Pedestrian Burdens: Sidewalk Atrocities in Bensonhurst, LIC, and Vinegar Hill
In this photo series, Streetsblog is cataloging the parking lots and garages that erode New York’s pedestrian realm, whether through blank walls, repeated curb cuts or unsightly structures. City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden is committed to making New York City a paragon of good urban design, but all too frequently new development makes the city more hostile to pedestrians. Burden’s planning department bears responsibility. The agency continues to defend parking minimums across most of the city, and the resulting proliferation of space for car storage is fundamentally incompatible with the walkable urbanism that Burden wants to foster.
Not all of the pedestrian-unfriendly buildings showcased in this series are the direct result of parking minimums, but they show the kind of urban design that parking minimums cause, and they illustrate how the planning department is failing to stand up for a quality walking environment.
Bensonhurst’s 295 Avenue P, shown above, is the result of a developer who needed no help from the city to build a terrible pedestrian environment. To walk into the building, you have to pass through the surface lot that wraps it on two sides. The building faces West 3rd Street with a low, blank brick wall meant only to enclose the surface lot. With 24 ground-floor parking spaces for its 20 residential units, including all that parking was the developer’s prerogative. But even an enlightened builder wouldn’t have come up with something much better. The city required ten parking spaces, and the most cost-effective option is to put them on the ground floor.
In Long Island City, the Queens West development serves up an even bigger architectural disaster, thanks to multi-story parking decks. Queens West is a state project not subject to city zoning, but it was built to specifications that apply in many parts of the city, with parking spaces for 60 percent of units. That parking was concentrated into a few parcels, leading to the vista shown here, at 47th Road and 5th Street. Nothing frames the Empire State Building like six stories of structured parking.
On the other side of 5th Street, where city retains control over land use, parking maximums replaced parking minimums in the mid-1990s. The two garages shown in this picture, which have room for a combined 1419 spaces, would be illegal. Development in Long Island City is booming, as the New York Times recently reported. At Hunters Point South, a nearby mega-development planned by the city, the Bloomberg administration put in place a 40 percent parking maximum, stricter than what is in place in the rest of Long Island City.
City agencies are producing a better urban environment in this part of Queens than state agencies, but in much of New York the city is still encouraging Queens West-style, parking-saturated development. The planning commissioner should be asking, which is the better model for development: Hunters Point South and the rest of Long Island City, or Queens West?
These low-rise buildings in Vinegar Hill illustrate what a 50 percent parking requirement looks like in a rowhouse context. Each of these four buildings along Evans Street, clearly constructed together, houses two residential units and a one-car garage. The curb cuts take away almost as much on-street parking as the off-street spaces provide. These garages probably weren’t required by law — the development was small enough to receive a waiver — but for whatever reason, the developer built the required level of parking anyway. Regardless, the ground floor of one side of this pleasant residential street was given over to car storage.
Garages, curb cuts, and blank walls eating away at the sidewalks in your neighborhood? Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to include the address of the buildings.