Parking Overkill in Flushing: NYCEDC Made It Happen

It’s not every day that a New York City real estate executive name-checks Donald Shoup, but one developer admiringly referred to the dean of progressive parking policy while explaining his project to Streetsblog. If not for the New York City Economic Development Corporation and mis-directed political pressures, says TDC
Development President Michael Meyer, the huge mixed-use project he’s building at one of the biggest transit hubs in Queens could have made better use of enlightened parking policy. 

flushing_b_aerial.jpgNYCEDC required a suburban level of parking at the Flushing Commons development. Image: Rockefeller Group Development Corporation.

The project, known as Flushing Commons, is a mixture of retail, housing, and office space slated for downtown Flushing, one of New York’s fastest growing business districts. It’s also one of the most transit-rich areas in Queens, making it a prime location for great walkable development.

But Meyer’s project is slated to include a suburban level of parking, which will induce shoppers to drive to an area  that’s already overrun by traffic. And if some Flushing leaders get their way, the project will include even more — and cheaper — parking.

Meyer believes the area is ready for walkable development, but notes that 50-year-old beliefs about transportation and development still prevail. "We’re almost in a time warp," he said, adding that "Flushing is not the way it used to be," but "emotions and misconceptions" lead people to think excessive parking is a necessity.

Zoning rules require 700 spaces at Flushing Commons, according to Meyer, but the project will build far more — 1,600 spaces — because the parking-obsessed Economic Development Corporation demanded that level of parking

Flushing Commons would build up to 620 residences, 275,000 square feet
of retail space and 234,000 square feet of commercial space just two
short blocks from the busiest subway station outside Manhattan.
The site is served by 21 different bus routes and is a short walk from the third-busiest pedestrian intersection in all of New York. The property, currently a 1,100-space surface parking lot, is owned by the city, hence the active involvement of EDC. 

"This is not a single-use suburban development site," said parking policy expert Rachel Weinberger, co-author of a recent report on parking innovation in American cities. "And yet EDC seems to be once again pushing suburban-style development standards."

In addition to the 1,600
parking spaces, the city has convinced the developers to add
200 spaces to a nearby municipal lot. Still, many residents and local merchants say that isn’t enough.

In fact, at the typical 350 square feet per spot,
the parking is already set to consume more space than the retail and office space
combined, a real waste in such a transit-rich location. If more parking
gets built, Flushing Commons will become a parking garage with mixed-use development attached, rather than the other way around.

Municipal_Lot_1.pngFlushing Commons would replace a city-owned surface parking lot in the heart of transit-rich downtown Flushing — and build even more parking in the process. Image: Google Maps.

The addition of so much parking will be mitigated by the developers’ decision to price it more effectively, which is what really seems to be upsetting some in Flushing. Currently, the lot only charges $1 per hour or $4 per day, which Meyer says just leads to commuters filling the spots all day. "You don’t put a commuter lot in the heart of a burgeoning central business district," he said. "’The High Cost of Free Parking‘? Flushing’s the poster-child for that."

In order to attract more shoppers, Meyer’s firm is instead increasing the amount of short-term parking and pricing parking at higher rates, though still slightly below market prices.

This attempt to get motorists to pay the cost of the parking they use has elicited some of the loudest complaints. Then-Council Member John Liu spoke out against charging more for parking as early as 2007.

Putting a rational price on parking should temper demand, allowing the developer to build fewer spaces. But EDC’s requirements have pre-empted any attempt to give less space to vehicle storage. (EDC should learn from previous mistakes, like the Gateway Center mall in the Bronx, where parking isn’t free and most customers walk to shop, leaving parking spaces unused, eating up land and money.)

Streetsblog has a request in with NYCEDC about why the agency required so much parking at a site so well-served by transit.

Less parking at Flushing Commons wouldn’t just promote livable streets, it would also make it easier to build at this transit-rich location. "The parking is a money loser — we know this because the original plan included even more parking, which was cut back to make the project profitable," said Weinberger. 

