Report: NYC’s Off-Street Parking Policy Will Set Off a Traffic Explosion

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Adjacent blocks in Park Slope, one built before parking requirements took effect, and one built after.

If New York City maintains current parking policies, the traffic generated by the addition of new off-street spaces will likely exceed a billion miles per year by 2030, according to a report released yesterday by Transportation Alternatives. That distance is roughly equal to eight months’ worth of all driving in Manhattan below 86th Street. By comparison, congestion pricing is projected to cut traffic by less than half that amount.

The report, "Suburbanizing the City" [PDF],  is the first to address the effects of off-street parking requirements on traffic. The report’s authors, who include University of Planning Professor Rachel Weinberger, and Streetsblog contributor John Kaehny, conclude that developers are essentially required to build higher levels of car ownership into the very fabric of the city — between 40 and 50 percent above current levels. In many cases the inclusion of parking is mandated by the city’s zoning requirements. This is a recipe for induced demand: The more parking is provided with new residences, the more people will drive.

"As the pace of residential development is speeding up to provide for a growing population, this increase in the parking supply will unleash a torrent of unnecessary car ownership, unnecessary driving, and unnecessary traffic and pollution," said T.A.’s Paul Steely White. "All of this traffic trouble will largely erase the transportation improvements and carbon savings from PlaNYC."

One of the barriers to addressing the problem is a lack of information. The report notes that the Department of City Planning neither tracks the cumulative amount of parking in the city, nor measures the impact of parking on traffic and pollution. The proliferation of accessory parking in Hell’s Kitchen and the possible addition of a 2,300-car Costco garage on the Upper West Side are symptoms of the city’s ad-hoc approach to parking management. All told, says report author Rachel Weinberger, the biggest impact on traffic might come from the construction of smaller, one- to three-family residences required to include off-street parking.

A broad coalition of planning and environmental groups co-issued the report. Streetsblog will have more on yesterday’s joint press conference (also see articles in AM New York, Metro, the Post, and the Sun) and recommendations for addressing the parking glut. Key findings from the report follow the jump.

  • In many cases, the city’s residential off-street parking
    requirements exceed existing off-street parking. As a
    result, new residences built under the zoning code will
    have far more parking than existing residences. This will
    shift neighborhoods from pedestrian-oriented to more
    car-oriented places and undermine their pedestrian character.
  • New York City zoning regulations mandating parking at
    new residential developments will increase auto ownership rates and add over 1 billion annual vehicle miles
    traveled (VMT) by 2030. This is 40% to 50% more than
    if the City were to maintain its existing rate of car ownership. (A billion VMT is equivalent to 8 months of traffic in Manhattan south of 86th Street.)
    Auto use associated with required parking at new housing will add over 431,000 metric tons of CO2 per year
    by 2030. (By comparison, the city’s new, high-mileage,
    “green” taxis and black car initiative will reduce CO2
    emissions by 351 thousand tons a year.)
  • Residents of new residential development are at least
    40% to 50% more likely to own automobiles than today’s New Yorkers.
  • The Department of City Planning lacks crucial information for making informed decisions about the amount of
    off-street parking it requires in the Zoning Resolution.
    The agency does not know how much parking there is,
    how much is required, or how much driving new park-
    ing will produce.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that reducing off-street parking requirements would lead to less development,
    lower growth or other negative consequences.
  • The zoning code needs to be over hauled for many reasons, but parking requirements should he one of the main issues addressed.

  • mfs

    The perfect test case is coming up in Williamsburg. The Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment will come through ULURP in the next month or so and it has a 50% on-site minimum parking requirement…

  • Sadly, I’m afraid the horses may be out of the barn on this one. Remember Freddy Ferrer’s famed revitalization of the Bronx? A lot of that revitalization was in the form of townhouses with parking garages, and that happened in the ’90s. Almost all the properties that are featured on Queens Crap include street-level garages and/or paved yards. I think that’s one thing we can all agree with the Crapper on: paved yards are crap.

    This is a great report; I just wish it had come out fifteen years ago – and that there had been someone following up on it.

  • momos

    Cap’n Transit, the mention of properties showcased on Queens Crap is so on point. Earlier this year City Planning changed rules to discourage the paving over of front yards. This was part of PlaNYC efforts to mitigate storm water run-off with green space.

    With all of City Planning’s zoning work how could they possibly have overlooked parking policy? This is the linchpin of City Planning’s contribution to PlaNYC. Parking policy should have been CP’s priority number one from day one.

    Today’s NYT describes the count-down clocks in the Bloomberg Admin. City Planning had better hussle. The seconds are ticking.

  • momos

    On second thought, am I naive to think City Planning has simply overlooked parking policy?

    The Bloomberg Admin can safely be described as friendly to developers. Perhaps in his zeal to encourage new housing construction Bloomberg is unwilling to deny developers a selling point many suburbanites moving to the city may consider a key “feature.” Plus Bloomberg knows local opposition to new development often cites scarce parking — but if that development is required to build its own parking capacity, a major reason for public opposition to new development is removed.

    Thus current parking policy is totally at odds with the city’s sustainability goals and sound urban planning, but for commercial reasons (developers like it) and political reasons (it helps neutralize local opposition) it stays on the books nonetheless.

    This seems like a more plausible explanation than City Planning simply not yet getting around to addressing a critical policy area central to the agency’s contribution to the PlaNYC vision.

