Senior Philly Planner, Unlike NYC Peers, Says Parking Minimums Matter

City Planning needs to decide whether to legalize this parking garage make its illegal extra cars

City Planning is currently considering granting a special permit to this 44th Street parking garage to allow it to buck the Clean Air Act and store 90 more cars than currently allowed. Image: Google Street View.

We reported last week that Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. are each making policy shifts to curb the proliferation of off-street parking even as New York City continues to enable the construction of more and more traffic-inducing, land-devouring parking.

Streetsblog followed up with Debbie Schaaf, a senior transportation planner at Philadelphia’s planning department, about her city’s new direction on parking policy and how it compares to the state of parking policy in New York. Our conversation highlighted a rift between policy makers in the two cities, suggesting that under Amanda Burden, New York’s city planners have lurched out of sync with their peers on the issue of off-street parking.

The policy changes in Philadelphia are advancing on two fronts. Right now a rewrite of the zoning code is tightening parking minimums, and in the longer-term, the city’s new comprehensive plan calls for the institution of parking maximums. “We don’t want to overload the city with too much parking, which can encourage more automobile traffic,” explained Schaaf.

New York’s Department of City Planning, in contrast, has denied that there is any meaningful relationship between the amount of off-street parking required by the zoning code and car ownership rates. ”It is not the requirements themselves that influence car ownership, but rather, housing density and distance from the core of Manhattan, among other factors, such as the habit of  families with children to select housing in lower density areas where parking is available,” concluded DCP’s 2009 report addressing parking requirements.

Schaaf said she did not agree with New York’s position and that parking requirements and car ownership are indeed related.

She listed a number of reasons Philadelphia is trying to limit the amount of off-street parking that gets built. “It should make development more affordable,” she said. “It should make development more pro-transit.” She also said that less parking would mean a more sustainable city with better air quality.

Maximums, explained Schaaf, will eventually be an important part of Philly’s parking policy portfolio. “Developers sometimes are forced to provide more parking even than they think they need, either by lenders or by community groups that want more parking,” she said. “If you have a maximum in place, it would make it a little bit easier to resist that.”

While New York City has parking maximums in parts of Manhattan and Long Island City, the current Department of City Planning habitually grants requests for special permits to ignore them.

The maximums in the core of New York City date from the 1970s, when the city responded to lawsuits brought under the Clean Air Act. Despite the passage of PlanNYC nearly four years ago, under the Bloomberg Administration, New York has failed to build on its inheritance of progressive parking policy. While cities like Philadelphia are trying to curb traffic by preventing the oversupply of parking, New York has seemingly forgotten what it once knew about the connection between congestion and parking.