Study: City Residential Parking Requirements Lead to More Driving

The New York City Department of City Planning is encouraging
people to drive to work.

parkdrive1.jpgMaybe not officially, but the agency’s minimum residential parking requirements are a big inducement to car commute. That’s the implicit finding of a new study by University of Pennsylvania planning professor Rachel Weinberger (and others, including yours truly, John Kaehny), released today by Transportation
Alternatives
and a who’s who of leading planning, transit and environmental groups.
The study, "Guaranteed Parking — Guaranteed Driving" [PDF], compares Park Slope, Brooklyn with Jackson Heights,
Queens, and finds that, despite Park Slope having higher car ownership, Jackson Heights residents are 45 percent more likely to drive to
work in the Manhattan Central Business District and 28 percent more likely to commute by car in
general.

And it isn’t because Jackson Heights has no transit options. Commuters in both neighborhoods are served by multiple subway and bus lines, and the ratios of transit trip times to driving times are comparable. Additionally, other proven predictors of travel choice suggest Park Slope commuters are more likely to drive, not less. Park Slope is wealthier, denser and has higher home ownership. It also has a higher proportion of government employees. 

The study’s key research finding is that in Jackson Heights, 31 percent of car owners have a parking spot at home, compared to only 5 percent of Park Slope drivers. The study concludes that because of this, Park Slope car owners, who do not want to lose their coveted curbside spots, are less likely to drive to work.

The reason for the parking disparity is that much more of Jackson Heights has been built since 1963, when the city zoning code introduced residential parking requirements. The finding has far reaching sustainability implications, since the Department of City Planning requires driving-inducing residential parking for between 40 and 150 percent of new dwelling units.

In August, Weinberger and Kaehny teamed with Transportation Alternatives and other groups concerned about parking reform to issue "Suburbanizing the City". That study estimated that the city’s parking requirement would generate a billion miles of new traffic a year by 2030. "Guaranteed Parking" substantiates that finding, and provides more evidence that New York City zoning regulations promote driving to work, even
when viable transit options are available.

Photo: Guaranteed parking in Jackson Heights, Queens

  • This is another argument against those well-intentioned livable-streets advocates who press for the replacement of on-street parking with off-street parking. Off-street parking not only doesn’t protect pedestrians from moving vehicles, but it also encourages more driving. Thanks, T.A. and Professor Weinberger!

  • JK

    Capn, I wouldn’t go so far. It depends. Providing some public, for pay, off-street parking, combined with removing free curbside parking would result in less car ownership and driving. That’s essentially what smaller cities in Western Europe do. This study essentially compares free curbside with free at home, off-street parking. If you priced either the curbside or the at home parking, it would completely change the equation.

  • That makes sense. I’d add, “If you priced either the curbside or the home parking per use, it would completely change the equation.” I know plenty of people who pay by the month for parking near their homes, and I don’t think that makes much difference.

  • I think this is definitely true, but there are a couple things that may not be taken into account in that study (or at least aren’t mentioned in the blog post). Are people in Jackson Heights more likely to work in Queens, especially areas of Queens that aren’t close to a subway line, rather than Manhattan? If you work somewhere with parking, you may be more likely to drive than if you work in Manhattan and have to find parking. And related to that, do people who already need or choose to drive to work tend to buy houses with a parking spot, since they know they’ll need it?

  • JK

    Dahlia take a look at the actual study. A higher portion of people drive to work anywhere from Jackson Hts (23%) than from Park Slope (18%). An absolute difference of 5 percentage points and relative difference of 28% more car commuting from Jackson Hts.

  • Whoops, my bad, I missed the comment about the commuting to Manhattan. I take it back.

  • J. Mork

    This probably isn’t very common, but I have a neighbor who has a 5-minute walk to work, (in Brooklyn) but she often drives because she has free parking there and she has to move the car for alternate side anyway. (And in this case, it’s arguably good to drive instead of circling the block for an hour.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    You have to wonder about this. Those who own a car for weekends have to move it during the week if they park on the street; those who have their own space do not.

