NYC Housing Policy Too Important to Be Written By Free Parking Addicts

Earlier this week the Department of City Planning presented its housing affordability plan to the Queens Borough Board, where representatives of community boards throughout the borough kvetched about — you guessed it — parking.

One of the best things about DCP’s Housing New York plan is that it would bring an end to parking requirements for subsidized housing near subways. This would cut down on construction costs and free up resources to house people instead of cars. It’s not full-on reform of parking requirements, since market-rate residences would still be forced to come with a certain number of parking spots. This allows DCP to point out that very, very few people who live in subsidized housing near transit own cars anyway, which could conceivably help win over people who worry about competition for free on-street parking spots.

Naturally, community board types are still having none of it. They’re fixated on one thing, and it’s not housing affordability. What they want are guarantees that parking for free on the street will not become any more inconvenient, according to the scene painted by the Queens Chronicle:

“I’m a senior citizen. If you take away my car, you take away my life,” Community Board 6 Chairman Joseph Hennessy told DCP representatives Eric Kober and Laura Smith. “You’re thinking Manhattan. This is Queens.”

“This is Queens. We can’t get around here on public transportation, that’s why all us old guys have cars to go to the doctor or go somewhere,” [community board 5 chair Vincent] Arcuri said. “So when you’re saying that seniors don’t need cars or don’t have them… in Queens, it’s our lifeline.”

Okay, so these people aren’t convinced by the housing affordability argument, and they don’t believe or don’t care about the data that says a ton of parking in subsidized housing goes unused. How about an angle they can relate to: Parking requirements make life more miserable, not less, for existing car owners.

Guaranteed parking at home is an inducement to own a car and to drive. And it doesn’t even stop new car owners from competing with existing car owners for free curbside spaces. According to a recent DCP study, 43 percent of residents with access to off-street parking at home in New York’s “inner ring” — which includes the Middle Village district where Arcuri lives — park on the street anyway.

If their parking at home wasn’t guaranteed, some of these on-street parkers wouldn’t own cars in the first place — meaning less competition for on-street spaces. Among the new residents who would choose to own cars, fewer would drive to work in Manhattan — meaning less competition for traffic lanes.

Of course, if convenient, free on-street parking is the only thing you care about, the counterproposal isn’t to build housing without parking, it’s to build no housing at all. That’s clearly not an option in housing-starved NYC. We can’t let the logic of free parking addicts dictate the city’s housing policy.

  • JK

    These Queens curbside parkers must live in an upside down world in which the borough’s growth and prosperity means an ever worsening lifestyle. What we see as vitality, they see as a shrinking entitlement. The math doesn’t look good for them. Queens has grown by 370k people since 1990, yet the number of curbside spots has grown by zero.

  • Joe R.

    If much of Queens is ever to have more growth, plus more affordable housing, the minimum parking requirements have to go. For that matter, so does a lot of curbside parking. If we have growth without directly discouraging auto use, the end result will be already horrific traffic getting even worse. I’ve noted how much traffic has increased in my area just with some infill development. This can’t go on. Dinosaurs like Hennessy shouldn’t be on community boards deciding how the rest of us live. It’s even more frightening thinking about his comment on how cars are lifelines to senior citizens. Frankly the thought of someone like my 76 year old mother driving is frightening. Most of the seniors here should have turned in their licenses decades ago. They can’t drive safely. They’re a hazard to everyone else.

    It’s not the 1950s and cars aren’t the future. They’re the past. We tried to shoehorn cars into NYC. It didn’t work out all that well. If Hennessy really cared seniors he would be advocating for much more transit, building subways out here, installing bike lanes, decreasing parking, and banning cars from dense areas like downtown Flushing.

    I can’t store a couch on NYC streets. Why should someone be able to store a car? Or why should people who don’t own cars pay more in rent to subsidize parking garages in buildings for people who do?

