EDC Chief Seth Pinsky: Minimizing Parking “The Worst Thing We Could Do”

SethPinsky.pngSeth Pinsky, NYCEDC president. Image: NYCEDC.

The NYC Economic Development Corporation’s predilection for suburban-style, parking-filled projects earned it last year’s Streetsie for worst city agency. Well, now we’ve got some more insight into what makes EDC tick.

After an event at the New School last night, NYCEDC president Seth Pinsky told Streetsblog why his organization’s projects include so many parking spaces. "The worst thing we could do," he said, "is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking."

Predictions about "parking need," however, are consistently flawed. At one of the EDC’s own projects, the Gateway Center in the Bronx, far more shoppers take transit than developers predicted, leaving the parking lot underutilized and creating a hostile environment for people who walk. In the words of parking guru Donald Shoup, "In trying to foretell the demand for parking, urban planners resemble the Wizard of Oz, deceived by his own tricks."

According to Pinsky, EDC takes its figures for parking demand straight from the legally-mandated environmental review process. So, some of the problem here is embedded in that process, which has prompted calls to revise local environmental review laws [PDF]. 

But more and more, EDC simply appears to be falling behind the times on planning policy. Just this week, the Health Department, City Planning, DDC, DOT, and the Office of Management and Budget released Active Design Guidelines advising planners to "design car parking so as to reduce unnecessary automobile travel, particularly when walking, bicycling, and public transit are convenient alternatives."

We have, supposedly, progressed beyond the era when city government equated traffic with economic activity. But while the rest of the city is trying to reduce the number of cars on the street and play to New York’s inherent strengths as a walkable metropolis, EDC still seems intent on inducing more traffic and giving autos even more space than they need.

  • Noah, big props for the apropos, beautiful title!

    No, Mr. Pinsky, the “worst thing we could do” would be to build retail far from transit. Oh wait, you already did.

  • Allan

    lots of parking is fine, as long as its inconvenient. if its easier to walk and bike and take transit, people will do it. building suburban-style seas of parking that you have to walk across to get to a building is BAD, condos with lots of underground/adjacent parking can be good as long as it doesn’t have to be walked-around all the time, increasing travel times to walk to the neighboring properties

  • This guy is probably a businessman with a degree in business (too lazy to check his “Linked In” profile). He is a victim of his own paradigm and education.

  • fdr

    “An attorney by training, prior to joining NYCEDC, Seth was an associate at the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in the Real Estate practice. Before law school, Seth was a financial analyst at the Mergers & Acquisitions boutique, James D. Wolfensohn Incorporated.

    Seth is a graduate of Columbia College, where he majored in Ancient History, and Harvard Law School.”

    http://www.nycedc.com/AboutUs/WhoWeAre/PresidentBio/Pages/PresidentsBio.aspx

  • “Parking need” in NYC is the byproduct of poor planning. Providing parking to fix the mistake of “needing parking” is just the tourniquet that you’d apply after your chainsaw cut off your own leg.

  • Perhaps this pinhead would like to pay a visit to Macy’s in Herald Square and ask the shoppers pouring out of the subway and into the front door whether they’d prefer to see the store surrounded by a giant parking lot.

  • Yes, the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation has not created a single job in his entire lifetime.

    You’d think living in Park Slope, one of the city’s most walkable, bikeable and transit-served neighborhoods, he might catch on.

    But noooooooooo…

  • Tacony Palmyra

    The Active Design Guidelines statement is that auto travel should be reduced “particularly when walking, bicycling, and public transit are convenient alternatives.” Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn are perceived to be walkable and transit rich already. The rest of the outer boroughs are not — despite very low car ownership rates in much of the city. That’s why these EDC projects in these parts of the city are so pedestrian-hostile. The South Bronx may be as easy to walk and bike and offer as much transit as Park Slope, but “transportation culture” is very different. There’s a perception (and maybe a reality) that many/most people in the South Bronx would rather be driving if they had the money to own a car (and possibly rather be living in another neighborhood altogether).

    I think it’s more about location than specific agency. Is the 911 Call Center in the Bronx an EDC project? It’s slated to be a suburban office park because it’s in the Bronx, where city policy seems to continue to promote auto use, and culture links cars to affluence and “success.”

  • When my wife’s friends and family from Pennsylvannia come into Manhattan to go shopping, they park in New Jersey and take the train into the city. They love it and would hate dealing with the traffic of the tunnels and manuevering around Midtown.

    People don’t come to New York to live or as tourists because of our parking.

  • JK

    The strength of NYC is its density, low car use and abundance of destinations. Subsidizing car oriented retail like Gateway in the BX or East River Plaza (among many) plays against the city’s strengths and shows a profound obtuseness as to why NYC is a great place to live and do business. EDC and some folk at City Planning believe that affluent New Yorkers are attracted to an NYC that offers more suburban amenities, including parking. This belies the fact that the most expensive parts of the city are those which are least car oriented. The EDC should stop subsidizing retail at highway off-ramps and start thinking strategically about what kind of growth is desirable. It’s abominable that this agency is actually given the power to steer business growth. It, and most IDA’s probably do more harm than good. Lowering taxes by the amount EDC wastes on corporate subsidies would probably create far more jobs.

  • New York has the highest downtown parking rates in North America. But let’s ignore NY for a second. Calgary has the second highest rates, as part of a city policy to discourage driving and encourage transit use. Its economic development has not suffered; the city has actually boomed, and its downtown is as vital as ever.

  • Good point about Macy’s Herald Square or in fact all of 5th Avenue.

    According to Seth Pinsky’s logic all these stores should be failing.

    I bet he drives everywhere in NYC.

