Parking Reform: Reduce Congestion & Raise Money Minus Albany

With congestion pricing stalled in Albany gridlock, what’s next? What immediate measures can New York City take to reduce traffic congestion without having to go through Albany to implement them? How else might New York City reduce traffic congestion while raising a bit of money for transit, bicycling and pedestrian improvements? Back in May, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White suggested that parking policy reform in this Gotham Gazette essay:

Unless Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff are content to leave
their legacy in the hands of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority
leader Joe Bruno, they should pursue three parking policy reforms that would,
like congestion pricing, reduce traffic and generate millions for transportation
and street improvements. Unlike congestion pricing, these reforms do not require
the approval of the state legislature.

Most Manhattan-bound
drivers
(PDF file) drive out of choice, not necessity. A recent Schaller
Consulting study
uncovered the reason why: Most drivers do not pay for parking.
As any transportation expert will tell you, the carrot of free parking is too
irresistible for drivers to refuse, even when they have decent transit options.

Government workers have their coveted (and often counterfeit) placards, and
all drivers have access to a bounty of free and $1.50 per hour spaces,
even if they have to circle the block for 40 minutes to find one. Because under-priced
spots along the curb are always full, cruising for parking accounts for up to
45 percent of all traffic on city streets.

Three steps, used in other big cities, would enable the mayor to redress root
causes of traffic congestion while generating a windfall to fund street improvements:

  • Increasing the price for metered parking to a level that frees up spaces
    and reduces cruising;
  • Charging residents for permits that would give them preferences for parking
    on public streets;
  • Cleaning up the rampant misuse and abuse of city issued parking permits.
  • It can’t all be “stick”. We need some carrots too:

    1. Free metrocards to all city employees that do not have a placard.
    2. Offer buy-outs of placards from certain people with significant seniority.
    3. Some type of housing allowance for public employees to live closer to work.
    4. Special shuttle bus services for gov’t offices not near mass transit.

    Other ideas?

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I predicted over on Room 8 (see “Congestion: You Can Fee Me Now or Fine Me Later”), the result of this rejection is going to be radicalization, and there will be substantial pressure to go along with ANY measure that ISN’T congestion pricing.

    Congestion pricing was rejected because it benefitted may people somewhat in the indefinate future while hurting a politically influential minority right now. Measures to restrict traffic flow in a given neighborhood (regional effects on overall mobility be damned), in contrast, provide an immediate benefit to a small minority with broadly diffused negative consequences for the indefinate future. Thus, such measures work with our pandering pols as they are.

    Unless there is rationing by price, the only check on congestion is congestion itself. That being the case, there is no reason not to reverse measures to improve traffic flow if these impose costs on non-travelers (those including those who want to park). This process has shifted my point of view.

    Pedestrianize some cross streets in Midtown, and provide draconian enforcement against those in bus lanes or blocking the box, and what do I care if those in the travel lanes can’t get anywhere? I’ll just stay off the congested, polluted streets. Deliveries can shift to the evening.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I predicted over on Room 8 (see “Congestion: You Can Fee Me Now or Fine Me Later”), the result of this rejection is going to be radicalization, and there will be substantial pressure to go along with ANY measure that ISN’T congestion pricing.

    Congestion pricing was rejected because it benefitted many people somewhat in the indefinate future while hurting a politically influential minority right now. Measures to restrict traffic flow in a given neighborhood (regional effects on overall mobility be damned), in contrast, provide an immediate benefit to a small minority with broadly diffused negative consequences for the indefinate future. Thus, such measures work with our pandering pols as they are.

    Unless there is rationing by price, the only check on congestion is congestion itself. That being the case, there is no reason not to reverse measures to improve traffic flow if these impose costs on non-travelers (those including those who want to park). This process has shifted my point of view.

    Pedestrianize some cross streets in Midtown, and provide draconian enforcement against those in bus lanes or blocking the box, and what do I care if those in the travel lanes can’t get anywhere? I’ll just stay off the congested, polluted streets. Deliveries can shift to the evening.

  • Marc

    Perhaps with the new leadership in the DOT the city can design it’s way out of congestion. Start building physically seperated bus lanes, seperated bike lanes, widen sidewalks, remove parking (as well as charge more for parking as mentioned above). Do it on a massive scale, take away the capacity and the traffic will dissapear, isn’t that what all the studies show?
    Plus it gives the added benefit of faster busses, safer bike routes and more room for chock a block sidewalks.

  • east site

    What about putting tolls on the city-owned bridges to Manhattan? It wouldn’t be as comprehensive a solution as congestion pricing–and of course the city can’t force the MTA or Port Authority to modify tolls on their bridges and tunnels–but could this be effective as a crude approximation of the congestion pricing plan?