    There may be some cultural issues here that aren’t being captured. I’d like to see more variables, or at least more neighborhoods.

  • JK

    Larry, agreed that more neigbhorhoods would be better. That said, the predictive indicators: household income, home ownership, govt employment, density (Slope less dense) all suggest Slopers should be driving more than they are. So, we are pretty confident in the basic thesis. Confounders? Sure, maybe more Slopers are white collar govt workers without parking placards. Maybe the ratio of transit to car commute time matters much less than absolute transit and car trip times. Maybe Heights residents drive more all the time as a matter of lifestyle and outlook. But its really hard to ignore the 31% to 5% difference in the share of motorists with their own home parking. Why isn’t govt doing studies like this? There are lots of big questions about travel behavior to be answered and public interest groups with small budgets can’t answer them.

  • Michael Anthony

    I, and MANY MANY like me STRONGLY disagree with the notion that worsening the availability of SOURCE parking where people LIVE (vs. “Destination Parking” where people shop or go to work, for example) has a negative impact on traffic.

    The ONLY thing that worsening parking where people live does is to frustrate and annoy car-owners and greatly decrease their quality of life.

    I live in Park Slope and very seldomly use my car to go to Manhattan, because I know that parking there is so expensive & hard to get and that traffic congestion is unbearable.

    But it drives me nuts that I can’t get a spot when I return home from using my car to go to the country over the weekend.

    These policies are madly misguided and need to be STOPPED asap! LET THERE BE MORE OFF STREET PARKING! (Ex: Underground garages that can fit 50-100 cars)

    Let there be one on each block!

  • NM

    Michael – if you just use your car to go to the country, why don’t you use a shared car service. The cars are parked in your neighborhood – in a parking lot or garage – and it’s way cheaper than having your own car.

  • Shemp

    I think transit crowding on the Queens lines vs. the Brooklyn could have some impact. But I also think the study is right that the guaranteed space at home probably trumps the “need to move it anyway” factor for an on-street parker in the choice to car commute or not.

  • Michael Anthony

    Thanks NM – This is where we mustn’t infringe on one’s right to be as mobile as he chooses. I like having my car to whenever I wish attend ‘stop global warming rallies,’ Greenpeace and/or PETA meetings, or even just to visit wife parents, my parents, friends, my father in law in the hospital, etc…. (need I go on?)

    “Cheaper” takes on a different meaning for each, and isn’t even always the objective.

  • I second what NM said, and to go further: why not go to the many places in the country where you don’t need a car to get around? This practice of dedicating scarce urban real estate to cars that are used at most once a week – for city people to drive to the country where they’re out of practice and don’t know the roads – is idiotic. It wastes valuable space, pollutes, clogs the highways on Friday and Sunday nights, kills people and their dogs all over the Tri-State area and beyond.

    Going to the country does not require a car. Read a history of the Catskills or the White Mountains, and you’ll learn that before widespread car ownership there was a fantastic network of trains, boats and buses that efficiently brought people to their weekend and summer homes and resorts, and back to the city again. The resorts and country villages were human-scale, pedestrian-friendly and largely safe.

    Now a lot of that is gone, but much of it remains. There’s still decent train and bus service to many places, and plenty of walkable villages and resorts. Read Heavenly Weekends for a wide selection of country and suburban getaways that are easily accessible by transit.

    Why did so much of the train, bus and boat service disappear? Because subsidized parking and cheap oil allowed city people to own cars and drive them to the country. No, it’s unsustainable for every city resident to own their personal vehicle for driving to the country. We should never have subsidized it, and we should stop now.

    And spare us the “right to be as mobile as he chooses” line. When transit was everywhere, it allowed people to be just as mobile as personal cars. Every government transportation policy infringes on someone’s right to be as mobile as he or she chooses – but you might just not notice it because the person can’t afford their own car, or has cerebral palsy. Let’s work towards maximizing mobility for all, not just for those who can afford to own a car, and don’t mind wasting oil, dumping CO2 in the atmosphere, or running over other people’s pets.

