DCP Likely to Propose Lower Parking Minimums for NYC’s “Inner Ring”

In its recent update of PlaNYC, New York’s long-term sustainability plan, the city committed itself to the proposition that “requiring too much parking to be built in a dense city like New York can encourage driving, contribute to congestion, and unnecessarily raise the cost of new development.” That was a major breakthrough given the Department of City Planning’s previous reluctance to admit that parking minimums induce traffic, but PlaNYC’s lack of substantive commitments to parking reform left many wanting.

Parking minimums could decrease in "inner ring" neighborhoods, said DCP director of sustainability Howard Slatkin. Image: ##http://nyrej.com/44022##NY Real Estate Journal##

All that was promised were three studies: one on parking requirements inside the Manhattan core, one on parking minimums in the rest of the city, and one on the effect of minimums on affordable housing. Now, however, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge about how city planners intend to address the latter two issues.

Speaking at an event held by NYU’s Furman Center last week, Department of City Planning sustainability director Howard Slatkin explained that the department is working toward reducing parking minimums for both market-rate and affordable housing in what he called New York’s “inner ring”: Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, northwest Brooklyn and western Queens. The department appears to be unlikely to lower parking minimums beyond the inner ring. (The event was off the record, but DCP allowed us to use Slatkin’s remarks.) While the Manhattan core already has parking maximums in place — though not without loopholes — developers building in the neighborhoods immediately outside the central city are still forced by the zoning law to include a certain amount of parking. That could soon change.

Explained Slatkin:

The department’s policy in the past decade has been to shift housing growth to denser, transit-served areas — where people own fewer cars. It is within these “inner ring” neighborhoods outside the Manhattan core — well served by transit, relatively dense, with lower car ownership — that we believe there are opportunities to lower parking requirements.

This approach still hews to DCP’s belief that parking minimums do not substantively affect the demand for car-ownership, said Slatkin, who pointed to both DCP’s own research and, surprisingly, Transportation Alternatives’ study “Guaranteed Parking — Guaranteed Driving” to make this point. (The TA study did indeed show higher car-ownership rates in wealthy Park Slope, built largely before advent of parking minimums, than in Jackson Heights, built largely after minimums took effect, but its prime finding was that the guaranteed parking spots that stem from parking minimums lead Jackson Heights residents to drive to work at much higher rates.)

Instead, Slatkin argued that building dense and mixed-use neighborhoods near transit reduces car ownership, allowing DCP to respond in those areas by shifting parking minimums downward. In other words, reducing parking minimums is seen only as a response to lower car ownership, not as a policy that will proactively reduce the amount of driving in New York City by eliminating a major market distortion.

Delving further into the rationale behind the potential parking policy shift, Slatkin said that parking requirements impose steep costs on developers — an important acknowledgment for the department to make publicly. Slatkin did point out that three-quarters of new residential development in the inner ring had been eligible to receive waivers from parking requirements, creating opportunities to avoid those direct costs, but when pushed, he added that even developments built with a waiver might have been negatively affected by parking minimums. Reworking developments to slide in under the waivers, by subdividing a project into smaller pieces, for example, adds its own costs.

In affordable housing, the cost component of parking minimums is even higher. Because of the requirements of certain affordable housing funding streams, explained Slatkin, it is even more difficult to rework those projects in order to be eligible for a parking requirement waiver.

That DCP is finally getting ready to reduce economically and environmentally costly parking minimums is an important step in the right direction. There’s a lot that can happen between now and the fall, when Slatkin said DCP’s studies will be released, and then when any zoning changes are actually voted on. We don’t know how the studies will be structured, what parking minimums they will recommend, and most importantly, what political forces will weigh on City Planning. More on that critical last question in a follow-up post.

  • MSR

    Why have parking minimums at all?

  • Danny G

    Hey what do you think this is, a free market?

  • car free nation

    This could be good news for any new buildings built on 4th avenue in Brooklyn….

  • vnm

    Agreed. Is there any language on the NYC website that tries to justify the philosophy behind parking minimums (for cars)? I’d love to hear a cogent argument for them that was written at any point after 1954. Otherwise the city is just increasing construction costs, making it harder for people to live in NYC, and encouraging traffic congestion.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always loved the irony of huge gated parking lots at public housing projects.