Given the demands from EDC, however, building less parking isn’t an option at Flushing Commons. Shoup-quoting developers can only do so much for sustainable growth when the city itself demands that up-and-coming downtowns like Flushing emulate suburbia.

  • How many spaces for bicycles?

  • JK

    Underlying this decision is DCP’s and EDC’s basic perspective that it’s a price worth paying to use parking to buy political approval for upzoning and development. This helps explain why there is nothing on parking in PlaNYC, and why New York City’s off-street parking policy is both incoherent, and completely antithetical to it’s sustainability goals. The Department of City Planning is a national laggard on parking policy. City Planning has done nothing to educate the public about parking. Nor has it made any effort to systematically address the planning dysfunction caused by irrational CEQRA/SEQRA requirements or parking generation calculations that are laughable in a transit rich city like New York. It is a disgrace that tax dollars are being used to compel developers to build parking they don’t want.

  • JK, you’re spot-on. And this is a prime example of how Bloomberg makes me nuts.

    He talks a good game with PlaNYC, but in a situation in which he can really have a positive effect, (as opposed to his push for congestion pricing, in which he needs intractable Albany to get off its collective pot), he stupidly, massively drops the ball.

  • Eric F.

    Doesn’t the lack of available parking in Flushing constrain the use of the Flushing LIRR terminal and 7 Train station. This is Queens! People don’t live within 5 blocks of a train station there. Try getting out of Manhattan once in a while you snobs.

  • Joanna

    Yeah seriously. The parking is meant to be COMMUTER PARKING, to replace what is there now. Why did you leave that out? Would you rather see people from Auburndale and Bayside drive all the way into Manhattan?

  • Bolwerk

    How about people from Auburndale and Bayside drive in Auburndale and Bayside and leave their cars in Auburndale and Bayside when they come to Manhattan or Flushing?

    Sensible policy calls for reducing parking in Flushing. Then maybe the streets in Flushing wouldn’t be so clogged with violently inept, seemingly sociopathic drivers.

  • rlb

    “People don’t live within 5 blocks of a train station there.”

    That’s probably what those 21 bus lines are for.

  • Well, I frequently visit Flushing, and I can tell you that if this place develops, it will bring an enormous amount of pedestrian traffic into the area. This Business Improvement District is already crowded on the weekends as it is, with people fighting for space along Main St along with cars, buses, and trucks.
    And by adding 600 new spaces and all that new development will only make it worse. Just take a look at the new Rego Park Center in Queens. Although it did replace a vacant parking lot, it brings in tons of new underground parking and 5 LEVELS OF above-grade parking. A recent grand opening visit showed that much of the parking was not filled (most people kept on circling at the lower levels). Also, since the developer has opted to stop construction on a new residential tower on the site due to the economy, and other big-box retailers have yet to move in, the enormous amount of parking seems a big waste- they could have put in a food court!

    http://www.eekarchitects.com/portfolio/15-retail-entertainment-and-commercial/40-rego-park-center

  • How about people from Auburndale and Bayside drive in Auburndale and Bayside and leave their cars in Auburndale and Bayside when they come to Manhattan or Flushing?

    Or even, you know, walk?

  • Could Streetsblog actually provide revolving updates on this project? As in community board meetings, etc so people like us could show up and knock some sense into the EDC?

  • Addendum: NEW total parking at Rego Center II will be 7 levels of parking totaling 589,000 sf.

    http://retail.vno.com/siteplan.aspx?id=regopark

  • Ian Turner

    Eric, This is New York. Even in Queens most people don’t drive to work. I live in Queens and none of my neighbors even have cars. Flushing has intense and vibrant pedestrian life and there is no reason to pander to cars in this area.

    Joanna, Auberndale and Bayside have LIRR stations, as does Flushing. People coming from those places should leave their cars at home, walk to their LIRR station, and take the train in. Shortly they will even have Grand Central access. There is absolutely no reason people need to drive to Flushing, a central downtown area, for transit to Manhattan.