  • Michael,
    You are lucky to live in a city with zipcar. That’s an easy way to grab a car when you need it for all the trips you are doing that are inconvenient to get to any other way than driving (in the city with the most complete transit system in the U.S.).
    As far as “infringing on someone’s right to be as mobile as he or she chooses”, no one is stopping you. Buy or rent a place that has off-street parking, or pay for a spot in a nearby garage, but don’t infringe on others’ right to not have to pay for your parking through higher housing costs, more dangerous sidewalks, etc. Yeesh.
    If you want more convenient on street parking, advocate for pricing that will reduce parking demand on-street so you can park more easily.

  • JP

    Michael,

    Car owners decrease MY quality of life.

  • Michael Anthony

    Chris : You misread – I want more OFF street parking.

    To the rest: You miss the point: Reducing source parking does NOTHING but inconvenience EVERYONE at that source point, including the car owner.

    Anyone here who claims that the world will devolve back to a carless society is misguided, deluded, unrealistic and non-pragmatic.

    We all have to live in the REAL world.

  • Michael Anthony

    Adding to my last point: You will completely discredit yourself and write yourself off to the lunatic fringe if you try to argue that having a car is a bad thing that can be deleted.

    Let us agree that the objective should be to try to improve things for everybody – Drivers and pedestrians alike!

  • LuvmySUV

    I get tremendous pleasure out of filling my 30 gallon Sequoia’s gas tank with premium unleaded and driving all over this city knowing that mamby pambies like these imbeciles conducting these ‘studies’ are breathing my sulfurous fumes. May you die slowly choking on my exhaust. Yuppie filth should start sterilizing themselves and their neighbors. Out of my cold dead hands will you ever take my SUV from me and my onstreet parking you bloody communists.

  • Over time, the peaking of the world oil supply will lead to less driving. This is happening right now, notwithstanding the recent pullback in oil and gas prices. And Streetsblog, to its credit, is seeing farther into the future than the mainstream media. Eventually the majority of American households (like about half in NYC and the majority in Manhattan) will be car-free households. If you’re young or middle-aged, this will happen in your lifetime. If that prospect makes you angry, be warned that what you’re angry at is the geology of the earth. It is an impersonal force that cares nothing for any driver’s sense of entitlement. It is absolutely immune to personal abuse and attempts at intimidation.

  • You will completely discredit yourself and write yourself off to the lunatic fringe if you try to argue that having a car is a bad thing that can be deleted.

    Cap’n Transit: writing himself off to the lunatic fringe since August 2007!

    What kind of self-respecting troll buys unleaded anyway?

  • Ian Turner

    Michael,

    How exactly does eliminating source parking inconvenience non car owners?

    Also, please explain how something can serve as an inconvenience on car ownership without actually affecting people’s choices whether or not to partake in car ownership? Note the availability of alternatives in this particular circumstance.

    –Ian

  • Ian Turner

    Luver,

    Why is it that people who are in favor of /less/ government subsidy for something are labeled as communists? I’ve never understood that; maybe you can explain.

    Thanks,

    –Ian

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Why isn’t govt doing studies like this?”

    Have you ever worked for the government?

    The pols (who aren’t interested in facts at all) cut some deal for some interest, and the study happens afterward to show it was a good idea.

    Just try to get permission to do a study in your own (very copious) free time, and publish it, otherwise.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let me say this also about studies. Most “studies” are produced by interest groups, and are thus slanted even if factually correct.

    Transportation Alternatives is also an interest group, though one I find myself agreeing with more and more. How could TA slant their study?

    Let me draw upon my experience to tell you. All data is imperfect. If the results don’t agree with your interest or hypothesis, you pick the data apart and say the results aren’t valid. If the results agree, well, the information we have is the information we have, and decisions must be made.

    We can trust that TA selected Jackson Heights and Park Slope at random without examining other neighborhoods, and would have released the report even if the findings conflicted with its views. Or not.

    But I certainly wouldn’t trust any “study” by pro-driving interests, or anything Lipsky-related.

