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.