Council Member Chin: Charging an Extra $.50 or $1 for Parking Will Ruin Chinatown

The neighborhood's representative at City Hall wants certain Chinatown blocks exempt from recent citywide meter hikes.

Lower Manhattan rep Margaret Chin. Photo: William Alatriste
Lower Manhattan rep Margaret Chin. Photo: William Alatriste

The city council member who represents Chinatown is demanding relief from the city’s first parking meter increase in eight years, saying it will destroy the 150-year-old enclave by making it a slightly more expensive for out-of-towners to park in the neighborhood.

An increase in parking rates of 50 cents to $1 spells disaster for restaurants and small businesses in transit-heavy Lower Manhattan and will force some out of business, Council Member Margaret Chin wrote to DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar earlier this month.

“This increase in disproportionately impacting the immigrant entrepreneurs and low-income workers who are already struggling to provide for their families,” Chin wrote. “As a resident recently told me, the cost of parking in Chinatown now exceeds the cost of a meal in Chinatown.”

The saga began in August, when DOT initiated the first citywide increase in parking meter rates since 2011. The increases were ever-so-slight: In Chinatown, parking was upped to $4 for the first hour and $6.75 for the second (from $3.50 for the first hour and $6 for the second). Other blocks were hiked to $4.50 and $7.50. (So two hours of parking now costs $10.75 to $12 — far less than the cost of a meal, unless the Council Member has a secret spot she’s not telling us about.)

That increase kept prices far below the cost of parking in garage in the neighborhood or the true value of each space, as evidenced by garage parking fees in the neighborhood, which are nearly three-times the cost of an on-street space.

Still, as Chin sees it, the rate hike “poses a severe burden to small businesses owners who are already dealing with an extreme shortage of available parking space.”

Parking policy expert Rachel Weinberger said the concern about parking is unfounded, but not uncommon for small business owners across the city. She argued that drivers are likely more discouraged by the neighborhood’s well-known lack of ample on-street parking rather than the slight increase in price for it.

“Even though the merchants tend to think that most of the customers drive, typically 90, 95, 96 percent of them come by other means,” Weinberger told Streetsblog.

Even better: higher parking rates increase turnover, which means there will be more open spots for customers.

“Chin’s concern is the least likely of several possible outcomes,” Weinberger said. “The experience in most places, including NYC, is that raising meter prices in places where it’s hard to park increases turnover.”

If anything is weighing on the budgets of Chinatown’s small businesses, it’s not a relatively minor increase in parking rates. A recent study by the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development found that rising rents were the top concern of neighborhood business owners.

“I very much appreciate the small companies, especially the ones who’ve been there a long time, but there’s other ways to shop besides using a vehicle and parking it on the street,” said Wendy Brawer, who lives in the neighborhood. “Are we doing anything like rent control to support those businesses?”

Chin declined to speak to Streetsblog, but her spokesperson Rush Perez reached out after the website’s Twitter account posted disapprovingly of Chin’s pro-driving position. Perez said gentrification has wrecked the neighborhood, sending Chinatown natives to far-flung neighborhoods. Perez claimed that higher-priced parking makes the former residents unable to return to shop.

To further bolster his argument, Perez pointed to the negative impact 9/11 had on the neighborhood’s economy — 18 years and multiple parking rate increases ago.

“For a lot of these Chinese-owned businesses, they rely very heavily on low-income and middle-income customers. A lot of times these customers were gentrified out of Chinatown,” Perez told Streetsblog. “If they can’t afford the parking, they’re going to stop going.”

Perez provided no evidence. To her credit, Chin’s letter also complained of rampant placard abuse by city employees such as cops and firefighters, who tend to park wherever they want on the neighborhood’s congested streets. An ongoing Streetsblog investigation reveals that those officers not only cause congestion, but also endanger the neighborhood with reckless driving.

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