  • Jesse

    I don’t love the idea that it’s senior citizens who are most inclined to feel that driving is an essential part of their lives. Senior citizens tend to be more vulnerable as pedestrians and more dangerous as drivers. It would really be in their own best interests if they could try to minimize the amount of miles they and their neighbors drove.

  • Boris

    DCP *chooses* to engage with these people. It doesn’t have to. There are other community groups out there, or DCP can target individual opinion directly through the media. The opinion of CBs on parking requirements is non-binding, anyway. What’s scandalous here is not that these dinosaurs exist on community boards, but that city agencies continuously empower them and give them air time.

    And if for some reason DCP is obligated to rewrite policy because of a few cranks, the job should instead be given to the EDC, which can bulldoze over anyone for the sake of economic development (and this is one of those rare cases where reducing parking requirements will actually bring positive economic development)

  • WalkingNPR

    Exactly–that was my first thought regarding that “If you take away my car…” quote. This guy realizes that day is coming regardless, right?

    Seniors, of all people, should be encouraging anything that makes their neighborhoods more walkable, because that’s going to prolong their independence more than anything (and there’s taxis or buses for doctor appointments). But no, they’re still stuck buying into the lie the auto companies have sold so well that cars = freedom and independence.

  • Alexander Vucelic


    this has to be one of your best posts ever plenty of bon mots !

  • Matthias

    Agreed, although I don’t find it rare or unusual that reducing parking requirements will bring positive economic development, since it dramatically reduces the cost of construction.

  • Matthias

    Well said. There is no reason to encourage newcomers to bring cars, and it’s not at all true that they will bring them regardless of parking supply.

  • Maggie

    Among the many startling images in the Times’ recent story on the death of George Bell (the Queens man who died, unidentified, in his apartment in 2014), for me: he went through all the hassle and expense of owning and street-parking a car that he needed on average, around 25 to 35 miles a month.

  • Tyson White

    Have these people ever heard of car service?

  • djx

    “Dinosaurs like Hennessy shouldn’t be on community boards deciding how the rest of us live.”

    For sure they alone shouldn’t be deciding about the rest of us, but there certainly should be a small amount of such people on community boards. Not able to veto/block things, and not with more power than the general proportion of people who share their views is society. But there with a small voice. It’s a bad thing to believe that no one with a contrary view to yours or an old-fashioned view should no be involved in public policy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What they want are guarantees that parking for free on the street will not become any more inconvenient.”

    For them.

    The solution is a permit with a fee to park overnight on the street, with everyone licensed and insured in an area on the date of enactment guaranteed a mere $10 per month for life, but newcomers forced to pay market rates.

    In an area where a parking shortage was discovered, no additional permits would be issued until others were turned in. Thus there would be no way residents of new buildings could compete for the on-street spaces.

    I’m ordinarily loath to allocate public resources to the already privileged, on the feudal basis is they’ve taken it. But in this case, I’m willing to go along with the entitled because if you really want to have a car, NYC is not where you should be moving anyway.

  • JamesR

    There are other community groups out there, but none are written into the city charter in the way that CBs are. The opinions rendered by CBs, while non-binding *technically*, are basically treated as binding by city agencies because of the blowback that comes from defying a CB resolution.

    EDC gets around the CB issue because they are not really a city agency, but rather a separate nonprofit that does business exclusively on behalf of the City of New York. The other agencies aren’t so fortunate.

  • Joe R.

    Practically speaking you’re right. A minority to voice concerns of people who legitimately might need cars makes sense. The fact community boards in NYC have a car-using majority is something which needs to end. It probably wouldn’t matter either way if the DCP or DOT didn’t take community boards seriously, but they do.

  • Eric McClure

    Yet EDC unfailingly builds absurdly excessive amounts of parking in all its projects.

  • Joe R.

