Major Test for Parking Reform Shaping Up on Manhattan’s West Side

riverside_center.jpgThe site plan for Riverside Center includes a large ramp for motorists to access below-ground garages (bottom center). Image: Extell Development

Are New York City’s planning commissioners serious about parking reform? An important test case is shaping up on Manhattan’s west side, where Extell Development is trying to build 1,800 parking
spaces in an area the size of two city blocks.

The site is just a few blocks north of Hudson Yards, where the city recently put a hard cap on the number of parking spaces that can be built. When the City Planning Commission enacted those parking limits, they asserted that capping parking is "consistent with the objective of creating an area with a transit- and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood character." It remains to be seen whether city planning will follow through on that objective elsewhere in the city, or if the Hudson Yards parking cap was a one-off victory for residents fed up with the proliferation of off-street parking and the traffic it generates. 

The Extell project, known as Riverside Center, would construct 1,800 spaces for 2,500 residents and a mix of stores — including a car dealership — on a site between 59th Street and 61st Street near the Hudson River waterfront.

Cramming that much parking into such a small space will promote
driving, increase congestion, and erode the walking environment
. As a result, the street-level design of the Extell project, which includes several curb cuts to allow motorists to access garages, doesn’t call to mind "a transit- and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood character." Any way you slice it, the proposal for 1,800 parking spaces is excessive and completely inconsistent with the sustainability goals in PlaNYC:

  • The site straddles two zones where parking construction is restricted by law. Below 60th Street, parking maximums are set at a 20 percent ratio — developers can only build one parking spot for every five residences. Above 60th Street, the maximum is 35 percent. Extell contends that 45 percent of the residences at Riverside Center will need a parking space.
  • Only about 25 percent of households in this part of Manhattan own cars, according to the 2000 Census.
  • The Extell project is the final piece in a massive development site, known as Riverside South, stretching from 59th to 72nd Street. A 1993 agreement set the number of parking spaces to be built in the entire area at 3,500. More than 2,600 spaces have already been built on the rest of the site, so erecting 1,800 more will exceed the amount in the original agreement by nearly 1,000 spaces.

The Planning Commission is expected to certify the Extell project at a hearing this afternoon, which is not a final verdict but will set in motion the public review process. The local community board will weigh in with recommendations, and so will Borough President Scott Stringer. The Planning Commission can then approve the project, disapprove, or approve with modifications. The final vote rests with the City Council.

Objections to the volume of parking planned for Riverside Center have come from several sources. A coalition of sustainable transportation advocates including the
Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and the Tri-State
Transportation Campaign have told Stringer that
Riverside Center should not be developed using Extell’s car-centric, towers-in-the-park template. Manhattan Community Board 7 has called for total parking on the site to be reduced by 30 percent [PDF]. (The board is also asking for a 20 percent reduction in the total size of the project.) Local activists who successfully fought the Hudson Yards parking bonanza have mobilized to debunk the assumptions behind the parking projections in Extell’s proposal.

Council Member Gale Brewer, whose position will be critical when the project reaches the City Council, believes that there’s no reason for Extell to build so much parking, said Jesse Bodine, her director of constituent services. Brewer hasn’t come out with a specific target for reducing the amount of parking, but she expects the proposal to be modified to include less parking by the time the council votes on it.

The most intriguing part of the process will come before the City Council vote, when the Planning Commission reviews the project. The commissioners can let Extell’s proposal move forward without any attempt to mitigate the parking disaster. Or they can render a verdict that’s consistent with their rhetoric on Hudson Yards and the sustainability objectives laid out in PlaNYC.

  • J

    This is a classic example of developers pushing for an extremely ridiculous amount of parking. After community outrage, they compromise to a lower but still ridiculous number. It happened at Hudson Yards, and it’s happening at Domino.

    The solution to this bargaining system: Create strict limits on parking, and the City must enforce those limits. It’s not like developers will flee the city en masse due to parking restrictions.

  • J:Lai

    I’m all for reducing cause, and I am strongly against parking minimums, but I’m not sure I see the problem with a private developer building parking spaces in a poject like this one.

    I would much rather the city allow the developer to build a private garage, and remove street parking spaces, thereby replacing free/cheap parking with market rate.

  • DavidCEisen

    I’m opposed to developers using street names like “Freedom Place South.”

  • rlb

    “consistent with the objective of creating an area with a transit- and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood character.”

    There is hardly anything transit-oriented about the character of that neighborhood, save for two modest bus lines. The problem isn’t the excess parking, but the decision to build half a dozen or so high rise towers with no transit improvements.

  • LN

    I pass this open area every day – as I turn off the greenway onto 59th st. It already was a parking lot for decades. Part of it is still a parking garage. As far as making up names of street. The developers have changed the name of 12th avenue to ‘west end ave’ and the west side greenway name has been changed to ‘riverside boulevard’ on this plan.

    And yes, its a long 4 block walk to Columbus Circle subway station, from this.

    BTW as of last week, they have started to move around dirt and are obviously preparing for building this monstrosity.

  • Woody

    I recently attended a Planning Board committee discussion of changes to the building where I live.

    The landlord is proposing to add considerable 1st floor space for retail and 2nd floor space for medical offices. Almost everyone agreed that the existing brutalist architecture with too many blank walls and much empty space along the wide sidewalks was not a happy streetscape.

    The plan is to rebuild and extend the building’s base out to the property line on the major cross-town street and the avenue. The new structure will offer much more interest to passers-by, with better lighting, lots of glass, and not less than six retailers where now we have only four.

    The reconstruction is actually called for under new zoning regulations for the area. They were designed to enliven the Upper West Side avenue, which is now a mishmash of restaurants, lively retail, boring blank walls, and fenced-off vacant spaces. (No additional parking required.)

