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Department of City Planning

DCP Plan: Weaken Parking Policies With End Run Around Clean Air Act

12:29 PM EDT on October 27, 2011

The Department of City Planning continues to send confusing signals about parking policy. Is the department looking to strengthen parking policies that limit traffic, or does it want to water down the rules already in place?

While DCP is developing a solid package of reforms for parking regulations in the Manhattan core right now, it is simultaneously preparing to open the door to the evisceration of parking maximums. DCP wants to sever the connection between existing parking maximums and the federal Clean Air Act, which is the ultimate guarantee that the parking rules will remain in place and be upheld.

Right now, parking maximums in Manhattan are backed up by the force of the Clean Air Act. Parking controls are not only part of the city's zoning code, but also part of New York's State Implementation Plan (SIP), which documents how the state complies with federal air quality standards.

Linking parking maximums to the SIP gives them teeth. Recently, when the city wanted to scrap parking maximums on the West Side as part of plans for the Hudson Yards development, neighborhood activists were able to take the city to court under the Clean Air Act. The city was forced to settle and enact a hard cap on the amount of parking at Hudson Yards, an important first for New York City.

Had parking maximums not been part of the SIP, eliminating them at Hudson Yards would have been a routine zoning change. In fact, while attempting to push through its parking plans for the West Side, the city tried to remove parking controls from the SIP in 2007. The state Department of Environmental Conservation did not go along with the city's plans, however.

In a meeting earlier this year with parking reform advocates, DCP staff announced that they are again going to ask for parking caps to be removed from the SIP. Sandy Hornick, a long-time DCP official now serving as a consultant for strategic planning to the department, said that the department would make that request once the proposed Manhattan parking reforms are enacted, reported Christine Berthet, the co-chair of Community Board 4's transportation committee, who attended that meeting.

Berthet said she believes that DCP's actions don't add up. "If all the efforts they are doing intend to reduce parking and reduce traffic, then why do they need to touch the State Implementation Plan?" she asked. She hypothesized that DCP might be seeking to inoculate itself from lawsuits the next time the agency tries to weaken Manhattan's parking maximums.

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