    I have a friend like that. His old Sentra was destroyed by Sandy flooding the development’s parking lot. At that point he was actually mulling going car-free, which of course I strongly encouraged him to do since he didn’t use his old car all that much. He ended up buying a new car anyway, on the rationale that he had a parking spot for it. The wait list for parking spots at his development is about 5 years. He finally ended up with a spot maybe in 2008. I like to mention the fact he’s put fewer miles on his car since then than I’ve put on my bike. He even admits he really doesn’t need to own a car, but feels limited without one having had a vehicle since the early 1970s.

  • avlowe

    Surely you have same principle as UK road providers have no mandate or requirement to provide parking at all, just build roads solely for moving traffic – you want parking just deal with those who have the land available and see who’s offering it at the best price, bearing in mind that the value per sq m of using that area for residential or commercial property usually makes this a much more attractive investment.

    And the big protests – from seniors – who cannot see forward to the approaching moment when they will need to learn how to get around without driving a car, and through getting more folk using transit making this available with a wider choice and frequency so that when their doctor says no more driving, the change is painless and seamless.

  • KillMoto

    I wonder if this is a way to weaken the “parking proponents” of CB cranks:
    For every CB meeting, we get together & have our friends help park (our own, borrowed, rented, stolen or otherwise acquired) cars in every parking spot for blocks and blocks around the CB venue. Do this for EVERY meeting. The parking addicted will get so weary of circling the block for parking to go to the CB meeting, they’ll eventually quit.

  • Molly

    Not true. These parking changes are part of a citywide zoning text amendment that must go through public review so, for better or worse, DCP has to present to all 59 community boards.

  • I find it so offensive this position: “if you take my car you take my life”, given the vast number of people who don’t drive, and cannot drive. These people have no life? No, they just cannot understand not every other person in NYC (or even Queens) is the same as them.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I bought a 1997 Taurus for my daughter at school upstate a little more than a year ago. It had barely 23,000 miles on it.

    Much of that was probably back and forth across the street for alternate side, and back and forth to the mechanic who sold it to me.

  • JackDeeRipper

    “I can’t store a couch on NYC streets”. I love it! A car is just a weatherproof sofa on wheels.
    I’ve always held the view if you take the cost of insurance, registration, fuel, occasional tickets and repairs, put that money in a coffee can and whenever you need transportation, call car service or rent a car you pay for it with what’s in the coffee can. I believe you’ll have a surplus at the end of the year.

  • Andrew

    No, they’d probably just whine even more vehemently about parking. I do like the idea, though.

  • Boris

    OK, it has to present, but does it have to change the text based on the feedback? Almost certainly not. Even federal environmental reviews are technically advisory in nature, except for narrow exceptions such as wetlands, archaeological finds, and endangered species.

  • Boris

    Can you give an example of “blowback that comes from defying a CB resolution”? I don’t know of any public officials ever disciplined, demoted, fired, or otherwise affected in any way for defying a CB resolution.

  • Molly

    No, it doesn’t *have* to. But DCP certainly doesn’t want to present to every single CB in this case, just for multiple Council members to vote against the resolution because of the feedback they’re getting from CB’s and BP’s.

    And a citywide zoning amendment is never going to come under EDC’s jurisdiction.

  • Sorry to vote against Ben Fried, but this is my reality. I went without a car for almost ten years and took mass transit only when weather was too inclement for a bike ride. But the reality is that there are big swathes of Brooklyn and Queens that lack adequate mass transit (or safe places to bike). And the quality and frequency of surface transit in the places I go has deteriorated badly over the years. It isn’t helped by gentrification, which has meant that the arts scene that was a hop and skip away below 14th street has now fled to transit-poor neighborhoods in Bushwick and Williamsburg. No, parking isn’t easy, and I’m parked eight blocks from where I live right now. But I can hike out to my car, drive the six miles to the theater I work in on Jay Street, find onstreet parking and STILL beat mass transit by a good 20 minutes (assuming the bus-to-the-train is working–it doesn’t run after midnight). Don’t denigrate the people who want to hold onto their cars if you don’t have a fix for the clusterf*ck that mass transit has become due to gentrification/displacement.