  • JP

    Michael,

    Nothing personal, but I will argue that having a car in New York is a bad thing. I’m going to move away from the environmental argument for a little bit. I’ve come to find that the source of most unpleasantness in this city, for me at least, is the result of automobile traffic. Dangerous, speeding cars thinking that shaving 2 minutes off of their drive is worth acting like a complete jerk. The noise and the smell of fumes. The parking lots! Parking lots in New York! We need housing and we would rather build space for cars. 4th avenue where I live in Brooklyn is extremely unpleasant because of the six lanes of cars and trucks blasting through like its the Turnpike. I hate the fact that when I tell someone new that I bike to work sometimes, they worry for my safety. Why should that be? This is one of maybe three or four cities where it is possible to live without a car. I want to keep it that way, and if we begin building off street parking everywhere, there will just be more cars on the road, making life in the city miserable.

    Of course, cars will never be completely eliminated, but we need to seriously think about our dependence on them. I don’t think that every household in this city is entitled to their own parking space.

    Rant over. Thanks.

  • JK

    PlaNYC is an example of a big govt study intended to move a policy agenda. PlaNYC included nothing on off-street parking — too controversial. Studies on off-street parking coming from DCP/DOT/ Sustainability would be a sign that these agencies are aware there are better approaches than the current wink and nod system of parking minimums, which are both bad and ignored, gamed and distorted depending on the local political winds. (Disclosure, yes I worked for a state govt a long time ago in a far away state. My job: producing land use and growth projections.)

  • Lunatic Fringe

    Cars are a classic addiction phenomena. Addicts are always coming up with reasons why they should be able to, or even have to get high/drive. Make no mistake about it, you are fooling yourself if you do not think you are hurting yourself, the people around you, and the planet you live on, by driving.

    For good or bad it several generations to get fully addicted, it will several more to get out of it. Planning decisions, like minimum parking requirements, will lengthen the reversal of the process. Hopefully there is something left of the US by the time we come our senses.

  • James

    LuvmySUV, is your post just an attempt at some deep snark, or do you actually believe what you posted?

    re: “LET THERE BE MORE OFF STREET PARKING! (Ex: Underground garages that can fit 50-100 cars)

    Let there be one on each block!”

    You live in a crowded metropolis. You don’t have any right to parking in front of your residence, nor should you. I will confess that I do own a car but I own one out of necessity, as I work in an area of the northern suburbs that isn’t convenient to a transit stop. I highly, highly doubt we’ll ever see the kind of wholesale expansion in off-street parking you wish to see, since off-street parking doesn’t represent the optimal use of a given parcel of land in a city this crowded. Developers realize this. You should too.

    Best,

    -A mamby pamby study producer

  • zach

    I’m not a car owner and I agree with Michael. I think the addition of off-street paid parking lots allows us to free up the parking lanes for bus lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, all the dreams of non-drivers. If we took half the parking spots off of the street and used them for other purposes, then put market rate meters at the remaining spots and added a similar number of spots in lots, we’d have the same amount of parking and a whole lot more space for non-driving needs. Imagine how much traffic is simply people moving their cars for street cleaning! We non-drivers have to face that extra-aggressive traffic.

    I don’t care if people smoke cigarettes as long as they don’t do it at the table next to mine at the restaurant, and I don’t care if people park their cars as long as I don’t have to look at the cars when I walk down the street. On street parking should be for deliveries and quick visits. Residents should be economically motivated to get their cars off the street.

    Hide these ugly monsters away.

  • zach

    James: if off-street parking is not the most economically viable way to use that space, then keep raising the price of parking at the lot until it is, and eliminate on-street parking so people’s only choices are to get rid of the car or pay out the nose for parking. If half do each, we’ll be in great shape.

    Lunatic Fringe: Great addiction metaphor. I don’t think anything has decreased the amount of smoking as much as huge taxes on cigarettes.

