Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio ran on a platform with ambitious goals to reduce traffic deaths, improve bus service, increase bicycling, and make the city more affordable. As New York City’s first mayoral transition in 12 years gets underway, Streetsblog is asking advocates and experts how Mayor-elect de Blasio should follow through and implement a progressive transportation policy agenda. Today’s post comes from Rachel Weinberger, director of research and policy strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.
On a trip to Guangzhou, China, I saw hundreds of unused parking spaces – built because they are required, viewed by developers as the “cost of development.” They are unused because walking, bus rapid transit and subway alternatives are better — much like similarly overbuilt parking facilities at New York’s own East River Plaza, Barclays Center, and Yankee Stadium. In Guangzhou, the waste is even more profound because street capacity is maxed out. The parking requirements relate to the building size, not the street capacity, and as it stands you could barely get another car on those streets, let alone enough to fill those spaces.
In London, by contrast, city leaders have grasped the nuance that more parking equals more driving – something we once knew in New York City. While New York is far ahead of many cities, there is still plenty wrong with how NYC thinks about, grows, and manages its parking supply. There are two quick things the new mayor can do with parking policy to improve quality of life and social equity and to make the city a better place.
Eliminate minimum parking requirements
A minimum parking requirement for development, as a way to ease otherwise constrained parking, is the most commonly adopted and most misguided parking policy the world has ever embraced. In NYC, the dissonance between this policy’s intentions and its on-the-ground effects reaches grotesque proportions. And few cities have more to lose from policies so indifferent to the value of real estate, and with such unwanted impacts on housing costs.
In NYC, like Guangzhou, we tell developers the minimum number of spaces they must provide if they want to build in our town. We do this in spite of the fact that there is no scientific or engineering rationale for the numbers we dictate – we tie those numbers to building size and we fail to consider the street capacity. We do this in spite of the overwhelming evidence that more parking leads to more driving. We do this despite the fact that requiring off-street parking drives up the cost of development easily adding 15 percent to costs, which in turn results in less and more expensive housing and fewer jobs.
Imagine this: dropping minimum parking requirements could net a 15 percent increase in housing in neighborhoods where the city requires one space per unit. Furthermore, the evidence shows that the cost burden of over-required parking falls disproportionately on lower income households. In one example, a development aimed at providing housing for households with incomes below $44,000 a year was required to include one space for every 2.3 units. In the end they only saw demand for one space for every five to six units. The result was over $400,000 of investment in unwanted parking, not to mention the opportunity cost of wasted space that could have been used to build more units. Housing, more than parking, is something for which NYC has a constant need.