De Blasio Housing Plan Meekly Suggests Parking Reform

Parking policy is one area where the de Blasio housing plan doesn’t go all out to achieve greater affordability. Photo: Office of the Mayor

There’s a deep connection between parking policy and housing affordability. The more space New York devotes to car storage, the less space is available to house people. And yet, 50 year old laws mandating the construction of parking in new residential development persist in most of the city, driving up construction costs and hampering the supply of housing.

The housing plan released by the de Blasio administration Tuesday could have announced one simple but major step to align parking policy with the city’s affordability goals: the end of parking minimums. Instead, the plan is strangely passive about parking reform, even though it plainly states that parking mandates contribute to the high cost of housing in the city.

Aiming to add 80,000 subsidized units and 100,000 market rate units to the city’s housing supply in 10 years, de Blasio has laid out more ambitious housing targets than Michael Bloomberg did before him — though not by much. An across-the-board elimination of parking mandates is the kind of measure you’d want to see from an administration that has basically pledged to use every lever at its disposal to keep rent increases in check. It would lower the cost of construction, and it could be used as a tool to extract more subsidized housing units from developers when they build new projects.

But the plan released Tuesday only says City Hall will “re-examine parking requirements.” And the specific parking minimums the plan puts in play won’t touch all development.

The good news is that the plan calls for housing development to be coordinated with transit and street safety improvements, and it does put parking reforms on the table in three respects. It proposes lower parking mandates in subsidized housing near transit, in commercial development that can also support housing, and in housing for seniors.

Of these three, the relaxation of parking mandates for commercial development looks like the biggest step forward. It not only would make it easier to build mixed-use projects, but it would also lead those projects to become more walkable and less car-oriented. A parking space attached to a store can generate several car trips per day — much of that traffic won’t materialize if this reform is enacted.

The other reforms are pretty much in line with where the Department of City Planning was already headed. At the end of the Bloomberg administration, DCP was sending signals that it would loosen parking requirements for affordable housing near transit. Lower parking requirements for senior housing is a new proposal, but based on the same logic as lower mandates for subsidized units — people can plainly see that mandatory parking “often goes unused by senior housing residents.”

What makes the housing plan such a letdown in terms of parking reform is that it sticks with the basic assumption that planners should guess how much parking people will use, then dictate how much developers should be required to build. Hence, even for affordable housing and senior housing, it calls for parking requirements to be reduced but not eliminated. And nowhere does the document explicitly say that parking requirements should be cut across the board for market-rate housing, even though parking mandates raise costs for all types of construction.

A real affordable housing “moon shot,” as the Times put it, would have recognized that parking mandates are a drag on all housing. The best you can say about the de Blasio plan is that it doesn’t rule out the possibility of eliminating parking minimums. To make that happen, though, it looks like advocates will have to press the administration to think a lot more boldly about parking reform.

  • J

    Keep at it Streetsblog! Parking reform is something that is a long time coming. The city has been “studying” parking reform for years now. It’s high time they actually did something about it.

  • BBnet3000

    We are so far behind cities with much less well utilized transit systems in parking reform. Its ridiculous.

  • Jeff

    Reductions in parking minimums are great for reducing auto trips and the amount of wasted space, but they need to be eliminated entirely in order to save our neighborhoods from parking’s effects on the streetscape (e.g. curb cuts) and architecture (incorporating parking often leads to long, blank, uninviting walls, and, of course, garage entrances). Both a 50 car garage and a 100 car garage require a curb cut, an entrance, and probably less imaginative, human-scale architecture than a non-existent garage.

  • Me

    Reducing/eliminating parking minimums for low income/senior housing makes a lot of sense. Reducing/ eliminating it for other types, though, does not– yet.

    Such a plan would put incredible stress on an already burdened public transit system. Every trip a person drives is one less trip he or she takes on the bus or subway. Make it difficult for a person to own a car in the city and that person will take many more trips on the bus or subway. I love transit, but the system is already stressed. Like the proposed east side rezoning, any blanket reduction in parking minimums should be preceded by an expansion of the city’s public transit infrastructure.

  • HamTech87

    Nice piece. Our local commercial areas are also suffering, as So much residential parking drives the ability to go long distances to big box stores surrounded by huge parking lots.

    It is like developers are trying to re-create the “Bat Cave” from the old Batman series. Batman never used the front door, or walked to the corner store. H drive straight out of the garage and high speed with everything a blur from his “bubble seat.”

    And that store could have used the buying power of a millionaire bachelor.