  • Why not just remove parking from one side of the street? I am picturing the children who have a 6 foot wide sidewalk to play with, up my block. Just stop allowing cars to park in OUR collective space? Why do we allow so much free car storage? I recognize many of the cars on my block, they are here, at least all week days, all day – for free. Let’s clear out the car free public car storage, and start dead ending some of these residential streets and turn them over to the people who live on them.

  • Michael Anthony

    OFF STREET PARKING

  • Michael Anthony

    OFF STREET PARKING

    The reason I suggest large OFF-street UNDERGROUND parking as a way to solve the issue is these reasons:

    Only 1 (one) curb cut for many many cars – So Less Dangerous to pederstrian

    Underground: So less unsightly, doesn’t materially impact housing costs and contains emissions (somewhat)

    Efficient: Large underground garages which hold 100 or 200 cars can make life for EVERYONE, including non-car owners better as it will reduce the need to drive around to find a spot (less emissions), will reduce associated traffic (safer) and congestion and will improve neighborhood dynamics & home values (more desirable neighborhood)

    None of this is to take away the fact that DRIVING to the city SHOULD be expensive – With this I agree…

    USING you car during rush hour to commute to an already over-crowded city should be discouraged as should “destination” parking…. PARKING your vehicle near where you live (“source” parking) should NOT.

    Everyone feel me here?

  • USING you car during rush hour to commute to an already over-crowded city should be discouraged as should “destination” parking…. PARKING your vehicle near where you live (“source” parking) should NOT.

    Everyone feel me here?

    Let me see if I do. You want to discourage all “destination” parking (work, shopping and recreation) to discourage driving. If you succeed, and people get rid of their cars, then what do you need the “source” parking for?

  • I think the addition of off-street paid parking lots allows us to free up the parking lanes for bus lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, all the dreams of non-drivers.

    Sounds nice, but there’s the matter that parked cars do provide a buffer to protect pedestrians. If you take that away you decrease safety. How do you propose to compensate for that?

  • Michael Anthony

    “You want to discourage all “destination” parking (work, shopping and recreation) to discourage driving. If you succeed, and people get rid of their cars, then what do you need the “source” parking for?”

    I want to discourage “destination” parking so as to reduce traffic CONGESTION during rush hours IN THE CITY.

    People should feel free to use their cars, on the weekend for example, to go wherever they might wish – outside of rush hour times, outside of the city, and they Should NOT have to worry about needing to spend 45 minutes trying to find a stinkin parking spot when they come home.

    THIS is my whole point. If fighting TRAFFIC congestion in the city is our objective (and I think it is) then let us fight JUST THAT – and not inconvenience ourselves by worsening and already pretty bad residential or source parking picture.

    Thanks.

  • If fighting TRAFFIC congestion in the city is our objective (and I think it is)

    Oh, well that’s easy. It’s certainly an objective, but it’s not my only objective, and it’s not the only objective of the editors of this blog. I quote from the About page:

    We are part of a growing coalition of individuals and organizations in cities around the world working to transform our cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and improving conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders.

    I, for one, am just as concerned about reducing traffic congestion during Friday and Sunday evenings as during rush hours. I’ve also discussed the negative impact that auto-dependent vacationing city-dwellers have on country areas, which you have not yet addressed.

    Finally, although you’ve declared your disagreement with the conclusions of the study, you have yet to provide any basis for that disagreement other than stating that you don’t want to be inconvenienced.

  • Lunatic Fringe

    Sorry Micheal not feeling you at all. It seems important to you that you get concurrence with your position, but I really can’t see expending the resources to enable you to drive to countryside for the weekend. Private car parking, whether public or private, has zero value to me. In fact parking, and the driving it spawns, is a burden in every way: It makes space in the city more expensive; makes transit poorer; slows delivery and trade vehicles and increases those costs; increases the cost of roads, bridges, and ferries…. The list just goes on and on, I just pray we move away from cars before we actually do invent a practical electric alternative. It will set civilization back 100 years.

  • JP

    Lunatic Fringe,

    I’ve been thinking about that: “What if there is a cheap, low-polluting automobile that is mass produced in the next 10 years?”