  • In a real estate environment as healthy as NYC, I don’t understand how a developer’s interest in appealing to suburban car owners could outweigh the added cost and reduced rentable space of car storage infrastructure? It’s just weird man.

  • momos

    @ Brent
    I don’t either, but how else to explain City Planning’s inaction in such an obvious and critical policy area?

  • Mark

    I wonder if NYC’s parking requirements violate the Clean Air Act? This argument almost stopped Westway, although in the end it was the Stripped Bass that did it in. Another problem is the parking impact section of CEQR which leads to massive parking structures for projects like Atlantic Yards. The argument I always use when people say buildings need parking in NYC is to ask them how many parking spaces were put in for the Empire State Building. Nobody would deny that the Empire State Building is a failure because it lacks parking.

  • mfs

    I bet that many developers will agree with the report. They would much rather have flexibility and be able to have a rentable piece of an apartment than a much lower priced parking spot that costs a great deal to construct.

    It’s more the neighborhood concerns that are driving the reticence to confront it. I’m sure DCP has the disaster of the “unified bulk” proposal strongly in their minds as a major citywide zoning change that ran into serious problems. Plus, few besides academics have been talking about this idea until recently.

    Larry Littlefield will chime in about this soon, I’m sure.

  • momos

    @ MFS
    Excellent point. There may have been a time when developers thought they needed to offer on-premises parking to lure buyers, but even with the economic downturn it’s clear the NYC market is different and much higher value uses can be found for ground floor and below grade spaces than the storage of cars.

  • Dave

    Require off-street parking will only work if it is accompanied by a policy to remove and reduce on-street spaces. Meters on major avenues need to be pushed to the ends of the side streets; permit parking is a no-brainer as is eliminating parking on all bike-laned streets.

  • Jason A

    Until we fix the affordable housing crisis in this city, I don’t think one iota of additional space should be reserved for automobiles. Any time I pass one those mini-driveways I think of how that space could have gone towards constructing a modest studio.

    Why are we worried about storing cars when can’t even store people?

  • Isn’t there a simple solution: mandate that for every off-street space, you TAKE AWAY on-street space, replacing it with green spaces and loading zones, which would be accessed on a paid-for basis with a smart card? This would eliminate double parking for necessary servicing of apartment buildings and homes, facilitate egress for busses, vans, and cabs, and certainly help cyclists and pedestrians.

    While we are at it, let’s mandate that every off-street facility set aside 25% of its capacity for car sharing, bike sharing, and bike parking. Many New Yorkers who own and need cars would forgo ownership if there was robust car sharing. Many NYC cars that are garaged are parked 90% of its life, which is also very costly.

  • Turns out I was wrong: even though Queens Crap features post after post about paved yards and street-level parking, they’re apparently incapable of making the connection between off-street parking and crap. They’re also fond of gratuitously insulting people.

  • Philip

    Since NYC is becoming a city for the rich doesn’t anyone realize that with a lot of money there will be more cars per? Rich people don’t like being inconvenienced. Not having a car is an inconvenience. Off street park they will have no matter what since they won’t want the inconvenience of parking their porches or whatever on the street. Or they won’t live here. Why not make a case for lower and middle income housing instead? If you ask me the barn door was opened a long time ago. All these little dodads of TA is just to get more bikes on the street. Yeah I bike for fun but when I’m 80 I’m not getting on a bike and I certainly ain’t food shopping with a bike…

  • mfs

    Philip-
    Believe it or not, you’ve made the report’s point exactly! There are people who have a car now that move into new developments that don’t pay enough for parking- as a result everyone in the building subsidizes their neighbors’ parking. Those that can afford market rates for land for their cars will pay it and the amount of parking provided will adjust accordingly. Those that can’t will find ways to use zipcar or rental agencies to make do for when they truly need a car.

    One of the major recommendations of the report is to automatically waive on-site parking requirements for affordable housing developments. This will make it much cheaper for affordable housing developers to build.

  • Guy

    A colleague recently informed me of a project that illustrates how screwed up the process has become. Zoning code for a housing development in Queens was required to have a minimum number of spaces. However, so many spaces were required that DOT required the developer to conduct a traffic study to assess the impact. The developer wished to build less parking, but the Planning Department required them to apply for hardship benefit! Many developers, especially affordable housing developers, don’t want the hassle of building parking.

    A community-based affordable housing developer last year had to tear down a community garden in order to provide a zoning-required parking lot for an affordable housing project down the street. I nearly cried. The community group didn’t have enough money to build underground parking or pay lawyers to help get an exemption. There is no need for this.

    To shortage of housing, and massive rental prices makes a strong case that car parking is a luxury item that New Yorkers will easily do without.

  • You folks need to understand that people in Queens for the most part suffer from crappy transportation and many of them work at blue collar jobs and at odd hours when buses run very poorly or not at all. They have no choice but to have cars. So if you’re building in Queens, then you need to provide parking. And the paving over of yards is happening mainly at older homes without parking, like the one featured in the link Cap’n Transit posted, because the new developments are required to not only incorporate parking but also green space into their plans.

  • So Crapper, if all of Queens were well-served by subway, bus or light rail, to the point where everyone in the borough could get to work within an hour, you’d support the elimination of the parking requirement?

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