Atlantic Yards Could Become Much Less Car-Centric

Off-street parking for the Atlantic Yards project, which sits near one of the world’s great confluences of transit lines, was once projected to include space for as many as 3,670 cars. Now the number of parking spots could get chopped down to 2,876 or, in one scenario, a significantly less car-centric 1,200, according to a new review prepared for the state body overseeing the development.

Fewer parking spaces at Atlantic Yards means less traffic on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Chris Hamby/Flickr
Fewer parking spaces at Atlantic Yards means less traffic on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Chris Hamby/Flickr

The new environmental study, first covered by Atlantic Yards Report, is being prepared after a court ordered the state agency, Empire State Development, to examine the impacts of the project’s delayed construction timeline. The full Atlantic Yards proposal calls for approximately 6,430 residential units, about 180 hotel rooms, and nearly 600,000 square feet of retail and commercial space by 2035.

The study by consultants AKRF and Philip Habib & Associates offers two parking estimates. The first would entail 2,896 spaces in five garages. The second, labeled the “reduced parking alternative,” would create 1,200 spaces in three garages. Both numbers are significantly lower than the 3,670 spaces proposed in the project’s original environmental impact statement from 2006.

With less parking, the finished project would generate less traffic. There would be fewer curb cuts for garages, creating a safer, more cohesive pedestrian environment. Another potential benefit: Reducing the amount of parking could make the project easier to finance and lead to quicker housing construction.

Why the change? One factor is that the city’s environmental review guidelines are different than they were eight years ago. The guidelines now anticipate that car trips to the commercial uses at the site will increase at a slower pace than previously assumed, which accounts in large part for the drop from 3,670 spaces to 2,896.

To arrive at the option with 1,200 spaces, the report looks west, to recent parking reforms in Downtown Brooklyn. Despite the area’s rock-bottom car ownership rates, developers there were required to overbuild off-street parking. Facing a glut, the city halved residential parking requirements in 2012.

So instead of blindly using the city’s decades-old outer-borough parking requirements, the document offers a “reduced parking alternative” that applies the Downtown Brooklyn parking ratios to the Atlantic Yards project.

“The project site exhibits many of the characteristics of Downtown Brooklyn,” the report notes, including “some of the best transit access in the city.”

The new parking numbers for Atlantic Yards underscore the potential ripple effect of large-scale parking reform. Without the reforms in Downtown Brooklyn, it would be more difficult for the report to justify a reduced parking option. And while the Downtown Brooklyn reforms could have gone much further and eliminated parking minimums, you can see the difference even these meager reforms can make when applied to the status quo — it adds up to thousands of parking spaces in the case of Atlantic Yards. Without reform for “inner ring” neighborhoods like the area where Atlantic Yards sits, developers will continue to build excessive amounts of parking, driving up housing costs and generating traffic that clogs streets.

Under the reduced parking option, there would be 876 spaces for residential, commercial, retail, hotel and school uses on the site, 24 spaces for NYPD’s 78th Precinct, and 300 spaces to serve the Barclays Center. Using the methodology of the city’s environmental review law, which requires parking to be identified for all car trips that a development is pseudo-scientifically projected to generate, the report notes that this amount of on-site parking plus the existing capacity in nearby public garages could handle all anticipated driving trips to Atlantic Yards.

Although off-street garages can handle the car traffic on game days, Atlantic Yards Report notes that the lure of free on-street parking in nearby neighborhoods is irresistible: A quarter of Nets attendees drive to the game, with slightly more than half of that group choosing to park on the street. DOT rejected residential parking permits near the Barclays Center in 2012, and the latest environmental review does not consider the idea.

Empire State Development is hosting a public hearing on the new environmental study on Wednesday, April 30, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107, in Brooklyn.

  • BBnet3000

    To have any minimum at all applied to this is ridiculous, even the new Downtown Brooklyn requirements, which shouldnt exist.

    In a time when many cities are doing away with parking requirements near transit, here we are applying them to one of the most transit-rich locations in North America.

  • HamTech87

    Well said. I can’t think of a form of mass transit that this neighborhood doesn’t have? Buses, check. Subway, check. Commuter rail, check. The only things missing are trolleys (non-existent) and an Amtrak station, but you’d only get that in Europe right now.

  • J

    I don’t understand the logic of opposing Residential Parking Permits. Who is opposing this and why?

  • red_greenlight1

    People who realize we’re living in a city with, despite it’s many problems, a great mass transit system that is also very bikeable.

  • BBnet3000

    I think you have it backwards. That would be a reason to make people pay to park on the street.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, if people can compete for existing parking, there needs to be some provision for transportation. Of course I’d favor a substitution with rental car/shared car space and bike parking.

    And a lot less of it. What this shows is that while politicians are slow to learn, the market moves faster. No Yankee Stadium parking bailout. Let the lesson sink in.

    Remember what I told you a few years ago, when we were debating all the parking on 4th Avenue in Park Slope. Streetsblog blamed zoning. I was able to show that the developers in fact wanted more parking, and thought they needed it, because there were well known ruses to avoid it, as the Hasids have done.

    I was right then. But maybe not now. The developers and the their lenders might have changed their minds. THAT’s BIG, AND A GOOD THING!!!

  • normanoder

    You think arena-goers and existing residents should be on equal footing in competition for on-street parking?

    Or that the environmental review is not disingenuous?

  • vintagejames

    Less parking generates more traffic. People drive around looking for a parking spot. That has always been true.

