Will the Tide Turn on City Parking Policy?

A few weeks back Atlantic Yards Report posted a compendium of recent writings that point to the contradictions inherent in, and problems resulting from, parking requirements for urban development plans.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s much-praised PlaNYC 2030 contains a glaring omission, a failure to address the antiquated
anti-urban policy that mandates parking attached to new residential
developments outside Manhattan, even when such developments, like
Atlantic Yards, are justified precisely because they’re located near
transit hubs.

Transit-rich Manhattan isn’t exempt from such requirements either, as the city fights in court to turn Hell’s Kitchen parking maximums into minimums.

AYR cites a December New York Times op-ed,
written by planners Alex Garvin and Nick Peterson, as one indicator
that awareness of the parking paradox is entering the mainstream. And yesterday, Metro published a piece questioning the value of Community Benefits Agreements. Touted as a way to smooth possible tensions between neighborhoods and developers through a give-and-take planning process, some argue that CBAs are being abused by builders and the elected officials who support their projects.

This New York style of deal making worries California attorney Julian Gross. “The entire future of the community-benefits movement could be threatened by CBAs being sidetracked and taken over by developers and electeds who want to steer and channel the community participation,” he said. 

One result, in the case of Atlantic Yards and the new Yankee Stadium, is an influx of cars essentially legislated into neighborhoods that don’t want them, even as the city preaches the virtues of sustainable growth. From that perspective, the hiring of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and other planning dream-teamers can seem less a sign of hope than another symptom of the city’s schizophrenic approach to urban mobility — unless, whether due to publicity or change from within, a lot more stuff like this happens.

Photo: Photogrammaton/Flickr

  • Dave H.

    Excellent article. How do we get the City to wake up?

  • ddartley

    What’s the number one reason people don’t BIKE into the CBD (and evereywhere)? Nowhere to park. Why not apply the same thing to motorists?

    Couldn’t parking reform obviate the need for congestion pricing?

    Why doesn’t the sustainability crowd pursue one or the other, not both?

    I’ve almost been embarrassed to ask this before for fear I’ll look like I’m overlooking huge obvious things, but is there something I’m not getting? I’ve seen a few articles here saying that congestion and parking reform have to go hand in hand. But, really, is that true? Why not just make massive changes to parking, and not have the massive, massive study and fierce public debate over CP?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Couldn’t parking reform obviate the need for congestion pricing?)

    Since the early 1970s, all new parking facilities in Manhattan Community Districts 1-8 have been required to get special permits, and accessory parking in new buildings has been strictly limited. There is no minimum there, only a maximum.

    So in effect, the policy has been tried and failed, as double parking, on-street parking, crusing for street parking has taken the place of additional off-street parking. CP is a response to that failure.

    Having actually participated in work on the design of parking regulations for the NYC zoning resolution, I can assure you that in most mid-density zoning districts, as well, parking is voluntary. Buildings can be designed in segments to take advantage of waiver rules to avoid providing parking, if that is what the developer wants.

    If you go to the north side of Austin Street in Forest Hills, for example, you’ll see a butt-ugly commercial building with a series of elevators/stairs gracing the front facade. Why?

    Because each section of the building was counted as its own building, too small to require any parking under the waiver rule. And thus each one was required to have its own access. There are less ugly ways to do the same thing.

    One could make the case that accessory parking should be prohibited, and paid public parking encouraged, in mid-density areas. But it certainly isn’t required.

  • Josh

    “What’s the number one reason people don’t BIKE into the CBD (and evereywhere)? Nowhere to park.”

    I don’t believe that’s the case, at least not entirely. I think people also don’t bike into the CBD because it can be uncomfortable to bike in nice clothes if you’re going to work or going someplace fancy, and because biking can be unpleasant if it’s really cold or really hot, and because if they get sweaty they don’t have anyplace to shower once they get where they’re going, and because they feel unsafe biking when there are a lot of crazy drivers around, and… I mean, I can go on. A place to park is a concern, sure, but if you’re serious about people who aren’t hardcore bikers adopting cycling as a serious mode of transit, you have to consider the things that concern casual bikers.

    I’m not saying I disagree with your conclusion regarding auto parking, by the way, I just think your premise is something of an oversimplification.

  • ddartley

    Josh, the reasons you list are true for a lot of people, but at least one well-known study (conducted by T.A., I think) concluded that that a lack of safe parking WAS people’s most frequently cited reason for not commuting, if not bicycling in NYC.

    Of course I’m not hoping to see a time when a fear of THEFT is what dissuades motorists from driving into town. But I am wondering if some similar force might make CAR parking similarly difficult and, subsequently, reduce congestion. (And asthma, and cancer, and oh, you know, damage to children’s lungs, damage to unborn children’s chromosomes, the list kind of goes on and on.)

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    To me, more egregious than the Atlantic Yards parking plan is the Hudson Yards plan. Coming after Mayor Bloomberg’s metamorphosis into traffic calmer, the fact that they are still adding parking spots to the West Side location that they are simultaneously expanding transit accsess too, really raises the always high bar of NYC DOT and MTA competing against themselves and each other.

  • Josh

    Well ddartley, I certainly could be wrong since I haven’t seen that study. If so then I apologize for being uninformed.

  • ddartley

    Oh, no need for all that; I’ve just been reading this blog for so frighteningly long that I’ve started to assume everyone already knows about every T.A. study so that I don’t have to cite them when I paraphrase them.


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