As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Department of City Planning is currently studying the merits of parking minimums in some of New York’s transit-rich neighborhoods, like Harlem and western Brooklyn and Queens. And local interests in at least one neighborhood, Downtown Brooklyn, are starting to mobilize around the issue. While the coalition has yet to go public, sources say there have been preliminary discussions about reducing, or even eliminating, parking minimums in the area, which would be a big victory for sustainable transportation.
Right now, parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn force new developments to include huge garages, effectively subsidizing driving in one of New York City’s most transit-rich neighborhoods. For example, the zoning for the Downtown Brooklyn special district [PDF] requires some residential buildings to provide off-street parking spaces for at least 50 percent of all units. In other cases, the ratio is 40 percent. In practice, this means that a big development like the Toren building, which has branded itself as one of Brooklyn’s greenest buildings, had to dedicate its second and third floors to parking.
"There is a movement afoot to eliminate or decrease the parking minimums," said Hope Reichbach, the communications director for Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents the area. Noting that this push is in the earliest stages, though, she wouldn’t say who was participating in discussions.
Whatever proposal emerges to reduce parking requirements in Downtown Brooklyn is likely to have Levin’s support, said Reichbach. "There’s a lot of public transportation to Downtown Brooklyn and the council member definitely wants to encourage alternative modes of transportation," she explained.
Reichbach argued that Downtown Brooklyn was almost as congested as Manhattan, where parking is restricted below 60th Street to comply with the federal Clean Air Act, and that Brooklyn deserves to be treated the same way. "It just seems like a no-brainer at this point, just walking around Fulton Street," she said.
This round of discussions about parking minimums hasn’t reached Community Board 2 yet, said District Manager Robert Perris, but he knows it’s been tried before. "I know the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, on behalf of certain developments, and the Brooklyner was one of them, went to DCP and said these figures are crazy here," recalled Perris. "They were not successful in those negotiations." The Partnership refused to comment for this story.
One local business group, the MetroTech BID, said that it hadn’t been part of any negotiations over parking minimums, but would support reducing them. "The BID has felt that those parking requirements are not only onerous but even unnecessary in areas like Downtown Brooklyn," said executive director Michael Weiss, noting the well-developed transit and bike infrastructures in the area. Building so much parking just encourages people to drive to work, argued Weiss. The parking areas fill up, he said, "but that’s more because they exist than because there’s such a demand." If there was less parking, Weiss believes, "they’d take all the other means that are available to them."
Update: Reichbach writes in to say that, in fact, Levin is only open to considering reducing parking minimums at this point.