  • qrt145

    More parking generates more traffic because people buy cars and use them knowing that they will have a place to store them.

  • Bolwerk

    You and @qrt145:disqus are both partly right, though qrt is more right.

    The solution, if you insist on parking, is to price parking spots at a level where a certain percentage of them are always available. That encourages more circulation of cars, and discourages using the curb for free/super-cheap public storage of your personal property.

  • Bolwerk

    Or, well, Newark (LRT, buses, PATH, Amtrak, Commuter Rail, one stop from monorail, which brings you to airport). No need to go to Europe.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I would say that Bolwerk is partly right.

    If you have the right pricing for on-street parking, that will eliminate people circling and looking for a parking space, as Donald Shoup has shown and as Bolwerk says. Vintagejames is wrong to say that less parking inevitably generates people driving around looking for a spot.

    But even with Shoupian pricing, the number of cars that come will still be determined by the amount of parking provided. Build more parking, and you will have lower prices that attract more parkers. Build less parking, and you will have higher prices that squeeze out parkers. That is the way the law of supply and demand works for any commodity, including parking.

  • Bolwerk

    We’re not talking about the kind of situation where the law of supply and demand sets prices, a competitive market. In this case, a monopoly entity (the city) decides the price, without regard to a demand/supply equilibrium. The competitive price would be inefficient anyway because the supply would be exhausted, and we’d be in the same boat we’re in now.

    Even if you expand the scenario to include on-street and off-street parking, at best there is a monopolistic competition or something approaching it. And the (private) off-street parking would effectively be subject to a price floor that still may well be above the off-street price (or not, I have no idea)!

  • Who are you responding to? Can you be more specific about which part of this post, or which comment, you’re challenging?

  • normanoder

    I’m responding to this Streetsblog post, which could be more nuanced.

    As I’m sure you noticed in my coverage, I share your general analysis about the relationship of parking spaces and cars, and the folly of providing copious parking in an area where there is considerable public transit.

    That said, the formula of less parking = less driving should be examined in practice. Yes, fewer people drive than expected to the Barclays Center. Even fewer want to pay for parking. The experience of the Barclays Center is that a significant number of arena-goers still seek (and get, especially if they go early) free on-street parking (and a lot of limos/black cars idle on nearby streets).

    Adding a lot more people–plus Long Island-based hockey fans, completely unmentioned in the environmental review–will increase competition for the limited amount of on-street parking.

    Maybe existing residents have a good deal (like others in the city) and should recognize the cost of free parking.

    But in other cities, like Chicago around Wrigley Field, acknowledge that a residential neighborhood with a sports facility is a complex organism. Residential permit parking suggests that maybe visiting sports fans should pay for the privilege.

    Maybe residential permit parking isn’t the best/only solution in Prospect Heights. But the environmental review ignores it, as you note lower down in the post. It suggests that, because there is significant paid capacity, it will be used, though that’s not been the case. And it ignores the hockey team moving from Long Island.

  • Norman, your analysis is not more nuanced. It’s narrower and more confused.

    Everything else being equal, building more parking will result in more driving and traffic, period. Less off-street parking at Atlantic Yards is an unambiguously positive thing for traffic mitigation and the pedestrian experience on neighborhood streets.

    “The experience of the Barclays Center” is not in tension with this observation. You have people cruising for parking because they think they can get free spots, not because there’s “insufficient” parking for the stadium.

    You seem to get this, so I’m still not sure what you take issue with in this post — which, by the way, mentions the upside of an RPP program and calls out the car trip generation methodology in the EIS as “pseudoscience.”

    An RPP program would be nice, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of parking policy.

  • normanoder

    I never said build more parking. I’m saying find a way not to give a free parking subsidy to arena goers.

  • Andrew

    How about don’t give a free parking subsidy to anyone?

  • normanoder

    That’s a reasonable citywide policy, sure. In this case, you could always build parking into the cost of going to the arena. Instead, it’s a subsidy to them.

  • Well you don’t appear to acknowledge that building much less parking — an option that is now on the table in a very real way — is a vast improvement in this project’s traffic impacts and could be leveraged to achieve some of the affordability goals that advocates have been calling for.

    RPP is something that needs enabling legislation at the state level. Even if it was in a project EIS, that would be almost meaningless. There’s a huge victory, or at least a huge improvement over the status quo plan, within grasp here, and I wonder if Atlantic Yards watchdogs realize it.

  • normanoder

    Yeah, I know RPP needs enabling legislation. And that it’s been blocked by Sen. Marty Golden, who Forest City Ratner doesn’t want to alienate.

    I’ve written about parking policy since 2007 and pointed out the city standard is unwise.

    As I wrote in 2008, “Ironically enough, the Empire State Development Corporation, which will override several aspects of city zoning to facilitate the Atlantic Yards project, chose not to override the city’s parking policy.”
    http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2008/05/planyc-2030-and-need-for-parking-policy.html

    On a general policy level, I agree this is a big improvement regarding the *residential* aspect of the project. If this were only a residential project, we wouldn’t be disagreeing. But… sorry, it still needs a big asterisk. That’s what I get from walking around the project site and listening to residents at meetings.

  • petercow

    Uhh.. false.

  • Andrew

    Sorry, I don’t understand. With so many arena-goers arriving by transit, why would you force them to pay for parking (and encourage those who own cars to drive)?

  • normanoder

    I wasn’t encouraging driving… Yes, most people arrive by transit. Forcing them to pay for parking simply means not giving free parking to those arenagoers who already seek parking on the streets near the arena.

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