City Planning Ready to Approve 1,260 Parking Spaces at Riverside Center

The City Planning Commission is likely to approve 1,260 parking spaces at Riverside Center. Will that require a second level of parking, as shown here? Image: Extell Development.
The City Planning Commission is likely to approve 1,260 parking spaces at Riverside Center. Will that require a second level of parking, as shown here? Image: Extell Development

The City Planning Commission is likely to approve a 1,260-space garage for the Riverside Center mega-development at its meeting this Wednesday, according to multiple sources. That’s space for hundreds more cars — causing more congestion and more pollution — than requested by the Upper West Side’s representatives. It’s yet another case where the commission and planning chair Amanda Burden have disregarded the sustainability goals of PlaNYC when shaping parking policy.

To quickly recap the public review process of Riverside Center’s parking supply: In July, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted to recommend 1,000 spaces, after a long and sophisticated discussion of the issue. Borough President Scott Stringer later recommended 1,100 spaces.

The planning commission’s number is also much higher than appropriate given the city’s sustainability commitments under PlaNYC. If Riverside Center were built simply with the same ratio of parking as its neighbors, for example, it would only contain 550 parking spaces, according to CB 7 member and Regional Plan Association staffer Hope Cohen. For a city trying to get greener and encourage more sustainable modes than driving, the planning commission’s endorsement of 1,260 parking spaces represents another perplexing shift toward auto-centric development.

The difference between 1,100 and 1,260 may also be particularly important from an urban design perspective. Only 1,100 cars can fit on one floor of parking, according to the community board; those 160 extra spaces would then require an entire extra level of parking. That in turn could force the entire project to sit on a platform, separating it from the street and deadening the sidewalks around it, according to Ethel Sheffer, a CB 7 member and former president of the New York American Planning Association chapter.

City Planning isn’t giving in to the developer completely. Extell Development had requested 1,800 parking spaces, which would choke city streets with even more cars. At 1,260 spaces, there will be less parking at the site than there is today; right now, around 1,650 cars park at lots on the site during the day and around 1,440 park there overnight [PDF]. But the decision to allow so much parking had no connection to the goal of building a greater, greener New York.

Dan Gutman, an environmental planner who’s fought with the city on off-street parking issues before, explained the City Planning Commission’s logic as he heard it at a review session. The commissioners estimated that around 700 cars currently parked at the site belong to people outside the immediate neighborhood, who would start parking closer to home once Riverside Center was built. There’s also room for around 500 cars in nearby garages. So out of 1,650 cars on the site now, commissioners guessed that about 1,200 would park elsewhere. City Planning then added the approximate number of cars left over to the 840 parking spaces that would be allowed under the parking maximums in effect below 60th Street. And there you have it: 1,260 parking spaces.

In other words, the effect of parking on traffic and transportation more broadly was not considered. Whether 1,260 parking spaces will worsen congestion, slow down buses, endanger pedestrians, or pollute the air wasn’t considered. Parking is, by this math, an end entirely unto itself.

The Department of City Planning confirmed that the 1,260 number was under discussion but would not release any explanation of the analysis that had generated that number until the commission votes.

Once the City Planning Commission votes on Riverside Center, it will move to the City Council. Local Council Member Gale Brewer has previously stated that she only wants to see one floor of parking.

  • Anon

    C’mon, you rabid urbanists! Every planner learned in grad school that cities are doomed to failure without adequate parking and highways to prevent a middle-class exodus. This is why the Upper West Side is a blighted failure, waiting for an enlightened developer like Extell to revive it.

  • JK

    This City Planning Commission displays less sense than a fifth grade student council. Their idea of planning is to split the difference between the developer’s proposal and the prevailing,low-parking, land-use. With this dopey Planning Commission in charge we should be grateful the developer didn’t propose building 10,000 spots. We would’ve ended up with 5,000. The really absurd assumption here is the conceit that the developer can’t make money without providing abundant parking. Look at comparable prices for that area.

  • If this ruling stands the next thing to push for is cutting back on street parking as an offset for the garage space. For example: for every garage space, remove 2 street spaces for cars, and reserve 25% of the garage spaces for car/share (which the city seems to like) and bikes.

    Pro-garage forces argue that garage spaces free up the streets. So why not take them at their word (!) and start taking about this? If we made any progress with a strategy like this street-offset, we would still have better streets. I can’t think of a time when we’ve won an effort to restrict garage space in developments, so maybe we could try another approach.

  • Yes, Peter, if the on-street parking is used for bike lanes or bus lanes, and there are no other lanes for general traffic (e.g. Riverside Drive). No, if parking is taken away but there are still excessive travel lanes (e.g. West End Avenue).

  • Meech

    It sounds like a lot of parking — until you realize how many parking spots have been lost in that neighborhood. The current outdoor lot has been getting smaller and smaller, like a puddle in the sun, as each new building goes up. Fordham is rapidly expanding their campus, and student capacity, and replaced their own garage with a new academic building. Considering that the law school and nearby Roosevelt Hospital are places that are open to all — including those who drive cars — I’m happy to see that area planning on ample parking and keeping cars otherwise off the street.

  • Mike

    Meech, I take it that since the cars using the “ample parking” are kept “off the street”, they arrive by water and/or hovercraft?

    That’ll be a refreshing change from the city that I live in, in which more parking means more cars and more driving.

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