  • Jeff

    I have always attributed this phenomenon to the whole Moses attitude towards automobiles back in the glory days of motoring, when middle class families would hop in ye olde Chevrolet and happily motor along to Jones Beach. He simply wanted to (or wanted to create the appearance of wanting to) extend this all-American family experience to members of other social classes, helping to build the image of his Futurama New York City, where New Yorkers young and old, rich and poor, all lived in towers in the park with bright sunny windows and happily motored along his parkways.

    While undeniably misguided, were his intentions good nonetheless? Well, Robert Caro couldn’t seem to convey that in any less then a thousand pages or so, and I’m sure not going to try to do so in a blog comment!

  • Tom

    Parking minimums (a/k/a off-street parking) when required with the new denser housing units is included to accommodate the new denser auto component that comes with new denser population. It is understood that people who acquire new, and by definition more costly, construction are relatively affluent. That is, affluent enough to own and make use of a car. They don’t yet see the need of abandoning a valued asset with just a change of address.

    Current residents though feel the need of having the assurance of the added parking so that they are not stuck subsidizing the newbies with their parking spots which they put fully to use at all times. The new off-street spots are not available free to these current residents.

    New construction requires some level of municipal approval. Therefore, local residents acting democratically through their elected officials can have a political influence on the issue. Thus you have a continuation of minimums.

    When I was last at a Furman School seminar in April, I asked a developer, Mr. Bell(he was interviewed here on the issue) if he knew of any instances where empty/unused/unsold parking built because of the mandate had continued over time(several years) to be unused. He could not readily answer that. This is important because if there is no demand in the marketplace for this built parking then further increases are pure wastes of resources. It would be interesting to know the answer.

    BTW I thought it was conceded that family size and wealth were the chief determinants on car ownership.

  • Tsuyoshi

    I find it amusing to think that the area where we are “working toward reducing parking minimums” – Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, west Queens, and northwest Brooklyn – was all originally developed with no parking minimums at all. It would be illegal now to build New York City as it already exists.

    But this is positive. Baby steps, I suppose.

  • Alon Levy

    The Upper Manhattan block I used to live on had about a thousand residents, a hundred free on-street parking spots, and no residential off-street parking. Not all parking spots were taken, since car ownership was much lower than one per ten people.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Tom put it best. Existing on-street parkers do not want residents of new developments competing for their scarce spaces, so parking minimums are imposed to prevent “neighborhood groups” pandered to by City Council members and state legislators from opposing all new development altogether. The loudest voices are no different here than they are in Darien.

    Now the Transit Oriented Growth idea has allowed some elected officials, pushing in favor of broader citywide or regional interests, to get multifamily development into places that previously kept it out on the assumption that people will not drive. Opponents argue that the residents of these new mini-downtowns drive and park anyway, and make things worse for existing locals. You see this battle out in Los Angeles.

    What New York City has, in response to competing powerful interests, is zoning fraud. You reported the stat — 75 percent of the developments are built without parking (or with less) using the waiver, with lot and buildings subdivided into segments if necessary. So people are promised one level of off street parking and get something else.

    Opening up this scam will lead to loud calls to do something about the waiver. Really, really loud calls. Absent the waiver, the parking requirement would have to cut by 75 percent just to break even with what the rules are in reality right now! Think that’s happening?

    As the Brennan survey showed, most voters non-Presidential election year voters (unlike most people) outside Manhattan have cars, even in a place like Park Slope. Most are rational enough to realize that bicycles aren’t causing their problems — and understand that OTHER CARS are causing their problem. And their biggest problem is parking. As a car owner, I can say that with certainty. That’s why when this car wears out, I don’t plan to get another one.

    Of course on the other side you have the Hasids, who use the waiver and build without parking (so no, they don’t all drive). So perhaps one back room deal would be to allow the Hasids to build without parking, but jack up the requirement for everyone else!

    The only way out that I can think of is to deny the future residents of those new buildings the right to park on the street. And then the developers of those buildings could either decide to provide parking, or decide to provide some Zipcar spots and bike racks and sell without the possibility of those they were selling to having their own car.

    And the only way to do that is with a resident only overnight parking permit system, with no new permits issued in areas with a “parking shortage” until others are turned in. And with an appeal to “real New Yorkers” preference for screwing younger generations by including a nominal charge for incumbents, say $10 a month, and a market rate charge for future owners. With all money collected in an area kept local through something like a BID, so people don’t worry it will end up going to debts or pensions or, worse, the MTA.

