited two hours before and two hours after a parade.
  • It’s always a violation to park on the neutral ground (the strip of grass in the middle of an avenue, otherwise known as the median). During Mardi Gras, you may see a lot of people doing it. It seems legal, but it’s not. And the city’s parking enforcers are usually all over it.
  • During Carnival, be wary of what permanent street signs say. Rather, be on the lookout for temporary cardboard signs spelling out special prohibitions that supersede normal parking rules. Seek out all the signs in any area you park, and read them carefully. If in doubt, don’t risk it. If a spot seems to good to be true, it probably is.
  • Parking meters are enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Saturday. Meter parking is prohibited during rush hours in certain zones, so be sure to read meters carefully before you park. Also note that a meter with a hood over it does not entitle you to park for free.
  • On-street parking within the French Quarter and vehicle access is restricted in the areas bounded by Iberville, Decatur, Dumaine, and Rampart. If you’re staying in a hotel in the French Quarter, ask the hotel for an access pass. These passes allow a vehicle to drive into the Quarter, but do not authorize on-street parking. It will, however, let you go back and forth to the hotel garage.
  • Do not move or maneuver around barricades to find a parking spot; doing so makes the police angry.