  • Joanna

    You think everyone in Bayside and Auburndale lives within walking distance of the LIRR station? Plus, these neighborhoods are HUGE – miles long. And many of the drivers don’t take the LIRR to work. They take the subway. So they drive to the easternmost subway station and park there. Seriously…it’s obvious you folks have never been out there. You live in some kind of utopian fantasy world about how you think things should be in neighborhoods you don’t live in instead of dealing with reality. I love this comment, “I live in Queens and none of my neighbors even have cars.” I’d love to see what Queens street you live on that is devoid of parked cars.

  • Well, the thing is you want to discourage people from driving to the mass transit station in the first place. There are bus routes that run along Northern Blvd in Bayside. And yes, Joanna you are right-my block has a car parked in front of every house, if not two. I live nearly 2 miles away from the nearest subway station!

    Now of course, instead of trying to increase parking for commuters from less transit rich or far away areas, how about working with the MTA to increase the number of buses/frequency/coverage in Bayside or Auburndale? Or more LIRR service during rush hours? Or encouraging carpooling? All this, of course, depends on investment-something which unfortunately, in these times, is hard to come by, especially from the city and state.

    Or, I maybe a little far fetched, but a new subway line to Little Neck? If only we could go back to 1939 and tell them: build that line to Bell Blvd!

  • Extending the 7 train east to I-295 (Clearview) and building a park and ride there would help Flushing a lot.

    What will actually happen in the MTA will cut LIRR service down to once an hour.

  • Yup, we really need to go back in time and prevent the plans for the IND Second System from disappearing.

  • Merely not building parking isn’t going to make Flushing more livable or increase its non-car mode share as a job center, which to my knowledge is currently about 40% (Manhattan’s is 86%). The city has to invest in the area’s infrastructure. For example it could build an SBS corridor connecting Flushing and Jamaica, running both local and express buses, to provide circumferential transit and serve more LIRR branches than Port Washington. It could build dedicated bike and bus lanes to QB and the Bronx; it could make plans to extend the 7 eastward to unclog Flushing-Main Street; it could do many things, but all require investment.

    Hoping the problem will go away won’t work. Right now, Flushing’s only served by one rapid transit line, which only connects to LIC and Manhattan. The LIRR is way too expensive to be a serious alternative, the buses are too slow, bike infrastructure does not exist, and walking doesn’t work at Queens’ scale.

  • archie

    Alon, And continuing to manipulate the market by forcing more (and cheaper!!) parking than the market would provide on its own will ensure those alternatives you list will remain subpar.

  • Kong

    People from Connecticut and Long Island go to Flushing to buy grocery — a whole week worth of grocery so you can’t commute there and carry them home. In the weekend after 11:00am, you won’t be able to find a parking spot there. That’s why we need more parking space.

    Developer wants to build less parking space to make more money or even charge more. Those people in the government advocate less parking space is simply because they’re paid by the developer to do so.

    If developer can’t provide more parking space at the same price, don’t build it.

  • Kong

    If the majority of the flushing resident want more parking space, why they can’t get it? It’s because of corruption in government and article like this one paid by developer.

  • Bystander

    Kong,

    Why should a parking space be something that the government or the developer gives for free or below cost?

    I bet the majority of flushing residents don’t want their rent to go up. Do you say “why can’t they have that?” I bet they don’t want gas to go up and the ones driving from Connecticut really don’t want gas to go up–do you say “Why can’t they get it?” They probably want a bigger apartment too. “Why can’t they get it?”

    I don’t think you would tell the developer “if he can’t price his retail space below the cost then he shouldn’t build it, or the housing units.”

    Why is parking different? Why is it okay to subsidize parking at the expense of having more houses? Or at the expense of having safe sidewalks (cars have to cross the sidewalk to get into the lots)? or instead of having another store?

  • Boris

    I like the fact that there are dissenting points of view – too many Streetsblog article comments have a preaching-to-the-choir feel. I just want to point out to Kong and others that the argument isn’t about choosing between no parking or 1600 spaces; we aren’t there yet. The argument is between 700 or 1600 spaces. And believe me, with 700 spaces you would easily find a parking spot to do your shopping- if parking cost a reasonable $5-10, cheaper than many items you buy on a regular basis without even noticing. That price would also include a virtual guarantee that your trip would be faster and more pleasant than with current parking prices. What’s to be upset about?

