DC’s Scaled-Back Parking Reforms Still Way More Ambitious Than NYC’s

For five years, Washington, DC, has been preparing a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning code — including the elimination of parking minimums in areas well-served by bus or rail. Under pressure from opponents afraid it would make it harder for them to find on-street parking, DC planning chief Harriet Tregoning announced on Friday that the city will scale back its parking reforms. Now, parking mandates will be eliminated only in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, and halved along transit-accessible corridors.

Parking requirements make it very common for new buildings in NYC to devote prime ground floor space to car storage. Photo: ##http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6173##Travis Eby/Architect's Newspaper##

The news is undeniably a setback for parking reform in DC, prompting local urbanists to question whether giving ground on parking minimums is a good strategy, and if it might have been better to aim higher from the beginning.

From New York, though, the perspective is different. Even the scaled-back version of DC’s parking reforms seems like an ambitious, large-scale proposal compared to the timid changes coming from the Department of City Planning under Amanda Burden.

New York’s only significant reform of parking minimums under Burden and Mayor Bloomberg was to halve the requirements in Downtown Brooklyn, one of the nation’s most transit-accessible business districts. A few years ago there was some buzz about reducing parking requirements for “inner ring” neighborhoods — which would have been roughly equivalent to what’s on the table in DC now — but that ultimately went nowhere. Parking mandates remain in effect almost everywhere in the city aside from Manhattan south of 110th Street.

To implement a New York version of what’s currently on the table in DC, the city would eliminate parking minimums in downtown Brooklyn and cut them in half near subway stations and major bus routes throughout the city. But despite New York’s far more extensive transit system, the Bloomberg administration has by and large refused to touch the rules that require developers to build new parking — a system that makes traffic worse and drives up the cost of housing for everyone. Instead, the administration uses the guarantee of new parking to assuage residents worried about the impact of new development.

At a public meeting last month about converting the Sheridan Expressway to a surface street, one resident was worried that the plan, which would open up new land for development, would reduce the amount of available parking and lead to a parking crunch. “There are requirements under the zoning resolution as to how much parking is required,” replied Ted Weinstein, director of Bronx planning at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The resident had his question answered, and didn’t raise the issue again.

What if Bloomberg’s sustainability plan, PlaNYC 2030, had included the elimination of parking minimums near transit, like DC originally proposed? Maybe that would have been weakened by politics, the same as in DC. But scaled-back reforms are better than no reforms.

  • JK

    “Progress in Paint, Mistakes in Stone.” The Bloomberg transportation legacy and the high cost of trading more density for more parking… A book waiting to be written.

  • Andrew

    There is absolutely no plausible justification for mandated parking minimums within a half-mile walk of a subway station.

  • Steven A. Levine

    And now Bloomberg wants to create 700 parking spots underneath a park in downtown Brooklyn, Talk about a step backward!

  • Joe R.

    I’m fine with this so long as the city doesn’t bail out the bond holders if this venture fails. You would think by now we would realize that building expensive parking garages is generally a money-losing proposition in NYC. I can’t believe this project will get enough investors to even break ground. I personally wouldn’t invest a dollar in this because I’d have a 99% chance of losing all my money.

  • Bronxite

    Should be a .5 mile low parking maximum surrounding rapid transit stations citywide. No minimums.

  • Bronxite

    I agree. Should be a .5 mile area surrounding all rapid transit stations with a low parking maximum. No minimums citywide with the exception of certain areas beyond 1 mile of rapid transit and Staten Island.

  • Daniel Winks

    From what I’ve seen, parking garages aren’t a money-loser so much as a VERY long term investment. From what I’ve seen, most take 30-50 YEARS to start paying a profit. That’s such a long time that pretty much any investment would be better than putting money into garages. Mostly, I think investors feel that unless they put in enough parking, the other things that do make money nearby will fail, so they build parking. Personally, I’ve seen PLENTY of instances where people just somehow get to a popular destination whether there’s parking or not, in my almost entirely transit lacking city to know that if people want to go somewhere, they’ll find a way to get there, parking or not.

  • Kevin Love

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…

    In Toronto there are at least two major car-free condominium projects underway. And the government considers the supply and price of car parking as something to be left entirely to the private market. When asked the exact same question as Ted Weinstein was asked, politicians say things like: “We believe in free enterprise capitalism. A free market is the way to go, not government interference and subsidies with the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars.”

    And the market does work. Take a look here at what car parking costs when the government does not interfere with the market:


  • Bolwerk

    No minimums ever, and tax it.


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