New York Falls Behind Big Northeast Cities on Parking Policy

The city of Philadelphia recently released a draft of its new comprehensive plan, Philadelphia2035 [PDF]. The plan’s release makes New York the last city in the four largest Northeastern metro areas that hasn’t so much as stated a commitment to cutting back on off-street parking.

Philadelphia2035 calls for controlling congestion by adding parking maximums into the zoning code and pricing on-street parking high enough so that 15 percent of spaces are always free. Here in New York, we still pretend that adding off-street parking reduces traffic congestion.

At the same time, Philadelphia is moving forward with a brand new zoning code. According to an article by PlanPhilly’s Nick Gilewitz, the new code will eliminate parking minimums downtown and in the city’s many rowhouse neighborhoods. While Gilewitz notes that parking minimums will still require significant amounts of new parking in some relatively dense neighborhoods, he concludes that the end to many parking minimums “is a huge step forward in recognizing that Philadelphia has incredible public transit resources that can, and perhaps should, shape development.”

New York’s other Northeastern competitors, too, are trying to halt the overproduction of off-street parking and the subsidization of on-street parking. Boston’s equivalent of PlaNYC, for example, calls for raising meter rates and eliminating most free on-street parking by putting a price on residential parking permits. It also calls for expanding the area where new off-street parking is banned and cracking down on exemptions to the ban where it’s already in place.

In practice, as the city rezones, Boston is switching parking minimums in many neighborhoods to parking maximums, according to the editor of CommonWealth Magazine [PDF]. When directly involved in the development of large projects, Boston is pushing developers to turn entire floors of parking into housing.

Washington, D.C., meanwhile, is working its way through a citywide rezoning. According to Greater Greater Washington, “parking minimums would disappear in most cases,” with only the least transit-served neighborhoods keeping them. The Office of Planning’s draft language [PDF] includes city-wide parking maximums to “prevent an over-supply of off-street parking that would contribute to traffic congestion and the inefficient use of land.”

D.C.’s draft language also allows the city to grant exemptions from any remaining parking requirements if it can be shown that parking demand will be below the minimum, if the developer creates a plan to reduce driving to work, or if a project is near transit.

While it follows that the city with the best transit system and lowest car-ownership rate in the country would lead on parking policy, New York is instead falling further behind.

  • Glenn

    One thing that has really made PlaNYC a lot less effective than it could have been was how much it relied on the state passing laws. The Mayor should focus his remaining years on items directly within the city’s control. Parking policy is a prime target. Re-prioritizing EDC efforts would also help a lot!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “At the same time, Philadelphia is moving forward with a brand new zoning code. According to an article by PlanPhilly’s Nick Gilewitz, the new code will eliminate parking minimums downtown and in the city’s many rowhouse neighborhoods.”

    I wouldn’t say NYC is falling behind! The parking minimums for commmercial were eliminated in the CBD in the 1970s I believe, and in fact there are maximums.

    Unlike NYC or Boston (but like Washington and Baltimore), most of Philadelphia’s housing stock consists of one-family rowhouses. In any rowhouse neighborhood with a B suffix, one-family homes have had no parking minimums since 1989, and in many such districts a minimum distance between curb cuts requirement makes parking illegal except on large sites.

  • The opening sentence mistakenly references the “four largest Northeastern cities” and then proceeds to discuss DC, but not Baltimore. Baltimore is larger than DC in terms of both population and land area (city proper), and using even the strictest definition of “northeast” that can be extrapolated by the inclusion of DC, Boston, Philly, and NYC, Baltimore is certainly included: It is on the Northeast Corridor (both I-95 and Amtrak), is north of the southernmost included city (DC), and certainly south of the northernmost (Boston).

