After $11M in Repairs, Is Borough Hall Plaza a Plaza, or a Parking Lot?

This year, contractors hired by the Parks Department got to work replacing the bluestone in the plaza outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, which was busted up due in part to people — including former borough president Marty Markowitz — parking cars on it.

The $11 million project isn’t finished, but someone has already started using the new granite pavers for parking again.

“Before we know it, Borough Hall Plaza will once again be the community common space we have long come to love and treasure,” Borough President Eric Adams told the Brooklyn Eagle in April. And nothing says “community space” like personal auto storage.

The granite may hold up better than the bluestone, but is Borough Hall Plaza a plaza, or a parking lot?

We have a request in with Adams’ office about whether he intends to allow the plaza to be used for parking after the city spent millions to repair it.

  • BBnet3000

    The entitled political class will park absolutely anywhere they please in this city, and its doubtful that anyone will do a thing about it.

  • Daniel

    Someone needs to post a some a sign on these illegally parked cars: “Plaza Seating”

  • Joe R.

    Bollards should have been included in the repair budget. It looks like they did top notch stonework which should complement the structure nicely. Public buildings should be things of beauty. Unfortunately, what’s happening is akin to someone defecating on a Rembrandt. Nearly every inch of NYC streets are uglified with parked cars. It is really necessary to have the buildings which represent our public institutions spoiled this way also just so a few people can walk a block or two less after parking?

  • snobum

    You can’t have something like bollards “begrime” the city. The all-powerful plaza lobby would just get its way!

  • Vinstar

    That won’t stop anyone from parking there. The sign should say ‘No Parking – Vehicle will be towed at owner’s expense.

  • Alicia

    Well, you can always dress it up. Put in benches or flower planters instead of bollards.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    this Simple act of parking in a public plaza indicates how much contempt these leaders have for regular New Yorkers.

  • This needs to be dealt with like any other garbage left abandoned on public property: a job for DSNY.

  • davistrain

    The vehicles in the upper photo look like they have many years left before they go off to the wrecking yard. Of course, to some StreetsblogNY followers, all privately owned motor vehicles should be sent to the scrap heap, shipped to California, or at least sent to some location west of the Hudson River.

  • I don’t think it was a comment on the fact that there is something wrong with the vehicles, simply that they are personal property abandoned in a public space, which is not purpose built for storing them. E.g., if you left any piece of private property in a plaza, in theory at least, and if it wasn’t stolen first, it would be tossed in the trash by the sanitation crews. Obviously this doesn’t really hold true for expensive public property, I suspect some effort would be made to return a phone, or turn it into the police maybe, but cars aren’t even treated that way, they’re just accepted as, Oh yes, a private citizen is monopolizing public space by storing their private property on it and we’re okay with this.

  • ahwr

    Unfortunately, what’s happening is akin to someone defecating on a Rembrandt.

    That’s a bit much.

  • ahwr

    if you left any piece of private property in a plaza, in theory at least, and if it wasn’t stolen first, it would be tossed in the trash by the sanitation crews….cars…they’re just accepted as, Oh yes, a private citizen is monopolizing public space by storing their private property on it and we’re okay with this.

    Bikes are rarely thrown in the trash like that when left in a public space. I don’t think anybody here wants them to be. Transportation vehicles tend to be treated differently from bulk materials, a couch, a tent or a small hut etc…

    When borough hall was built 150+ years ago if someone left their horse or carriage outside it during the day would the public have been outraged? What about 110 years ago if someone left their car there during the day while conducting business at borough hall? I don’t think so. Some of the responses here and elsewhere to those cars in the plaza are drifting over to car parking generally. When you criticize private use of public space so absolutely it feels disingenuous because few livable streets advocates seem to want no public space set aside for storage of bicycles or buses. If the problem is simply that cars are too bulky to scale well in a place as dense as much of NYC, that’s the argument that should be made. In the case of this plaza tasteful bollards – maybe planters if they would be cared for, maybe metal with some artistic features that match the building well – should have been installed.

  • Joe R.