  • Kong,

    Let me get this straight.
    1) I and others here have been to Flushing on weekend afternoons and have seen the people circling around for parking spaces in Municipal Lot #1
    2) I understand the frustration on why it would seem to make sense to build more parking and price it cheaper

    But I am also a pedestrian and mass transit user. You of all people should also notice that the sidewalks in Flushing are over-packed. People fight for space against cars along Main, Roosevelt, and Kissena like never before. The service levels of that area must be very poor. By adding even more parking and pricing it lower, not only do you encourage more people to drive to Flushing, you also increase the dangers to pedestrians!

  • Flushing needs more parking spaces so people from CT and Long Island can come there and buy a week’s worth of groceries?

    Should we really be basing our infrastructure decisions around this?

    Why can’t people from CT and Long Island buy their groceries in their home towns in CT and Long Island?

  • Flushing is cheaper.

  • Is buying groceries in Flushing rather than locally really cheaper after taking into consideration the purchase, gas, and maintenance of a motor vehicle, not to mention the productive time lost in traveling across county and state lines?

  • Doug

    Kong:

    There is no need for people from CT or LI to drive into downtown Flushing to purchase a month’s worth of groceries. The Chinese markets in Flushing, particularly on Kissena and Main Streets are already impossible to negotiate on the weekends and pose a major traffic hurdle for Flushing residents. Savvy investors should open markets on LI or in CT to serve those markets. Even opening new locations just outside of downtown Flushing would be a better solution than insisting on plentiful, below market price parking. Plentiful & cheap parking will just draw additional vehicle visits during the most congested periods making the problem worse, not better.

    I think that the majority of Flushing residents don’t want more parking, they want less congestion, less traffic. The congestion in downtown is a major negative for residents. They think that more parking will solve the problem, but don’t understand that it will just encourage more visits by car. They also think that adding housing units will cause more congestion assuming that those folks will all drive everywhere instead of walking.

    I say these things as a resident of downtown Flushing, two blocks off Roosevelt and Main.

  • Yes, the sad part is the people who drive that far just to get cheap groceries. Fortunately, Chinese supermarkets are slowly but surely expanding out into the “suburbs.” There’s one in Eastern Fresh Meadows and another by Marathon Pkwy both of which have opened in the past year or so.

  • Mike

    This article seems a bit disingenuous, and the comments back that up. Is the problem that EDC “forced” these parking requirements on the developer, or that many outspoken members of the surrounding community want more parking, rightly or wrongly?

    Should the government “listen to the community” or plan from the top down? Depending on the situation, sometimes the advocacy world seems to want government to do a better job of responding to communities’ agendas, and other times wants government to override communities’ agendas. May be what everybody really wants is for government to adhere to the advocates’ agenda.

  • Joanna

    “Flushing needs more parking spaces so people from CT and Long Island can come there and buy a week’s worth of groceries? Should we really be basing our infrastructure decisions around this? Why can’t people from CT and Long Island buy their groceries in their home towns in CT and Long Island?”

    So instead we should discourage commerce in Flushing? Yes, this argument makes sense. Let’s push our tax base to CT and Long Island. People coming from far away to shop in our neighborhoods is a GOOD thing, not a something to be discouraged.

  • Joanna: well, there are other, more environmentally-friendly forms of commerce Flushing would need – for example, more bookstores and cinemas in the neighborhood.

  • Joanna

    Which were mandated by contract to be included in this plan, but now won’t be built because TDC and EDC don’t feel like it. But all that’s ok, so long as they take away parking spaces. At least that’s the nonsensical logic I’m hearing from the majority of posters on this board.

  • Sometimes the community asks for more parking even though it’s a bad idea. Sometimes the voters ask for the highway to be widening even though it’s a bad idea. All sides are capable of generating bad ideas.

  • Anonymous

    the new mayor could save a lot of money by getting rid of the EDC.. one less agency , thousand less parking spaces..

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