    🙂

  • Alex

    The answer to crowded trains is to encourage more people drive? That’s insane. This is the opposite of the philosophy we need. Building parking increases housing prices, leaves long-term infrastructure in place to accommodate cars, and creates less safe conditions for walking and biking which are two MUCH better ways both in terms of efficiency and pollution to ease train crowding. Not to mention that auto traffic slows buses. And it’s not like the road system isn’t stressed. I’d argue it’s much more stressed considering the traffic jams.

  • Reader

    Not to mention that many of the new developments with massive parking garages are being built in transit-rich neighborhoods, such as downtown Brooklyn. So the result is you have a lot of people with cars who don’t use them except for discretionary trips or on weekends who still fill the subways Monday through Friday to get to the CBD. The system is stressed no matter how you slice it.

  • Joe R.

    The system still has a lot of excess capacity during off-peak hours. Also, NYC can and should give employers incentives to encourage both telecommuting and flexible hours. Both things would decrease the peak hour crush, allowing the system to accommodate former motorists even during the busiest times.

  • Bolwerk

    Behl, dubious at best. To begin, the transit system is not that overburdened. It’s mainly just neglected.

    The number of peak car trips that are replaceable by transit is probably a rounding error on the present ridership anyway. The number that would be replaced is even smaller. Yes, there are a few subway lines that maybe hit the upper limit of their capacity according to one of the metrics we need to worry about (e.g., available train/bus slots on a given track/line, equipment available, standing room).

    Finally, most of the day has plenty of spare capacity. NYCTA has bus drivers who spend much of their days hanging out in depots because there is nothing to do until the evening (split shifts). Similarly, trains usually have seating during these times. Realistically, the car trips that can be replaced by transit are probably the off-peak ones.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I’ve shown, in the past developers WANTED the parking and skipped chances to waive it.

    The market may be shifting, however. Politics shifts more slowly.

  • Alex

    And if more people are using the buses and trains at off-peak times, that bolsters the case for better, more frequent service at those times.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, there are buildings in Manhattan where technically you can go right from your apartment to your car, just like Batman driving out of the Bat Cave:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/automobiles/even-on-the-11th-floor-theres-parking-right-out-front.html?_r=0

  • Me

    All good points, and perhaps I’m wrong. But if the city did broadly reduce/eliminate parking minimums, I still think it could only be done in Manhattan.

    Travelers have to be accommodated. Getting from any Point A to any Point B has to be easy. Where transit options are limited, space has to be made for cars. Traveling North-South in Brooklyn and Queens without a car, for instance, is already a pain. Reducing parking would put North-South travelers in a Boston like situation. I can attest, in Boston you can drive and drive and drive and drive and not find a spot to park.

  • ohnonononono

    No. We should be advocating for more ridership. Other than the 4/5/6 and a couple other lines during the “peak of the peak” rush hours, the system’s not full.

  • lop

    In Manhattan there is a limit to how many parking spots you can build. The rest of the city there is a minimum that you have to build at the least. If you eliminated parking requirements you wouldn’t see much change in many places. If you would need a car to get around, they’d build a spot for you. Otherwise why would you move there? Developments often have more parking than is required as is.

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t know how this myth persists so strongly, but it does. Taking away lanes and parking space has been shown time and again to reduce the number of car trips.

    Thank about it: to make cars work, people had to adjust from more efficient modes of transportation (subways, els, and streetcars) to cars. They are just as capable as moving back to the more efficient modes, as long as those modes are nurtured.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe one reason north-south travel in Brooklyn and Queens via public transit is such a pain is because far too many people decided to drive over the years, and infrastructure was built which accommodated this (including parking minimums). At the same time, lack of demand meant little public transit was implemented. If fewer people drove, demand would increase for decent north-south public transit. The MTA could quickly fill that gap with bus service in the short term. In the long term, it could bring several new north-south subway lines online.

  • Me

    In the long term, we are all dead.

  • pol

    ‘In the long term, it could bring several new north-south subway lines online.’

    You might get a couple lines to SE Brooklyn (Utica? Norstrand?) but they wouldn’t get too far north. Maybe the RBB in Queens if the structure is intact. Triboro X line if the city gives up on freight trains to get some trucks off the street. Other than that prospects are slim for anything resembling a cross town line to open in the next fifty years don’t you think?

  • Joe R.

    Honestly, I doubt the subway will even exist in 50 years at present funding levels but I like to keep an optimistic outlook.

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