  • psynick

    “Perhaps with the new leadership in the DOT the city can design it’s way out of congestion.”

    Right. Such an effort would require increasing the city’s capital budget by orders of magnitude. [the current budget allows for reconstruction of perhaps less than 1% of the city’s street system every year]. In the ridiculously unlikely event that such an effort could be funded, imagine the effect on congestion of actually trying to implement a construction program of this size. The reason people talk about things like congestion pricing, tools, enforcement, incentives, parking reform, etc. is that there’s no way to [re]construct our way out of the mess we’re in

  • sam

    what about extending park and ride and waiving the fee at p&r and commuter rail stations to encourage public transit?

  • Bradshaw

    Residential parking permits require approval by the state legislature. They were in the congestion pricing legislation just rejected.

    The class warfare crowd went nuts on congestion pricing. Picture their reaction to making residents pay a lump sum fee for a permit to park on the streets of Flatbush,Astoria or Pelham.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    As is usual Larry Littlfield (Lx2) is onto something with “the result of this rejection is going to be radicalization, and there will be substantial pressure to go along with ANY measure that ISN’T congestion pricing.”

    There are many traffic calming and controlling measures that have long floundered in Albany which, I thought, clearly predicted the failure of this proposal (without regard to Mayor Bloomberg’s apparent political tin ear). Now is the time to push through the better of them. And, more red-light cameras, some speeding cameras and more traffic enforcement in general is called for. The cameras need approval from Albany but I think Larry’s position applies here, bring that stuff out and put it on the table quickly and you may salvage something. The increased traffic enforcement is well within the Mayor’s powers but that he has used enforcement as a stick against bicycles is another thing that presaged the demise of this proposal. Bring out the Broken Window Theory against wreckless driving.

  • d

    Although I’m in favor of charging market rates for street parking, I’d be afraid of the power it would give parking garages. If on-street parking was more expensive, more people might move their cars to garages, resulting in more money for the companies that own garages. As we’ve clearly seen with Brodsky and congestion pricing, the parking industry was able to give a lot of money to a politician to have him be their mouthpiece against congestion pricing. Why give them more money? That’s why market-price street parking would have to be coupled with other tactics to reduce traffic in the first place in order to mitigate the benefit received by parking garages.

    What if NYC congested its way to congestion pricing? Close streets to traffic and make them pedestrian plazas. Reduce lanes available to cars and instead devote them to emergency vehicles, buses, and bikes only, fining those who violate this rule. Maybe things will have to get a lot worse before they can get any better.

    One thing Mayor Bloomberg could do immediately would be to reinstate the HOV rules that were put in place immediately after 9/11. If people are forced to carpool every day, they might eventually think that paying $8 to ride solo is worth it.

  • JK

    A big yes to establishing occupancy targets for curbside parking per Donald Shoup. (He recommends 85% occupancy.I’d also like to see a govt parking placard “cash-out” in which placard holders were given a choice of cash or parking permits.

    Per other poster — Residential Parking Permits require approval from Albany. They were in the senate bill that came to closer to passing.

  • after reading all these comments, seeing how stupid these ideas are, i realize my ideas are stupid too. change shouldn’t be made without knowledge of the problem. let’s have proffessionals solve these traffic problems. my 2 cents: permit parking won’t help.

  • joe bloggs

    D – I can’t take seriously the claim that Brodsky came out against congestin pricing because he received $20,000 from the parking industry. (I’m too lazy to fact check this number but I’m almost certain this is what I read yesterday). In his letter to Kate Slevin, posted on streetsblog, he claims to have raised $2 million in recent years. In other words, 1% of his money in recent years came from the parking industry. There is no conspiracy here.

  • Dan

    I kind of agree that the Brodsky flap is probably more red herring than anything else but if he’s going to basically make up an official report to fudge the facts and lie to the people then I say let’s sling some mud and see what sticks.

    I think a more effective charge would be the one TA made later, namely that Brodsky represents some of the region’s wealthiest commuters. You won’t see him arguing that point. It’s almost funny to watch a state pol from Westchester posturing about working for the little guy.

    http://dencity.wordpress.com

  • d

    Joe, excellent point and point taken. Thanks for pointing out the facts.

  • Glenn (#1):

    There were quite a few other suggestions that came out of the working groups leading up to PlaNYC. One of my favorites: move city agencies that “need” to have their cars and placards out of the congested parts of Manhattan. The most obvious: 1 Police Plaza (which has about 0 friends among the nearest neighbors in Chinatown). Why site them all downtown? Share the love with the outer boroughs.

  • MrManhattan

    Joe and d are right, Brodsky didn’t help block this intelligent, well thought out plan for the future of New York City because of a few dollars from the parking industry.