    Extell didn’t get the memo? For sure the new zoning must not cover the Riverside Center site.

    Soaring towers are fine, I love the one I live in. But why not bring retail flush to the sidewalk along West End Avenue, which has plenty of commercial ground floor activity in adjoining blocks? And half of the 59th St frontage will be open and empty — the better to allow cars to enter while discouraging foot traffic. Ugh.

    River Center tries to repeat all the planning mistakes of the past half century, like an artifact from another time and place (I’m thinking Houston Galleria), and the excess parking is the worst of it.

  • J:Lai

    rlb – I agree. Let them build the parking, but tax the development to help fund transit improvements.

  • Boris

    The problem here isn’t in any one particular development, no matter how large. The problem is that any time something like this goes up, New York City takes one step closer to being Any City, USA, because our laws are essentially the same as in any other large American city. It’s all about cars; transit doesn’t even enter the equation at the level of project, neighborhood, city, or state. Until there are ironclad transit requirements, followed as rigorously as minimum parking requirements, these monstrosities will continue to be built. And one-off protests will not solve the problem.

    Then there is the question, of course, of why builders want to add more parking than is required. The incentive to overbuild parking needs to be removed.

  • I would much rather the city allow the developer to build a private garage, and remove street parking spaces, thereby replacing free/cheap parking with market rate.

    When cars are going more than, say fifteen miles an hour, curbside parking is actually a good idea. Also, there’s an inherent limitation to how many cars you can park at the curb. Better to work towards getting market-rate curbside parking than to have lots of off-street parking.

  • Emily Litella

    So what does 1800 cars in NYC look like? Well if you figure an on-street parking space is 22′ long, and a Manhattan Block is 220′ long, then that’s about ten cars per block, not including gaps for hydrants, driveways, etc. 1800 divided by 20 (parking on both sides of a street) is NINETY BLOCKS, a distance of 4.5 miles. That’s about the distance of Park Avenue from The Grand Central Terminal area to the Harlem River parked up solid on both sides. NICE, just what Manhattan needs.

  • Emily Litella

    Since we’re thinking about numbers, I’ll add this. How many barrels of crude oil would it take to fill the tank of each of the 1800 passenger cars? My instinct told me 15 gallons, and wiki-answers confirms that as a ballpark number. 1800 x 15 = 27,000 gallons. A barrel of crude yields approximately 20 gallons of gasoline (44 gallons of crude in a barrel). So we need to remove 1350 (27,000 / 44 = 1350) barrels of crude to make the gas to fill the tank of 1800 passenger vehicles. The 1350 barrels (not inlcuding substantial energy costs to bring forth the finished gasoline product) it took to make the gas would fit on flat bed of rail car totaling about 700′ long (8′ wide). Imagine a train track along the curb of Park Avenue with a bunch of flat cars on it covered in steel oil drums extending from 46th Street to almost 49th Street. This is the amount of crude that it takes, conservatively, to result in the filling of all the 1800 cars parked in that new garage. How many refillings happen in a year would be interesting to know. If each tank were refilled on average every two weeks (25 times in one year), then the train of of flat bed rail cars with crude oil would extend from Grand Central all the way to 116th Street in East Harlem. Now the flow rate, in barrels, of crude oil into the gulf of Mexico is currently…

  • Check this out: apparently there is a light rail ROW underneath Riverside Blvd that was included in the original community plan for Trump’s Television City. It’s still there! Wonder if the current CB knows about it…

    http://www.hopetunnel.org/subway/wslrt/index.html

  • Kevin Love

    “Extell contends that 45 percent of the residences at Riverside Center will need a parking space.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Perhaps 45 percent will want a car parking space, but the number that “need” a car parking space is zero.

    By the way, “parking space” could include a bicycle parking space. Whenever we mean “car parking space” we should say so.

  • drosejr

    Michael,

    They know all about that rail line, and in fact were trying to use this public review process as the impetus to build a Metro-North station on the site. However, the MTA did some leg work and determined that the curvature of the train lines under the site was too high to allow a station to be built. They’re still looking elsewhere under Riverside South/the Trump Buildings, but it won’t be there.

  • Andrew

    The Amtrak rail line, which may in the future also be used by Metro-North, is distinct from the light rail line shell. That said, I’m not quite sure how useful a north-south light rail line would be in this area if it doesn’t also run east somewhere to link up with the subway.

    Rather than providing all that parking, why doesn’t Excell subsidize enhanced M57 bus service? Even Manhattanites with cars ride the subway, in many cases more often than they drive their cars; surely an improved bus service would be more attractive to potential residents than a parking garage.

  • Daniel

    The light rail line at Riverside South is a remnant of a Department of City Planning proposal of the 1980’s to put light rail across 42nd Street. The right-of-way in this area was to allow light rail cars to reach a storage area under Riverside Park. There would have been no stations on the north-south portion. The 42nd Street light rail proposal is still being championed by George Haikalis (see http://www.vision42.org/)

  • Craig

    “I’m opposed to developers using street names like ‘Freedom Place South.'”

    To be fair to Extell, this isn’t a post-9/11 display of nationalism.

    Instead, Freedom Place South derives its name from Freedom Place, a short street running between 66th and 70th streets between West End and Riverside Boulevard (essentially the same alignment as Freedom Place South).

    Freedom Place got its name in 1967, when the city and the West Side Civil Rights committee dedicated it as a memorial to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, the three Freedom Riders who were killed by Klan members in 1964. There’s a small plaque at the corner of 70th Street and Freedom Place that honors their memory.

  • 1800 parking spaces for 2500 units in Manhattan is crazy talk.

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