  • fdr

    I’ll bet Pinsky doesn’t drive anywhere. He gets in the back seat and tells the driver where he wants to go.

  • vnm

    What JK #10 said. Exactly. EDC is trying to promote growth in NYC by fighting against the very strengths that make NYC an attractive place!

    By the way, I keep walking through the cavernous empty garage at the Gateway Center pushing my granny cart filled with stuff I bought in there. It’s very easy and convenient … because there are no cars to contend with. So, thanks for the walkway, EDC.

  • vnm

    If any livable streets activists have the opportunity to engage folks from EDC, I think we need to tell them this:

    Look, we’re in favor of economic growth and development in NYC just like you are. Just a kind of growth that plays to NYC’s unique strengths and existing urban fabric: Walkable, high-density, green urbanity of the kind seldom found elsewhere in the U.S. The kind of place that attracts creative, energetic young and young-at-heart people who drive this economy. If you want to encourage traffic congestion, pollution, and car ownership by subsidizing parking garages of dubious value, I think there may be a number of U.S. regions still pursuing that old cheap-energy mindset.

  • zach

    “Traffic” means:

    1. people coming and going via any means,
    2. motor vehicle use,
    3. problematically high levels of vehicle use (congestion)

    The first is a good thing, particularly for a mall. We’re saying that planning for traffic (2) reduces traffic (1) to the mall. I say we need a word for 2. that doesn’t also mean 1.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Someone tell Pinksy to pull his head out of his ass and join us here in the 21st century. The more auto-oriented he makes his projects the more he limits NYC’s economic growth and health. If he hasn’t figured that out yet, he should be fired. Or he should move to the suburbs. I hear they have an opening for an economic development chief in New Rochelle. Oh, wait: New Rochelle wouldn’t hire him. They are looking for someone who understands the value of density, urbanism, transit and walkability.

    Also, a question for Mayor Mike: How do Seth’s suburban-style projects like the atrocious Gateway mall fit with your whole PlaNYC thing? Do you just plant a bunch of trees around the parking structures or something? Could someone at NYC DOT who understands this shit explain it to Seth? The guy sounds like a complete menace. Seth: You’ve got to do more than make the project look good in a spreadsheet.

  • Seth Pinsky has fallen into to the Robert Moses syndrome. Sitting comfortably in his chauffeured car, he thinks he know what the world wants, but only from his point of view. No one can tell him what is wrong with his ideas, because he already knows what is right.

  • Noah, quite a productive first month http://www.streetsblog.org/author/noah-kazis/

    Your posts have been very high quality and we appreciate it!

    Look forward to more…

  • Who are the EDC? Where did they come from? Who appointed them? And why?

    (For that matter, what about the LMDC and the ESDC and the rest pseudo-semi-crypto-agencies)

    Instead of persuading or “reforming” the EDC, we need to eliminate it. All I see them doing is milking tax payer money while confounding and convoluting the channels of communication and accountability between us and traditional government agencies.

    Put these public sector parasites like Pinsky out of work. I’m sure a wunderkind like him will find plenty work soon enough elsewhere.

  • Rob B.

    1. There was a great article about how the banks’ lending criteria for retail require a lot of parking. (I must have seen the post here or on Mobilizing the Region.) Pinsky comes from a background trying to get real estate deals done, and that means adhering to the banks’ requirements for maximum parking.

    Pinsky needs to realize that his position at the EDC allows him to force the banks to revise their criteria, and foster transit-friendly development. He is no longer a prisoner of the banks.

    2. I usually find myself starting conversations with my fellow suburbanites about how unwalkable surburbia is, and how much I miss living in NYC. Lately, people I’ve never spoken to are making the same point to me first. People’s mindsets are starting to change.

  • Mr. Bloomberg, tear down this wall of parked cars!

  • According to Crain’s, the Costco at the EDC’s genius East River Plaza is failing to live up to sales projections. Might that be because they located it a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway station?

    Who wants to bet that theyll soon eliminate the parking fee as an “economic development” measure?

  • BxGuy

    The thing with the Gateway Center is it needed the parking to attract the tenants. The people at Target think they need parking, they don’t understand New York. In terms of parking need in general there is a “Goldilocks Principle” to it. You want neither too much nor too little. The Gateway Center is on the Papa Bear end of that (to exploit my metaphor) but there would be no porridge at all if Goldilocks had got her way.

  • J

    BxGuy,

    You make a good point about the tenants, but the city is big enough, with enough examples to show that much much less parking is needed at that site. Part of the problem is that existing EIS method assume that site inherently create a certain amount of parking demand. Nowhere in the current analysis is the idea that parking is a commodity, influenced by price and availability. Less parking supply and higher parking prices serve to reduce parking demand drastically. The question then remains: will drivers try taking transit to stores?

    IKEA shows a partial answer. Yes, people will take transit if you make it easy for them to do so. This is particularly true where car ownership rates are low and transit access is good (East Harlem, South Bronx). Perhaps if EDC spent more time trying to figure out how to make it easy for people to get there without a car, instead of just building parking garages, they’d save money and better serve New York City. IKEA did it in a much more transit-poor neighborhood. Why can’t EDC?

  • mrek

    It’s not the parking, it’s how it’s laid out. Surrounding a place with parking makes it a mall that must be approached by car. Moving the parking to a garage (with or without a fee) or in back can be only marginally less convenient, but allow a much more attractive street wall with better access for non-drivers. And drivers are all non-drivers once they park and get out.

    I find it amusing to see “fitness” places at the back of a huge parking lot, with no walkways or any other way to get in other than walking through the parking aisles. What’s wrong with walking to the gym? Why not have the gym in front and the parking behind?

  • The parking problem has increased a lot and all the biggest companies are trying to resolve the parking problems.

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