If DCP Won’t Scrap Downtown BK Minimums, Is Broader Parking Reform Dead?

Thirteen subway lines pass through the Downtown Brooklyn area, shaded in peach. If DCP won't eliminate parking minimums here, what are the prospects for reform elsewhere? Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/dwn_bk_ped_park/presentation.shtml##DCP##

The proposed reduction of parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn, though seriously insufficient, is good news for housing affordability and environmental sustainability in New York City. But it’s terrible news for those hoping to see broader reforms of New York City’s parking requirements. If the Department of City Planning felt so politically constrained that it could only halve parking requirements for market-rate units in Downtown Brooklyn, it’s hard to see any meaningful change happening in the rest of the city — unless residents and activists get serious about advocating for real parking reform.

As Streetsblog reported yesterday, the Department of City Planning considered eliminating parking requirements entirely in Downtown Brooklyn, but opted against it for a single reason: undefined “community input.” By DCP’s own admission, under the new proposal many large Downtown Brooklyn developments would still be required to build more parking than they want or need. Parking minimums would be eliminated entirely for affordable housing.

That disappointing outcome took place among what will surely be the most favorable conditions for parking reform in the city. Thirteen subway lines stop in Downtown Brooklyn, more than even exist in any other American city. The powerful local business community has been pushing for a reduction or elimination of the minimums for years, and the local City Council member, Steve Levin, had expressed support for such a move. Significantly fewer Downtown Brooklyn residents own cars than in the surrounding community district, much less the borough or city as a whole.

If given all those advantages DCP was only willing to cut parking minimums in half, what could they possibly propose for neighborhoods like Harlem, Williamsburg, or Long Island City, much less the broad swath of neighborhoods being studied in the department’s “inner ring” parking study?

There’s still a chance to show the Department of City Planning that it can think bigger, though, in Downtown Brooklyn and elsewhere. Community Board 2, Borough President Marty Markowitz and the City Council all must weigh in on the proposal, and public hearings will be held by the community board, council, and City Planning Commission. These venues offer an opportunity to show that the preponderance of “community input” is pushing for the elimination of parking minimums, not their retention.

More fundamentally, though, City Planning Director Amanda Burden and her bosses, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel and Mayor Bloomberg, need to show a little spine in the face of motorist demands for more parking. This administration, not one generally known for its timidity, is falling far behind its peers on parking policy. Across the country, cities are eliminating or reducing parking minimums citywide.

Washington D.C.’s rezoning would entirely eliminate parking minimums for all but the very least transit-accessible neighborhoods. D.C. planning director Harriet Tregoning has explicitly urged New York City to follow the lead of the nation’s capital.

Elsewhere on the Northeast Corridor, Boston is flipping neighborhoods from having parking minimums to parking maximums as it rezones each one, and urging individual developers to convert entire floors of parking to housing. Philadelphia’s new comprehensive rezoning includes a number of new zones without parking minimums, including rowhouse districts, and lowers minimums in transit-oriented development overlay zones.

Buffalo may be facing very different economic challenges than New York City, but it’s still the second-largest city in the state. Under Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed rezoning of the city, parking minimums would be scrapped citywide, “instead allowing the market to respond to changing lifestyle preferences and a range of transportation choices,” [PDF].

In San Francisco, new neighborhoods are exempted from parking minimums every year. “A broad swath of the city, reaching from Downtown into SoMa, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, Mission Bay, Tenderloin, Hayes Valley, Duboce Triangle, and parts of the Mission and Potero Hill, has no minimum parking requirements,” according to local advocacy group Livable City. There are also no parking minimums for housing dedicated for seniors, people with disabilities, or low-income residents.

Another common approach, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, is to zero out parking minimums near transit lines. Portland doesn’t require any parking for projects within 500 feet of any transit line, including buses, with 20 minute peak hour service. For comparison’s sake, click here for a map of Brooklyn bus routes with ten-minute off-peak service and see how much of the borough would be covered under this standard. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has proposed eliminating parking minimums within a quarter-mile of frequent transit, though the Seattle City Council may walk that back to allowing a 50 percent reduction in parking minimums near transit.

In this context, merely lowering Downtown Brooklyn parking minimums and leaving the rest of the city more or less untouched just doesn’t pass muster. Downtown Brooklyn must be the starting point for widespread parking reform. Based on the political fearfulness on display, though, it looks as if it might instead be the end.

  • Bronx Parking Garage Redux

    Virtually every major player in Downtown Brooklyn is on record opposing parking minimums. So, what constituency is Amanda Burden listening to here? It makes no sense at all that they would be so timid in simply eliminating parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn. There is plenty of existing parking and the market will still build parking where the market wants it. There is simply no need to mandate parking. Who is the big, powerful player that demands parking minimums? Is it Amanda Burden and DCP that demands parking minimums? If not, who?

  • J

    With this much support, why is there such fear of even trying to eliminate some parking minimums? Something doesn’t make sense here.

  • Miles Bader

    @97a1099f10dac5e9069bd22e4fbb576a:disqus It is an interesting question (“this doesn’t make sense… what’s the hidden variable?”)

    Sometimes it’s behind the scenes lobbying, but sometimes it’s just that the people in positions of power are old and hidebound in their thinking… people whose formative years were in the 1950s/1960s and are still dreaming that era’s fever dreams of a wonderous automobile-centric future…

  • Miles Bader

    […continuing… argh no edit function!]

    Which of course is why accountability and transparency are so important in government…

  • Eric McClure

    @Bronx Parking Garage Redux, “community input” can only mean Judy Stanton and the Brooklyn Heights Association old guard.

  • fj

    With accelerating climate change it is crucial that the city provides clear vision of limiting destructive car use in this city with broad rapid deployment of the 20-mph speed limit, completely safe routes to schools, for seniors, to work over major vias.

  • fj

    Net zero transportation is a very important part of dealing with accelerating climate change and just as climate change pragmatism has proven to be a major failed policy transportation pragmatism fails as well.

  • AliciaH

    Downtown Nashville abolished parking minimum requirements. It is absurd for Brooklyn to be behind Nashville on this!

  • fj

    Global civilization heading for the precipice, is limping along based on legacy transportation, energy, and economic systems and it is long overdue that places like New York City face the future head on to design, develop, and deploy methods and apparatus battling the rapidly emerging crises.  It is doing much already but the level of urgent action must be more acute.
    Solar, micro-grids, net zero mobility, health care, poor people first, and much more must become front-and-center priorities funded by suitable financial instruments similar to the sort that secures this city’s water supply to comprehensively secure its future and planetary home.

  • Carty Carkowitz

    Eric: The sad thing is that the Brooklyn Hts Association used to be pretty progressive on Livable Streets issues. In the ’90s the BHA was instrumental in making the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project move forward. In the last five years, however, that organization has become a real disaster on Livable Streets. It seems like all they care about is maximizing and protecting on-street parking. You are probably right in that they are one of the constituencies pushing to retain parking minimums. The BHA is probably afraid that if Downtown Brooklyn doesn’t have parking minimums, then Downtown Brooklyn drivers will park their cars on Brooklyn Hts streets. Of course, in reality, by maximizing Downtown Brooklyn’s parking, we will end up seeing more cars and traffic in Brooklyn Heights too. But the BHA probably doesn’t get that.

  • Danny G

    Is there an argument for keeping off-street parking minimums if the city intends to phase out long-term on-street parking?

  • Miles Bader

    @36056f95783f8cfb512e9d49d4187ce6:disqus  No.  If there’s demand for parking, developers will generally provide it (and likely charge for it).  “Free long term parking” is not some sort of basic right.


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