Parking Reform: Reduce Congestion & Raise Money Minus Albany

With congestion pricing stalled in Albany gridlock, what's next? What immediate measures can New York City take to reduce traffic congestion without having to go through Albany to implement them? How else might New York City reduce traffic congestion while raising a bit of money for transit, bicycling and pedestrian improvements? Back in May, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White suggested that parking policy reform in this Gotham Gazette essay:

Unless Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff are content to leave their legacy in the hands of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority leader Joe Bruno, they should pursue three parking policy reforms that would, like congestion pricing, reduce traffic and generate millions for transportation and street improvements. Unlike congestion pricing, these reforms do not require the approval of the state legislature.

Most Manhattan-bound drivers (PDF file) drive out of choice, not necessity. A recent Schaller Consulting study uncovered the reason why: Most drivers do not pay for parking. As any transportation expert will tell you, the carrot of free parking is too irresistible for drivers to refuse, even when they have decent transit options.

Government workers have their coveted (and often counterfeit) placards, and all drivers have access to a bounty of free and $1.50 per hour spaces, even if they have to circle the block for 40 minutes to find one. Because under-priced spots along the curb are always full, cruising for parking accounts for up to 45 percent of all traffic on city streets.

Three steps, used in other big cities, would enable the mayor to redress root causes of traffic congestion while generating a windfall to fund street improvements:

  • Increasing the price for metered parking to a level that frees up spaces and reduces cruising;
  • Charging residents for permits that would give them preferences for parking on public streets;
  • Cleaning up the rampant misuse and abuse of city issued parking permits.