  • Big swathes of Brooklyn and Queens that lack adequate mass transit? Yes.

    Big swathes of Brooklyn and Queens that lack safe places to bike. Absolutely not.

    Furthermore, Bushwick and Willamsburg are in no way describable as “transit-poor” neighbourhoods. Both are well served by the J, M, and L trains. (Williamsburg also has the G; but that doesn’t help someone coming from Manhattan.)

    Those boroughs’ actual transit-poor neighbourhoods are located in southern Brooklyn (Marine Park, Canarsie) and in eastern Queens (Fresh Meadows, Bayside, College Point, Hollis, Queens Village, Laurelton, etc. — really the entirety of eastern Queens, a place where I grew up and from which I was very happy to escape).

    But note that those transit deserts actually offer very good riding.

  • Joe R.

    To qualify your last sentence—they offer good riding mostly between about 9 PM and 6 or 7 AM. They used to offer good riding for most of the day also, outside of rush hour, but now it seems traffic is a nightmare for most of the daylight hours (except sometimes on weekends). The problem exists exactly because these areas are transit deserts. There was a lot of infill development between the time you grew up there and now, with a resultant huge increase in car traffic. There are more than twice as many families on my block as when we moved here in 1978. The block is always full of parked cars. That wasn’t the case 3 decades ago.

    BTW, I didn’t care for the neighborhood much when I first moved here, either. It was a bit too country for my taste. With the infill development it’s gotten quite a bit more urban. It would be fine now except for all the f-ing cars.

  • bolwerk

    It’s not like more high-demand parking does drivers a huge favor. If you want to drive, you also want there to be sufficient parking spaces, which is easily done with pricing a limited supply. Even increasing the amount of parking (home car storage) on new developments ultimately adds drivers who compete with existing drivers for space elsewhere.

    This is something transit advocates, safe street advocates, and drivers really should all basically agree on.

  • Joe R.

    It seems to me most drivers aren’t interested in getting a parking space quickly or easily if it means they have to pay for it. Rather, they want free parking, no matter if it means their car is parked 8 blocks from where they live.

  • Joe R.

    Mass transit might be a heck of a lot better if more people chose not to drive. For one thing, there would be more demand for it, which means the MTA would run more buses and/or perhaps eventually build subways in the parts of Queens/Brooklyn lacking them. For another, without so many cars on the road, buses would move a heck of a lot faster. You could also get rid of most of the traffic signals (those delay buses a lot). Those same things would also make it lot safer and faster to bike.

  • You are talking about the main thoroughfares, such as Union Turnpike. Streets of that sort really calm down in the late-night hours.

    But the side streets in the remote parts of Brooklyn and Queens are good for riding at all times. Examples are most of Brooklyn’s letter avenues between J and R, and also the avenues immediately north and south of the L.I.E. around Fresh Meadows. And of course there are the north-south streets that link these sets of avenues in Brooklyn and in Queens.

    Having been to these places on weekday afternoons many times, I have seen that it is very easy to take great local rides there. Of course, you can’t really get anywhere without using the big streets. But, if you are just seeking to noodle around the immediate area, there’s no place in Queens and Brooklyn in which you cannot do that in peace.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, I was talking about the main thoroughfares. The side streets and minor avenues are usually quiet at nearly all times, but as you say you can’t really use them to get anywhere. Even for my recreational rides, I would find the side streets too limiting.

    That said, the idea of joining a lot of these minor roads so bikes, but not motor vehicles, can use them as through routes might be an idea worth exploring. I’m not sure how much of this might be feasible given that these minor routes are often interrupted by things like highways, cemeteries, railways, or superblocks, but it might be worth looking at.

  • bolwerk

    Well, most don’t think of it. Some can be reasoned with. A few maybe just don’t value their time at the cost to park.

    Plus I don’t think you can rule out there is a big population of drivers that is just kind of…stupid.


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