DCP Official: Parking Minimums Buy Support for Upzonings

We reported yesterday that Department of City Planning Sustainability Director Howard Slatkin recently announced that his agency “believe[s] there are opportunities to lower parking requirements” in a ring of neighborhoods around the Manhattan core. This would be an important step forward in overhauling decades-old policies that lead to more traffic and less affordable housing. Importantly, Slatkin also revealed a major reason why the department sees mandatory parking minimums as so important — it’s all about the politics of development.

Said Slatkin:

We are a growing city that needs new housing development. But in communities, acceptance of new housing and the zoning that allows it is closely linked to the community’s confidence that new development will not exacerbate the overutilization of on-street parking.

In other words, the Bloomberg administration believes that for upzonings to be politically feasible at the neighborhood level, it has to throw in parking minimums. This is less a principled stand in support of parking minimums than a calculated decision that they are a price worth paying for new development.

There’s a certain logic to that argument, even from the perspective of sustainable transportation. If you build 100 New York City apartments, even with 50 parking spaces included, that will still be far greener and more transit-oriented than 100 new houses in the suburbs. But it’s far less green (and makes housing less affordable) than using the same space to build 125 NYC apartments and no parking. The question is whether the political tradeoff is truly necessary.

The fact that the city’s support for parking minimums rests significantly on a political argument heightens the importance of strong organizing by advocates for green transportation and affordable housing. If advocates can show now that communities don’t need parking minimums to support continued development it will free up the political space for City Planning to put forward larger reductions.

Moreover, any change to the city’s zoning would be reviewed by the city’s community boards and borough presidents, and subject to a binding vote by the City Council. The council consistently fights to add more and cheaper parking in new developments whenever it is given the opportunity. Any parking minimum reductions will surely be formulated with an eye toward this gauntlet of reviews, so shoring up support ahead of time is critical.

Whatever City Planning puts forward, whether weak or strong, is sure to be met with a barrage of opposition from those who want to stuff parking spaces into every available space in New York City, regardless of how much that parking adds to the price of housing and the congestion on city streets. Will the city’s car-free majority be able to speak louder?

  • Tom

    The task now is for advocates to write in with a convincing argument(s) to DCP that they can share with a community that is to be up-zoned but with less than the usual minimum of newly built off-street parking that the community will find both credible and only beneficial to that community.

    The arguments must be legal and acceptable both to DCP and to local elected officials who must repeat it publicly to an doubting audience. No one in the community will believe or even listen to advocates who will be deemed biased. You can’t rely on an appeal for any benefits to the rest of the world which is irrelevant. Focus on what a car owner might be thinking.

    Take your time–no rush.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The obvious solution is car-free housing. The neighborhood must have permit parking for on-street spaces. Developers have the option of building housing with no parking, but the residents will not be able to get on-street parking permits.

    This should have less impact on neighborhood parking than housing that includes the required parking. Among the people who live here, some will park on the street; eg, some households have more than one vehicle and will park one on the street; some drive rarely and will park on the street to avoid paying for on-site parking, because they do not often face the inconvenience of finding a space on the street.

    Thus, it should appeal to the self-interest of people who already live in the neighborhood and care more about easy parking for themselves than about anything else.

    Of course, car free housing is not for everyone. But it would be good to have a housing option for people who don’t own cars that does not require them to subsidize parking for those who do own cars. In NY, those people who do not own cars are a very substantial portion of the total.

  • Larry Littlefield


    In other words, the Bloomberg administration believes that for upzonings to be politically feasible at the neighborhood level, it has to throw in parking minimums. ”

    Um, recall that I fled City Planning before the Bloomberg Administration started. This is actually what the Giuliani, Dinkins, and Koch Administrations believed.

    Along with all the long time City Planning staff who have been dealing with “neighborhood group” and local pol demands for downzonings for decades. And were trained by previous city planners who had been dealing with the same demands for decades before that, going back to the downzoning for votes policies of Mayor Lindsay.

    They aren’t making this stuff up. And appeals to a vision of a better, car free society won’t work on those who do not wish to be a part of it, and those who don’t care. But if you have a car you care about parking. It drives you nuts.

    Thus my solution. In most cases new housing has less of an impact on things like parking that the utilization of existing housing, which is far more extensive. For example, there has been no new housing on my block since 1915. But parking has become scarce even so, as seniors without cars sell and are replaced by affluent couples with cars.

    A an overnight parking permit, with no new permits in areas with a “parking shortage” until the shortage is alleviated and others permits are turned in, solves the problem of both new and old units. For a nominal fee, spent right within the neighborhood, the Hainlines and Weinshalls get to keep their cars. And new people moving in have a choice of living without them, or living elsewhere.

    It isn’t for everyplace. But it probably makes sense in the very kinds of neighborhoods we’re talking about, if they want it.

  • christine

    A very important aspect of this discussion is whether the parking is in house or shared , and whether the spaces are owned or monthly rates .

    TA’s analysis of parking-induced automotive use shows that proximity and convenience drive up usage. Thus creating shared parking within a few blocks – not in house- is a better solution . less curb cuts, less usage and probably market rates.

    in addition such parking should be underground to limit the sprawl.
    No ownership the monthly rate will be market and cause a re-assement of car ownership costs on a monthly basis. A good thing .

    Parking minima should be implemented as shared underground parkings, no ownership and with market rates.

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