  • Bystander

    The notion that car ownership decisions are made irrespective of parking availability is patently absurd. How else can you explain only 20-25% of Manhattan households owning autos? and the rest of NYC –where parking is more abundant– owning substantially more? In fact, the reason for the parking MAXIMUMS in Manhattan is to limit parking to, in turn, limit car ownership as a way to limit pollution so the city could obtain a better standard of clean air.

    Also, DCP’s misreads the TA report Guaranteed… auto ownership is slightly higher in PS: .47 per hh in JH and .49 per hh in PS. If they had read the whole report they would have noted that PS actually has more net parking spaces because there are fewer curb-cuts. The parking saturation is higher in JH –there are so many curb cuts for the off-street required parking that there is less space for people to park on the street. Ultimately, more households in JH –with more off-street parking– own multiple vehicles: because it’s easy to park (in your own private, protected parking spot) it’s easy to own multiple vehicles.

    So, more parking=more cars and more private parking=more multi-car households and more net car use.

  • Bystander

    The notion that car ownership decisions are made irrespective of parking availability is patently absurd. How else can you explain only 20-25% of Manhattan households owning autos? and the rest of NYC –where parking is more abundant– owning substantially more? In fact, the reason for the parking MAXIMUMS in Manhattan is to limit parking to, in turn, limit car ownership as a way to limit pollution so the city could obtain a better standard of clean air.

    Also, DCP’s misreads the TA report Guaranteed… auto ownership is slightly higher in PS: .47 per hh in JH and .49 per hh in PS. If they had read the whole report they would have noted that PS actually has more net parking spaces because there are fewer curb-cuts. The parking saturation is higher in JH –there are so many curb cuts for the off-street required parking that there is less space for people to park on the street. Ultimately, more households in JH –with more off-street parking– own multiple vehicles: because it’s easy to park (in your own private, protected parking spot) it’s easy to own multiple vehicles.

    So, more parking=more cars and more private parking=more multi-car households and more net car use.

  • carma

    i agree there shouldnt be mandated parking minimums. it should be the developer who chooses whether or not there should be a justification to parking.

    i would be surprised jackson heights have 49% cars per hh. theres way too many 6 story apt buildings that are home to lower-middle income households. and with half decent public transport, most in the community dont really need cars.

    there is nothing wrong with multiple vehicles if you can afford it, or have the parking space for it. some places in queens / brooklyn have poor mass transit and having a car is not a god-forbidden sin.

    btw: i own 2 cars myself in my household, with me being the only driver. funny thing is my cars are on my driveway, and my 2 bicycles are in the garage. i even carry my garage door opener with me when i bike.

  • carma

    i agree there shouldnt be mandated parking minimums. it should be the developer who chooses whether or not there should be a justification to parking.

    i would be surprised jackson heights have 49% cars per hh. theres way too many 6 story apt buildings that are home to lower-middle income households. and with half decent public transport, most in the community dont really need cars.

    there is nothing wrong with multiple vehicles if you can afford it, or have the parking space for it. some places in queens / brooklyn have poor mass transit and having a car is not a god-forbidden sin.

    btw: i own 2 cars myself in my household, with me being the only driver. funny thing is my cars are on my driveway, and my 2 bicycles are in the garage. i even carry my garage door opener with me when i bike.

  • carma

    i never understood this one. why would anybody build any lot on a public housing project? i mean, public housing is a subsidized govt housing. owners shouldnt own any cars period. cars dont have to be expensive, but at the same time, they still require some money. money which can be used for housing, instead of the govt paying for shelter.

    very strong case where a park or playground serves MUCH better use than a parking lot in the projects.

  • The idea of parking in public housing comes from idiots who think that driving equals upward mobility, even in New York City. Somehow, getting on the hook for $8,000+ a month in car expenses is going to lift these people out of poverty!

  • carma

    driving shouldnt equal upward mobility. it should be a tool for convenience (or inconvenience). for the richer folks, yes, a car can be a status symbol and something that can be more pleasurable, as richer folks wont live in a housing project.

    but i dont reckon how you come up with an expense of 8000+ / month? you can buy a loaded new mercedes e-class every year w/ that money? so your math is quite off. maybe you mean $800.

  • Joe R.

    Probably closer to $8000 a year, but point made. If you’re poor enough to live in a housing project, then that should (in theory) mean you can’t afford a car.

  • Cberthet

    Exactly … There is no minimum for walk in closets, why have minimum for drive in closets ?
    If there are parking minimum there should be bicycle closets and shoe closets minimum ….

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