A Proposal for Incremental Parking Reform in NYC

There is more than 400 Image: 9x18 [PDF]
Surface parking consumes more than 467 acres of NYCHA property citywide. Map: 9×18 [PDF]
In most of New York City, zoning requirements compel new development to include a certain amount of parking. These mandates make housing more expensive while causing more traffic and pollution, but the Department of City Planning took only the most timid steps to reform them during the Bloomberg administration, and the de Blasio administration isn’t shaping up much differently. Now a small team of architects and urban designers has a strategy to make progress on parking reform, and while it’s not exactly bold, it may appeal to the conflict-averse DCP.

Spurred by Mayor de Blasio’s housing agenda, the Institute for Public Architecture kicked off an initiative on public housing in March, awarding fellowships to six architects and designers. Sagi Golan, an urban designer at the Department of City Planning (who received the fellowship as an individual and not a DCP employee) teamed up with architects Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich, who lead design firm Peterson Rich Office and wanted to study how the city can build affordable housing on under-used sites.

They began working together in June under the name “9×18,” referring to the average size of a parking spot. The team has already presented to a panel of critics, including top DCP staff, and hope to get the ear of other city agencies.

The de Blasio administration has not made parking reform a top priority, but it has promised to catalog city-owned properties that are ripe for development and singled out parking lots as one possibility. While leaders including City Council Member Margaret Chin support the concept, the politics of replacing parking with housing can get tricky. Last year, for example, the Bloomberg administration shelved its proposal to develop apartments on parking lots at public housing in Manhattan after residents objected.

The 9×18 team picked up where that plan left off by examining surface parking at NYCHA properties citywide.

There are more than 20.3 million square feet, or 467 acres, of surface parking at NYCHA properties across the city, according to the 9×18 team. “More often than not, the surface parking areas serve as a physical barrier between the NYCHA campuses and their surrounding communities,” the team wrote. This land could be put to better use by providing more affordable housing or much-needed community services.

For a case study in East Harlem, the 9×18 team proposes consolidating surface parking into a garage that could include space for bike-share and car-share; the structure would also include healthcare, educational and recreational facilities. Space that used to be devoted to surface parking would be opened up for infill development and a city street through the superblock.

Consolidating surface parking into a garage would open up land for infill development on East 108th Street at the Franklin Plaza apartments in East Harlem. Image: 9×18 [PDF]
Citywide, the high cost of parking construction is a big reason to reform minimum parking requirements, the report says: While building one square foot of residential space averages $400 in New York, parking can tack on as much as $275 per square foot, in addition to taking up valuable space. “The high cost of building parking spaces is passed on to residents, resulting in higher rents and fewer affordable housing units,” the authors write.

But they don’t recommend eliminating parking mandates. “There is a political question about elimination of parking requirements,” Golan said. “There is a recognized need for parking. People still feel like they need those parking spaces.”

Instead, 9×18 proposes chipping away at parking mandates through fine-tuning.

Under current zoning rules, denser areas generally lower parking requirements for each unit than less-dense zones. But the existing rules aren’t very precise. The 9×18 team recommends setting parking requirements for each zone not just by the number of units, but the unit’s size, cost, and proximity to transit. For example, a studio wouldn’t be required to have as many parking spaces as a 3-bedroom apartment, and a low-income apartment wouldn’t have to provide as much parking as a luxury condo. Similarly, a unit above the subway wouldn’t be required to have as many spaces as one far from the train.

This is not a huge departure from DCP’s current approach to parking reform — both 9×18 and DCP place the city as the arbiter of demand, calculating parking requirements based on models. But 9×18 would go farther than DCP has been willing to go. The 9×18 report recommends that no parking should be required for the densest areas near transit, for example. DCP has only suggested reducing parking requirements near transit.

City government should get out of the business of estimating parking demand. But if DCP is going to stick with that pseudoscience, the 9×18 model is a better way to do it.

This post has been updated with the correct number of fellowships awarded by the Institute for Public Architecture.

  • BBnet3000

    Adding parking was done abruptly and en masse. Reducing parking will be done by “chipping away”. See you in a half century I guess?

  • scastro87

    Golan said. “There is a recognized need for parking. People still feel like they need those parking spaces.”

    Stupid people enjoying cars and needing to park them places.

  • Jeff

    That’s a little rude. They’re just misguided if anything.

  • Andres Dee

    Here it comes…1, 2, 3: “Some elderly or disabled person will die because they won’t be able to drive themselves to their doctor.” (/sarcasm)

  • Kevin Love

    I agree. Many of them just don’t know any better. Once upon a time people felt like they “needed” to use things like asbestos or tobacco. We did not know just how harmful they are. Now we do.

    Same with cars. Once upon a time we did not know that motor vehicle operators poison and kill 1,421 people in New York City every year. Now we do.

  • Kevin Love

    Those who are most concerned about the elderly should reflect upon the fact that children and the elderly are most vulnerable to being poisoned and killed by motor vehicle drivers. In particular, the fine particles in these lethal poisons are especially deadly to elderly people.

  • qjk

    My proposal: Let DSNY dispose of parked cars just like any other trash on public streets. And fine the owners for littering.

  • BBnet3000

    The sniff test for me is “are they actually asking for handicapped spaces or are they using that excuse to keep as many regular private car storage spaces around as possible?”

    I think 99% of the time the elderly/mobility impaired are brought up its an excuse for an able bodied boomer to keep the parking spaces they think theyre entitled to.

  • This is a highly intelligent and well thought out proposal. But as with anything like this, the big question is, “will anything actually be done?” I hope so, but I suspect not.

  • AnoNYC

    NYCHA parking lots are the perfect place to start.

    Imagine how new mixed use development could reintegrate these otherwise geographically segregated housing developments into the surrounding neighborhoods. New amenities and jobs too.

  • tbatts666

    Wish we could find some strong leadership on this issue. The rest of the US looks to cities like NYC for guidance.

    A small percentage of the people in NYC actually own cars. Parking minimums hurt everyone. If any city can do it, New York can.

    With Ed Lee in San Fran being totally archaic about parking, there is an incredible opportunity for political leadership with a vision on parking reform. Go NYC go!

  • chekpeds

    Brilliant proposal because it is nuanced, customized and rational.
    let’s remember that many NYSHA sites are in remote locations with no transit to speak of except a bus that may or may not be 45 minutes late.
    So yes, they need their cars unless the program is combined with the establishment of a reliable and frequent shuttle service that takes residents to subway stations. This with Zipcar would be a tangible benefit that lower cost of living.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Cynic that I am, or realist, I’ll pass on the thought that many parking spots in the projects are assigned to residents who actually don’t use a car.

    They then “sublet” the space at a considerable mark-up, to drivers who don’t necessarily live in the housing. Then the residents use the free money for things they want.

    So expect a large turnout of little old ladies opposing NYCHA parking reforms. Any change is likely to slash their disposable income.

  • scastro87

    Isn’t car ownership on the rise in NYC? 46% isn’t that small either.

  • scastro87

    Amazing. My original comment was completely sarcastic, but here we are.

  • lop

    46% of households sounds about right. But city wide numbers don’t matter much. There are areas where everyone has a car because transit is poor, those areas will have parking whether or not you require it. Some areas are near enough to good transit that you wouldn’t have as many parking spots if you didn’t require them. This isn’t about banning parking and forcing people to walk or bike or take transit. It’s about not forcing them to pay for parking.

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