    Baltimore’s progressive transportation policy can basically be described as “low-hanging fruit”: They recently went on a sharrow-painting rampage, and striped a bunch of useless bike lanes to nowhere on a handful of light-trafficked, excessively-wide side streets. Progress has also been made on some more symbolic legislation, such as a “cyclists bill of rights”, and more tangibly, a three-foot passing law. On the transit front, they recently introduced a free, three-line “Charm City Circulator” bus system in the urban core, and are planning a new East-West light rail line (“The Red Line”). Given the density and poverty, the underdeveloped and underfunded bus system plays a critical role in a large swath of citizens’ lives. Free on-street automobile storage remains a basic human right. In general, zero concessions have been made by motorists for the 36% of Baltimoreans who do not live in a household with access to an automobile (it is also worth noting that this is a higher percentage than both Philly and Boston, two of the four cities worthy of your consideration).

    But this is all beside the point. To exclude Baltimore from a discussion of the “largest Northeastern cities” comes off as a bit ignorant, maybe even snobby.

  • Delaney

    It’s nice to know that Philly gets credit for doing 25 years from now what New York did 30 years ago. Yep, we’re behind!

  • Ethan

    This post is quite misleading. The NYC zoning resolution has, since 1995, had substantial parking restrictions for development in Manhattan below 96th Street. Granted, the city still retains certain minimum parking requirements outside of Manhattan (which I believe to be inappropriate), but give credit where it is due.

  • Noah Kazis

    Jeff: You’re totally right. I really meant to say the major city in the four largest metro areas.

  • In addition to Larry and Ethan’s points about New York’s long-abolished CBD parking minimums, Market Urbanism tends to come down pretty harshly on various Philadelphia-area zoning codes – for example, mandating accessibility in apartment buildings but not single-family detached houses. So I wouldn’t say Philadelphia is ahead of New York there.

  • bh

    Anyone with knowledge of development in NY knows that the vast majority of new projects in Manhattan over the past 20 years have not had any parking spaces.
    Further, many garages and lots have been removed from inventory as they became sites for the new buildings.

    This whole argument (if you don’t build it they won’t come has been researched and debunked years ago.

    But here it is again.

    Just another headline grabber.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Perhaps a better title to this post is that other cities are gaining ground on New York City, which is failing to move ahead fast enough to keep its lead.

  • Dave

    Shouldn’t “Parking Policy” also include the management of on-street parking? In that case NYC is DEAD LAST with no permit parking program unlike every other northeast metropolitan area including both DC and Baltimore, Boston, Philly and even New Brunswick.

    Complete idiocy and a sue fire way to raise money for transit (like tolling all bridges, two-way tolls at all crossings, etc) that no one on this blog seems to care about. Why?

    In addition to raising fees from the permits themselves, by limiting permits to those who pay NYC taxes and register their cars in NY you’d also increase tax revenue. Easy.

    Instead we have Christine Quinn trying to make it EASIER to park on the streets by limiting street cleaning (a horrible idea IMHO).

    I just don’t get it. Flame away.

  • Tsuyoshi

    On-street parking is really primitive in New York. There are no spaces reserved for commercial loading (so delivery trucks usually just double park), there are tons of unmetered spaces (which are always full, so you know they’re underpriced), and like Dave said, no neighborhood permits. Eliminating the parking minimums is a great step, but otherwise…

  • Weren’t neighborhood permits banned by the courts as unconstitutional a few years back?

  • Delaney

    Yeah, neighborhood parking permits are
    1) not good parking policy
    2) not legal in NYC.

    Nice try, tho.

  • Delaney

    There are plenty of Commercial-Vehicle only zones throughought NYC

  • Anonymous

    Here in Buffalo, our new zoning code is proposing to get rid of parking requirements completely, city-wide. Granted, it hasn’t passed yet, but it has the buy-in of some important people, so it may just happen. We have something like 32% carless households, so the number of cars in the city and the parking requirements in the old zoning code aren’t that high to start with, but it would make a positive difference and make for better utilization of the city’s (relatively good compared to most cities, but terrible by NYC standards) transit system.

    My point is that Buffalo and other smaller upstate cities are often looked down upon by NYC. In terms of progressiveness, which is often deserved. But in this case, we’re pulling ahead, which tells you that NYC is in fact falling behind.


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