    He did it because he’s a backwards hick from northeast Appalachia and has no clue how a real city works.

    It’s time to declare home rule for Manhattan!

  • Mister Bad Example

    Brodsky and the other clowns in the legislature are craven opportunists and false populists, but Bloomberg sunk this thing himself. He’s been mayor all this time and he still doesn’t know how to find his way in Albany?

    I also think Transalt’s leadership needs to listen to something other than its own voice. Car Culture is very much ingrained. Forget the NYC part of it–most people in the burbs are drivers and perceived this as a shot across the bow even if they rarely drive into Manhattan. Look at the coverage Congestion Pricing got in media outlets in Detroit and LA.

    That said, Bloomberg is probably going to take the few powers open to him to make Brodsky wish he’d gone along with the proposal. I personally expect Bloomberg’s people to go back to all the white collar businesses in Manhattan and say ‘remember the tax cuts we gave you over the last twelve years? Here’s the quid pro quo’. And I can think of several.

    Or, plan B, the city could go to the parking garage owners and force them to create bicycle parking. you could probably double the number of bike commuters if they had safe places to lock up.

  • James

    “I also think Transalt’s leadership needs to listen to something other than its own voice.”

    I agree with this, to an extent. You’re simply not going to get anywhere with any proposal–parking permits, congestion pricing, or anything else–by telling people that they must pay penance for driving and that they owe it to us to protect us from their cars. It doesn’t matter how strongly you believe it; it doesn’t matter if you are, in fact, right.

    Whether you like it or not, many of these decisions depend on the support of politicians whose constituents drive, and want to drive. You have to put the argument to them in terms of benefits: get a parking permit, and you can actually find a place to park on your street. Also, you have to actually design a plan that really yields these benefits. For drivers.

    I know, I know. Benefits for drivers? WTF did they do to deserve benefits! The greedy American Halliburton planet-raping car culture gives them benefits every day! This may not fly with the Pure True Believers–because OMG! making it EASY for people to park only postpones the day when they see the light and get rid of their cars for good!–but politically it’s the way you’re going to get these things done. (And even at that it’ll be hard, since Bloomie at least tried to sell CP as something that would benefit drivers too.)

  • JF

    Forget the NYC part of it–most people in the burbs are drivers and perceived this as a shot across the bow even if they rarely drive into Manhattan.

    And it really was a shot across the bow. I’ll admit that the main thing I liked about the plan was that it set a precedent for policies specifically aimed at deterring driving – the stick instead of the carrot. Even with Bloomberg’s clumsy implementation, the case for it was (and is) watertight; no one can make a coherent objection to it.

    I didn’t think that the motorists would not only make incoherent objections, but that they would get away with them, and have the media and associated flunkies repeat them perfectly credulously. Oh yes! A regressive tax on the poor! A waste of money! It wouldn’t help asthma in the South Bronx! Hurting the small businessman! It’ll turn the Upper East Side into a parking lot for Westchester! They sure spread that horseshit thick.

    Sadly, it looks like the motorists have constructed an Impenetrable Wall of Bullshit, and nothing that attempts to make motorists pay their fair share, or deter them from clogging, polluting and killing, will pierce it. The daily papers, to their credit, mostly editorialized in favor of the plan, but when it came to calling Brodsky and company on their lies, they weren’t prepared.

    It looks like the only thing that will break through the Wall of Bullshit is a true pro-transit populist movement from the boroughs to counter the fake populism of the Brodskys and Diazes, which is basically what our friend Niccolo has been saying for months. But as long as the poor strive for (and identify with) the Richard Brodsky SUV lifestyle, it’s going to be hard going.

  • bob rewand

    I worry if a congestion pricing plan would go into effect, what would happen in neighborhoods in upper manhattan and the bronx. I think many of the people who drive now into the CBD would park higher up and then look to get on a train. The A train in the morning rush downtown is already packed with too many people to fit in. IF the people who would normally drive to the UWS or UES are now parking further uptown and taking the subway, we aren’t solving anything.
    Instead of Bloomberg saying all money from CP would go to transit improvements, a nice statement to get you guys to support it, I’d want to see a better budget. How much they expect to bring in, how much is to go for admin and how much for transit improvements. This is how politicians attack people. They make statements that will increase the fees on others, then find a way to spend the money on things other than what it was promised for initially.
    IF the mayor would attack the abuse of parking permits along with this plan I’d think more strongly of supporting this. ALl this seems to be is a fundraiser so government can take more of our money without any accountability for how it is spent.

  • parking permit question

    Does anyone know who controls what parking permits? What is under the mayor’s purview, and what is the state’s? Are they matters of contract negotiations?

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