    My concern is with urban areas and land use. I think the only thing that could save the urban fabric in that case is still the amount of traffic that would be created if everyone felt compelled to drive.

    The fact remains that regardless of the type of car that is invented, we will still never be able to build enough roads to accommodate the number of cars a region the size of NYC, Chicago, LA, SF, Dallas, Atlanta, etc would require to move everyone around.

  • Pursuant

    More Parking = More cars = More congestion

    No problem with that argument, but this report posits several straw men arguments only to disregard them with their own trumped up conclusions.

    Someone needs to go to statistics class. The 45% number is a complete crock it’s not even supported by their own data. Lying to prove your point shouldn’t be necessary.

  • Ian Turner

    Capn: Easy answer. Bollards are just as good at protecting pedestrians from cars and take up roughly 1/10 the space. They’re actually better than parked cars, because unlike vehicles they don’t obstruct drivers’ views.

    Also see this entertaining video of what happens when truck and bollard go head-to-head:

  • Ian, I agree that bollards would work, but in many cases (such as quiet residential streets or busy shopping districts) we should be working towards a woonerf model. Bollards go against that by encouraging speeding. A woonerf needs all those subtle Monderman cues to tell motorists to slow down. My point is that we need to be clear about our vision of what the street will ultimately look like, and not just say, “get all the parked cars off the street.”

  • Ian Turner

    Capn, actually I think that bollards lining a narrow street do serve as a substantial slow-down cue for cars, because hitting the bollards is an expensive proposition. See for example streets crossing Fulton St. in Las Vegas. The tricky thing is that in such a scheme there is no place for cars to stop to make deliveries etc. What is difficult is that in New York it doesn’t really help to provide delivery-only street parking as it will be abused.

    (I can’t believe I just used Las Vegas an example of good city planning).

  • zach

    Ian – nice video!

    Capn – There are plenty of techniques for slowing drivers, all explained in detail on this site. Chicanes, neckdowns, humps, traffic circles, and of course the mild-mannered stop sign.

    We don’t need to waste half the street space on traffic that is designed not to move.

  • Yes, I’m aware of that, Zach. And if you plan the woonerven well it wouldn’t be so bad. But I don’t really like off-street parking either. The hollowed-out railroad suburbs of Long Island depress me. The parking pedestals of Stamford disturb me. Underground parking garages are a waste of good digging equipment, time and energy – and you can’t really get that back. All those kinds of parking still generate plenty of trips. I think it’d be better to find ways to encourage people to get rid of the cars rather than to stick them underground somewhere.

  • LuvmySUV

    Freud did make mention of intelligence levels dropping in large groups. Proof positive when we have yuppies demanding car less streets for their person aesthetic pleasure.

    You should wall yourselves off, dynamite all the bridges and tunnels and starve to death you yuppie, metrosexual scum. My god, reading this lunacy proves my point that the people who live in cities are so devoid of intelligence and are simply committed to living the metrosexual existence of manicures, lattes, ‘aesthetics’ and ipods. Their sense of entitlement has left them in lala land.

    Stop cramming yuppies into 8×9 $2000 a month cells with doormen.

    I have to look into using leaded fuel in my Sequoia, better yet maybe I could burn irradiated diesel and rev my engine up and down every street. I could help rid the planet of whining yuppie scum who undoubtedly sit around watching ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ while sipping their lattes and convincing themselves how superior they are to everyone in the ‘stix.’ You people are the same ones who were abused in school for being freaks and fled to the West Village where you found your little communes before the rents went through the roof.

    The cities produce none of the stuff to sustain life. You people are so isolated from where all the products that keep your brazilian waxed asses so comfortable come from. Try producing something you whining bimbos.

    The cities are the problem, they breed nothing but vermin for the rest of the world. Cars are not the problem. The unwashed hordes cramming into ‘luxury’ roach motels they pass off as city apartments these days are.

  • JF

    Awesome. That’s the best troll we’ve had since we stopped talking about congestion pricing!

  • mike

    JF – Actually, I think LuvmySUV is a pretty poor troll — his “insults” feel pretty hackneyed to me.

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