To Curb Congestion, Parking Reform Must Be in PlaNYC Update

Traffic headed from Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood where ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/05/30/hells-parking-lot/##off-street parking has proliferated##, toward the Lincoln Tunnel.

Three years ago, the Regional Plan Association held a panel on congestion pricing at its annual conference. The title of the discussion was “Making Cars Pay Their Way.” At the 2011 conference last Friday, a similar panel on curbing traffic took the more generic title, “Strategies to Manage Congestion.”

The difference is telling. Instead of an all-out push to put a price on Midtown’s packed streets or the East River’s traffic-clogged bridges — not that anyone has given up on that goal — the fight to reduce congestion in New York City is now a multi-front campaign.

Tops on the list for the RPA panel, after congestion pricing, was reforming New York City’s parking policy. Based on international experience and research conducted here in New York City, we know that stopping the proliferation of off-street parking would help prevent streets from getting even more clogged with cars. But parking policy was barely mentioned and off-street parking was completely ignored in the original PlaNYC four years ago. Since then, the city has aided and abetted the construction of huge amounts of off-street parking.

This week, the city will release its update of PlaNYC. Will it finally include what is perhaps the biggest missing piece of its sustainable transportation plan?

At the RPA panel, David Bragdon, the head of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, certainly seemed to agree that parking policy needs an overhaul. He repeated the story of a developer in Brooklyn who spoke to him after being forced to build more parking than he wanted because of mandatory parking minimums. The spaces now sit empty, said Bragdon. In affordable housing projects, he added, the problems with parking minimums may be even larger. “We may be adding costs unnecessarily,” he said.

Bragdon did not, however, definitively state that the new PlaNYC would put the city on a path toward eliminating parking minimums. He did say the city is currently doing some surveys about parking and will “try to draw some lessons from that to apply to the development code.”

Other panelists made the case for parking reform as a congestion tool more forcefully. That parking minimums are in place near New York City’s subway stations is “madness,” said Walter Hook, executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

In most European cities, he said, parking minimums have been replaced with parking maximums that keep developers “to those levels of parking which the traffic system can bear.” In many downtowns, he continued, there is a hard cap on the total amount of parking. “You can’t actually add a single unit of off-street parking unless you take out a parking space from the street,” Hook explained.

  • Cberthet

    Excessive parking creates benefits in the parker’s backyard and congestion in other people’s back yards. For example in Hell’s kitchen Through a rezoning and lawsuit we have now limited the amount of new parking that can be built in our neighborhood. However all the traffic you see in this picture is generated by cars that park in other parts of the city, and come and go through our neighborhood to reach their final parking place, and we pay the price in very high asthma rate and unsafe street.

    there has to be a way to make developers and parking operators to pay for the havoc they cause on other neighborhoods. Its called parking maxima and parking taxes and fees.

  • Larry Littlefield

    While I don’t disagree with the point of view, a way must be found to deal with the political situation.

    Those opposed to congestion pricing include the political class, those with parking placards. Whereas the rich would probably pay to have less congestion and the rest of us don’t drive to Manhattan anyway. These are people who are used to looking at public space as their private property — it’s their world and we just live in it.

    Those who want more off-street parking include local NIMBYs, who believe residents of new developments will compete for on street parking and make their difficult parking situation impossible. Parking requirements are a way to buy them off, so they won’t oppose all development as in the suburbs. Which is why the zoning resolution includes lower requirements by stealth — through the waiver.

    Arguments about what is fair or best for everyone will influence these people not at all.

  • Dave

    I was at the RPA panel and found it interesting that there was no discussion of on-street non-metered parking. The guy from Stockholm mentioned $100/mo to park on-street but the comment was completely ignored. And the panelists, Hook especially, did not seem to think that residential parking issues contributed to congestion even though studies (even here) show that at times 40% of traffic is looking of a free on-street parking spot.

    RPP’s time has come. Raise revenue from permits (OK set it low to minimize objections) but more importantly restrict parking in residential neighborhoods to those who register their cars locally and pay local taxes. Much more of an impact there than the actual permit parking fees.

    If the city doesn’t address this I don’t know what they are thinking. Easier politically than bridge tolls but when I drive by the Willis Ave bridge construction I am amazed that everyone in the city pays for it even though its only the relatively rich that own cars that benefit.

  • Obfd

    @Dave, you have made several assumptions that do not stand up to the light of day. Restricting all parking in residential neighborhoods to residents would prevent anyone from using their cars (making them as useful as a sculpture), as they would only be able to park near their own home.

  • Obfd

    Dave, you must not encounter many drivers, especially those that use the untolled Willis Ave Bridge, which crosses from Harlem to the South Bronx . In this area, it is not the “relatively rich” that own cars and drive into NYC, it is the middle and lower class workers. The “relatively rich” live in the city and do not need cars.

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