Brooklyn Workshop Focuses on Residential Parking Program

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Hours after the Congestion Mitigation Commission revealed that residential parking programs would be attached to its congestion pricing plan, about 70 Brooklynites gathered at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope last night to talk about RPP. The event was the third DOT/EDC neighborhood parking workshop held this week, following others in Long Island City and Forest Hills. This round of workshops focused tightly on RPP compared to the first round, in November, which examined parking in general.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller, on hand for the evening, told me that RPP was still in the early planning stages, and that it comprised one part of DOT’s broader parking management program. While development of RPP will proceed regardless of congestion pricing’s ultimate fate, Schaller noted that "the commission’s report gave more definition to what the timeline would be." In addition to permit fees and eligibility requirements, the big issues that need to be hammered out, he said, include defining the boundaries of permit zones, drawing up a process for establishing new zones, and determining how to administer the details of issuing permits and enforcing the rules.

Workshop participants sat at tables in groups of eight while DOT staffers led the exercises. First the DOT reps presented data gathered from observations of the study area, which included the northern blocks of Park Slope and most of Prospect Heights. A few numbers that jumped out:

  • The vacancy rate of residential (non-metered) parking spots never exceeded five percent
  • Among parked vehicles observed at 2:00 p.m., 41 percent were registered outside Brooklyn and 29 percent were registered outside New York City
  • Among vehicles that parked overnight, 35 percent were registered outside Brooklyn and 27 percent were registered outside New York City (the numbers may be a little exaggerated, since they don’t measure newcomers accurately)

In the main exercise, participants were presented with four RPP program options. Each option applied different rules to four categories of parkers:

  1. Local residents
  2. Non-residents who work in the neighborhood — "local employees"
  3. All-day parkers — park-and-ride commuters, relatives in town for the holidays
  4. Short-term visitors — shoppers, people going to the dentist

The options were intentionally left somewhat open by DOT, since the details are still flexible. Here’s the rundown:

Option A:

  • Permit required to park in non-metered spots during the hours RPP restrictions are in effect (could be anywhere from 8-24 hours)
  • Residents and local employees issued annual permits that cost $75-$125
  • All-day parkers and short-term visitors not eligible for a permit

Option B:

  • Similar to Option A but with one big difference: RPP would only be in effect for 1-2 hours each day, staggered on each side of the street. This still locks out park-and-riders but would, on the face of it, give short-term parkers a reason to cruise for free spots.

Option C:

  • Similar to Option A but with one really huge difference: Only residents could obtain an annual permit. Everyone else would have to buy a daily permit for $8, which could also be purchased in monthly or annual equivalents.

Option D:

  • Same as Option C, but like Option B, RPP would be in effect 1-2 hours each day, staggered on each side of the street.

People were asked to evaluate the options in terms of quality of life, traffic mitigation, fostering transit use, and meeting the parking needs of the four groups. Then the questions turned toward matters of implementation and administration. In the final exercise, people outlined the ideal permit zone for their neighborhood on a map of the study area.

Whether due to the subject matter, the roundtable format, or the crowd itself, the discussion didn’t provoke the same kind of passion as congestion pricing. For the most part, people seemed in favor of RPP, although one table was unanimously opposed to it. Curiously, everyone at that table owned cars but also favored congestion pricing. It was the notion of drawing boundaries around neighborhoods that bothered them about RPP.

As Schaller had hinted, boundaries may be a more critical issue to resolve than fees or eligibility. At the table where I completed the exercise, some people drew a boundary around the entire map, while others outlined no more than six blocks. Some DOT staffers who had worked the Forest Hills workshop the night before said that residents there wanted huge zones because they liked to drive to see their friends.

After the exercises ended, I spoke for a minute with Michael Nared, a resident of Starrett City who commutes to a catering hall in Harlem. He drives to Park Slope and hops on the train there. If anyone at the workshop stood to lose from RPP, it was him. But he wasn’t necessarily opposed to it, or to congestion pricing for that matter. If pricing and RPP both take effect, he said he’d sell his car and take the bus to the train — a 70-minute commute from start to finish. He wasn’t angry, just anxious that the MTA won’t be able to get him to work any faster than it does now. He also thought that mass transit — or at least buses — should be free if there’s going to be a congestion charge. I asked him if he’d heard of the Kheel Plan, and he said no.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, I believe that overnight parking is a more critical issue than park and ride. Parking may be tighter in North Slope than Windsor Terrace, but if you are leaving your car for the day to go to work, your are already parked before the park and riders get there.

    Here is the key to the whole thing.

    (Among vehicles that parked overnight, 35 percent were registered outside Brooklyn and 27 percent were registered outside New York City the numbers may be a little exaggerated, since they don’t measure newcomers accurately).

    Bingo! The single most important finding!

    One reason insurance rates are so high in Brooklyn is those registered and insured here are carrying an unfairly large share of the fraud. Limit the permit to those registered and insured in the area, and a lot of those cars disappear, or insurance rates go down, or both.

    This is yet another scam, like the parking permits, that allows a group of priviledged to profit at the expense of the rest of us.

    And where were the cars that were registered outside of Brooklyn but in New York City from? Any guesses?

