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.

  • r

    ““For a lot of these Chinese-owned businesses, they rely very heavily on low-income and middle-income customers.”

    How many low-income people are driving to Manhattan on a regular basis? Come on. This just defies credulity. They’re taking transit. The real bet here is that it’s the wealthier store owners who want to be able to park for long stretches of time without paying a dollar or two more.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “As a resident recently told me, the cost of parking in Chinatown now exceeds the cost of a meal in Chinatown.”

    So to fill a table of four squeezed into a small retail space of perhaps 25 square feet you have to provide cheap parking for four cars occupying 800 square feet?

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. I remember many times riding the #7 train on weekends and it was packed with people from Flushing going to Chinatown. Low and middle income people often don’t even have cars, much less drive them into Manhattan.

  • HamTech87

    The subway, not driving, is the connective tissue among Chinatowns in NYC. Just look at the Wikipedia page describing Chinatowns in Brooklyn. It is full of references to the direct transit connections to Manhattan’s Chinatown as a big reason they developed.
    There is a link to a book as a reference:

    If small truck deliveries are an issue, than raising parking prices and increasing loading zones is the way to go. Not lower parking prices.

    fwiw, I have been to Chinatown probably hundreds of times in my lifetime. The number of times I was driven or drove can be counted on one hand. All other trips were by subway, bus, walking, Citibike, or taxi, the last one rarely because who wants to get stuck in a place where walking is faster than driving?

  • JarekFA

    The only reason to have any motorized vehicles to be able to access Chinatown streets are as follows:

    (i) deliveries (which should be off hours),
    (ii) access-a-ride, and
    (iii) buses.

    That’s literally it. You pedestrianize the fuck out of it and then you can still drop people off nearby (Bowery/Canal/Centre St). But East Broadway should be buses only too.

    I mean it when I tweeted that my mom and auntie take the train to chinatown. They literally are the slowest walkers on earth. My 2.5 year old walks faster. They have bad knees. And the absolute worst aspect is the crushing volume of cars on the narrowest streets. We’re not going to spend $30 on a car from Brooklyn. It’s so fucking absurd. It should be a giant ped district and the retailers and restaurants would flourish even more! Like here’s Chinatown in London, it’s ped only between noon and midnight. It works. Tons of foot traffic. If anything — that’s what makes me the most sad — most cities would absolutely kill to have the level of foot traffic we have — but instead of harnessing this asset — we make things as painful for them as possible. It’s absurd and it leaves so much money on the table.

  • Wilfried84

    Last summer, they closed Mott St. to cars for a couple of days. It was glorious. All those people normally crammed onto the teeming sidewalks had room to breath, stroll, and linger. Kids played in the street. Community groups ran all kinds of activities. Shops and restaurants had room to display and sell stuff. I have no doubt they did more business where there was space for people on the streets.

    They closed Doyers St. for several months. Restaurants served food on the street. Nice tables and nice weather enticed people to stop. With no cars, those restaurants served more people, not less.

    I don’t see how anyone who saw that can say that cars are good for business. My pipe dream is that some day, Chinatown will be pedestrian zone.

  • JarekFA

    Mott is terrible and Mulberry is the absolute the worst. There’s some old Chinese jerky shop on Mulberry that my mom loves but the whole street itself (when we visited) was a wall of honking cars trying to squeeze into a garage.

  • Joe R.

    Same here. I think I went there by car once with my parents. It was the subway every other time. Even though it’s a long trip from where I am by public transit, typically an hour each way, driving would take longer and cost more.

  • William Lawson

    I sometimes forget what I’m doing and turn off Canal onto Mott to head towards Houston. The traffic is so fecking ridiculous on that street. Just lines of stationary traffic crammed between parked cars and you often can’t get around either side. I end up sitting behind a belching exhaust like a complete jabroni before walking onto the sidewalk. It’s a sea of stationary and almost-stationary cars.

  • Change agent

    All those stores will eventually close. Storefront retail no longer makes economic sense. I live in a building full of middle class twenty somethings and they buy everything online, mostly from Amazon, and have food delivered every night. It’s to the point where our building lobby has begun to resemble a loading dock. As this generation’s habits become the norm we will all have to adapt.

    Change is hard especially when it is putting you out of business and disrupting a lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. What Margaret Chin and the business owners are doing is clinging to the one thing they feel they have control over—parking rates. It’s not going to stop the city from changing but it makes them feel they have some control.

  • jimmmy jamms

    My wife and I make over 200K (before taxes), own a car, and love going to Chinatown from where we live in another part of Manhattan. And we don’t drive. There are too many cars there already. This small increase will not hurt business.

  • Seereous

    As usual, Chin really is not representing the needs or wishes of the majority of her constiuents.

  • Weak, pathetic, out of touch, self-centered whine.

  • “…the cost of parking in Chinatown now exceeds the cost of a meal in Chinatown.”

    Solution: don’t drive too Chinatown, a place that is served by a dozen subway lines.


  • Wilfried84

    Riding a bike in Chinatown is utterly maddening.

  • Wilfried84

    It just occurred to me, Mulberry St. in Little Italy is a pedestrian zone every weekend, which undoubtedly helps the restaurants. Why can’t they do that on Mott. St.?


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