    The problem in NYC isn’t car parking per se. I recognize in order for NYC to function you need loading zones for delivery trucks, parking for official NYC vehicles, even sometimes parking for private automobiles. Rather, the problem is the sheer amount of space this city sets aside for parking, especially for parking private automobiles. You describe the problem perfectly ( “the problem is simply that cars are too bulky to scale well in a place as dense as much of NYC”). I get it that some cars and car parking are probably necessary. I don’t however think we should have practically even inch of free curbside space on nearly every block, along with public plazas like this, devoted to car parking. It not only makes much of the city look like a used car lot, but it’s also dangerous when the parked vehicles block lines of sight at intersections.

    In general, I strongly feel overnight parking of private vehicles on public streets shouldn’t be allowed at all (and I’ll gladly include non-public bicycles among those vehicles not allowed). If you want to own a vehicle, then you should have to have an off-street space to park it overnight. During the day, I can see allowing some paid curbside parking near commercial areas, perhaps even some residential areas where people might be visiting friends or relatives. But in any case, no curbside parking anywhere should be free. By charging market rates for it, plus forcing car owners to find off-street parking for their vehicles, you’ll drastically decrease both car ownership and driving in this city. For various reasons, those are desirable public goals. I’m not anti-car in general. I just strongly feel that they’re the totally wrong tool to use for transportation in dense cities. As such, cities shouldn’t directly or indirectly subsidize their use.

  • Matthias

    I think the specific problem here is entitled public employees (officials?) hogging public space that no one else would be allowed to abuse in this manner. I suspect that if a regular citizen left their car on the plaza while conducting business in Borough Hall, they would stand a good chance of being ticketed or towed.

  • Matthias

    Exactly. There just need to be some obstacles; they don’t have to be bombproof.

  • Jeff

    This is one of few cases where direct action could send a message that’s hard to argue with, without really breaking any laws. Just organize a few dozen people to stand around in these areas, as pedestrians should feel free to do in a pedestrian plaza, and when someone comes to store their vehicle, simply refuse to move–I mean, why should a pedestrian, in a pedestrian area, feel compelled to get out of the way for something that shouldn’t really be there?

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t see why car and bike usage of public space ought to be considered on the same terms. Car usage pollutes our environment, destroys our infrastructure, puts pedestrians and cyclists at enhanced risk for injury and death, and so on. Bike usage is far less publicly burdensome. So it would be perfectly sensible to say that bike parking should be free and broadly available, while car parking should be limited and priced, just from the perspective of designing a smart transportation network that gets people to where they need to go, as efficiently as possible.

    Like most carheads, you seem interested in construing your point as being one of fairness. Well, how’s this for a fair comparison: where are all the bikes on public property here? Are people leaving their bikes all over the public space here? Are they locking to handrails and ramps? Is there any doubt whether, if a bike were locked to that handrail and fence you see in the background on the above picture, it would be removed posthaste? No one (including yourself) would tolerate it. They would complain about the way it impedes pedestrian traffic and safety. Likely the security guards for the building would describe bikes locked to a handrail as a security risk.

    Or let’s talk about how hard it is to park bikes in this city in the first place. Unlike cars, you can’t safely park a bike wherever there is open space on a public plaza, sidewalk, or street. You have to find a place to lock it and, given the relative lack of dedicated bike racks in this city (despite the ubiquity of street parking), that leaves very, very few places to park a bike. Maybe it would make some sense to criticize advocates for attacking our misallocation of public space to car parking when they want to preserve a comparable benefit for bike parkers, if bike parkers had anything like the same entitlement. But as it stands, bike parkers don’t. Just last night I was in the trendy part of Williamsburg (of all places!) and had to find a place to park my bike along a street with car parking lining both side of the street (and, being free, it was consequently full of parked cars). There wasn’t a single rack! I ended up having to lock to a signpost.

  • You make a reasonable point about bikes, however, don’t overstate it. There are plenty of places, and occurrences of people locking bikes to fixtures in the public realm, and those bikes disappearing after private entities (which may or may not own those fixtures) have them removed.

    The other point that’s missing, there is a difference between a parking facility which is public space dedicated to the storage of private vehicles, and a public plaza which not supposed to be monopolized in that way. I would make the argument that if you park your car on a sidewalk/other no parking zone, it would get towed, sadly I’m under the impression that’s not the case. Hence the entire problem.

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