    Once again, people from Lew Fidlerland are welcome to park on my block during the day and ride the subway, as far as I’m concerned. What I want is the fraudsters/Manhattanites out overnight so that when I come home on a Sunday night from out of town, I can park somewhere.

  • Michael Cairl

    There was some anxiety at my table over the amount proposed to be charged for a residential permit ($75 – $125). When I suggested that perhaps the charge could be reduced, the anxiety level went down a bit. And the suggestion of making RPP City-wide seemed to make a difference with one participant from Windsor Terrace. Some people in WT and elsewhere in Brooklyn CB7 have felt, not unreasonably, that RPP in the study area for this workshop would shift the park-and-ride problem to their neighborhoods. By making the program City-wide, or at least a lot more extensive than is currently being considered, the issue of one neighborhood being pitted against another would be eliminated.

    The chair of the North Flatbush Avenue BID, Regina Cahill, had a good idea for some amount of overlap between RPP zones. For example, if Flatbush Avenue were the boundary between two zones, permits for both zones would be valid in a couple of blocks either side of the boundary.

    Option B, as presented, has a lot of positives. I imagine that in most places it would be in force at midday, and would deal effectively with the park-and-ride problem. It could be implemented at different hours in certain situations, for example on game nights at the Nets arena. It would be easy and relatively inexpensive to enforce. Of the four options presented, this seemed the best of the lot, though even this one needs some tweaking. Nothing that can’t be worked out.

    More than anything else, we’re talking about changing behaviors here. Some will be implacably opposed, others won’t. As long as we’re not looking at some top-down, bad-old-days NYCDOT solution, I think we can arrive at a good result.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Forget option B. Still allows people to go into the parking business, moving cars out of the way when RPP is in effect.

    I want residents only after 9 pm, except on holidays. That takes care of the Nets, and people leaving the car while going elsewhere.

  • Charlie D.

    Was there any talk of visitor permits for when people have family or friends visiting?

    In Somerville, MA, where I live, each resident who lives on a RPP street can get up to 2 visitor permits, cardboard placards we can give to visitors to put on their windshield. Each placard has our address on it, and allows the visitor to park within a reasonable radius of our address on any RPP street. A placard can be used no more than 2 days per week in the same vehicle. This works out well when I have someone visiting in the evening or when family or friends visit for the weekend.

  • Jonathan

    Charlie, at my table at the Harlem workshop there was no support for provision of parking permits to visitors.

    My mom lives in Cambridge, Mass. and they have the same deal there, but they only get one extra permit per household.

  • car free nation

    So with option 1, can you buy a short term permit no matter what, or are they only available to residents? How about those of us who are residents and don’t own cars? Are we out of luck when we rent a car? Do we have to park in a different neighborhood? I’m pretty sure we represent the majority of residents, so this seems very inconvenient.

    And $75-$125 is ridiculously low. There just won’t be enough parking unless the price goes up to the point that it actually encourages some people to get rid of their cars. A fair rate would be $800/year.

  • Ben Fried

    car free,

    In Option A, only people who can prove residency or employment in the neighborhood would be eligible for permits.

    In general, the facilitators stressed that the four options were not fully-formed plans. I think the idea was to get a sense of how people viewed certain principles, and worry about details later. So, I have no idea about the rental car question.

    The question of price is interesting. Apparently, if the city collects revenue from the permit program that significantly exceeds the cost of administering it, there are some extra legislative hoops to jump through. My sense is that the number of permits will more likely be limited by setting a maximum per household. There was a question in the workbook they handed out about where to set that maximum.

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    cfn, I don’t think there has been any consideration of pricing the permits to dissuade people from owning cars. On the other hand, Michael, what do you think the cost per car is of RPP? I don’t think the city can run this program (administration, enforcement, etc.) for much less than $75-125 mentioned.

    Regina Cahill’s idea is inspired, but makes managing the program just that much more difficult. And I agree with Larry about Option B and the liklihood of professional parking-jockeys moving cars around the way it is done in some neighborhoods for the street cleaning.

  • Hilary

    Consider the tennis permit – $100/half a year for the right to compete at 7 am to share an asphalt court for 1 hour on 1 day. I say, parity with tennis permits.

  • Lauri

    Option B doesn’t discourage people from driving to work (not park and ride)if they can use their “breaks” to move their cars. Plenty of car commuters have transit options, but drive because they can’t find or don’t have time to find parking on the “right” side of the street where they live. These folks bring their cars to work because they can run out and move them when they have to. Employers including schools, hospitals, retail establishments, and others understand this…it’s SOP.

    RPP isn’t only about parking for residents, it’s also about encouraging people to choose transit and leave cars at home, or even give them up. I think, looking back from the future, that’s the more important of the two.

    Option B does not change the behavior of people who drive to work just because they can. If it does, in fact, free up some parking by discouraging park and ride, it might actually make it easier for the people who drive to work.

  • Dave

    I’m a little confused why local employees are considered eligible for RPP permits…wouldn’t that increase driving if these employees were given priority? Wouldn’t it be giving them an incentive to drive rather than take public transportation?
    Option C seems the most workable and I agree that the price needs to be reflective of a real value. Average price of rents in the city is probably $20/sqft/month or so and what is being sold is a lease for a car. Figure a parking space is 60 sqft andd start calculating from there.

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