City Planning Commission Approves 400-Car Garage for Hell’s Kitchen

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Two weeks ago Streetsblog reported on the glut of public parking garages being built in Hell's Kitchen, which threatens to worsen traffic conditions in one of New York's most congested neighborhoods. The City Planning Commission could have set a precedent last Friday by denying a developer's request to build a 400-car public garage as part of a mixed-use project at 310-328 West 38th Street. Only 232 parking spaces would have been allowed without the special permit.

Instead, the commission approved the request. Despite the objections of community representatives, the only restriction imposed was to reserve most of the spaces for monthly parking. In its report [PDF], the commission asserts that streets near the new building "will be adequate to handle the traffic" generated by the garage. The analysis fails to consider the aggregate amount of parking in Hell's Kitchen, and flies in the face of DOT's efforts to improve the neighborhood's streets for pedestrians, says Christine Berthet of the Clinton/Hell's Kitchen Pedestrian Safety Coalition (CHEKPEDS).

"It's particularly egregious considering what we know about 37th Street," which carries cars heading toward the outbound Lincoln Tunnel, she adds. "The mitigation proposed as monthly parking demonstrates they have no clue on the science of parking, as monthly parking attracts commuters and discourages shoppers -- the worst case scenario."

The 38th Street garage, and others like it planned for Hell's Kitchen, are "a terrific example of the 'nibbling effect' that Jane Jacobs wrote about," whereby concessions to cars gradually multiply to erode the pedestrian environment, says Nick Peterson of the planning firm Alex Garvin & Associates.

The developer, Glenwood Management, will undergo one more stage of public review, needing approval at a June 18th session of the City Council to get the green light for the garage. Since the current review process appears to conflict with the sustainability goals of PlaNYC, Berthet believes it would make more sense for developers to appeal to DOT, not City Planning, for special parking permits. For now, this looks like another case of parking politics winning out over sensible policy.

Photo of a garage in the upper 50s between First Ave and Second Ave: lewisarothkopf/Flickr