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Arkansas Town Breaks Ground By Eliminating Commercial Parking Minimums

In an effort to boost development downtown, leaders in Fayetteville, Arkansas (population ~80,000), last week eliminated minimum parking requirements for commercial properties citywide.

Fayetteville, Arkansas, leaders saw eliminating parking minimums as a way to encourage development. Photo: Wikipedia

Fayetteville leaders saw eliminating parking minimums as a way to encourage development. Photo: Wikipedia

Leading the push were planning commissioners like Tracy Hoskins, whom the Fayetteville Flyer described as a “longtime businessman and developer.” Hoskins argued, persuasively, that businesses are capable of deciding for themselves how many parking spaces to build and don’t need laws that require “day-after-Thanksgiving-sized lots.”

“I’ve always thought it was crazy to have minimum parking standards,” he told the Flyer. “Let the people that own, operate, and invest in those businesses determine what they need.”

Big parts of the downtown area are suffering from disinvestment, and the reforms were framed as a way to improve economic prospects. Another commissioner, Matt Hoffman, promoted it as a way to eliminate an unnecessary level of regulation and create a pro-business climate in the city.

The city’s requirements, for example, required one space per employee at daycare centers and two spaces per chair at a barber shop. Although the city’s attorney raised some concerns, commissioners held firm. And the decision doesn’t seem to be stirring up a backlash. Commenters at the Fayetteville Flyer were generally supportive.

Many U.S. cities have reformed parking rules in limited areas (Chicago recently loosened residential parking requirementso) in order to improve walkability and reduce construction costs.

Still, Fayetteville appears to be blazing a trail here. Parking policy guru Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, said he believes Fayetteville is the first U.S. city to eliminate commercial minimum parking requirements citywide.

According to Shoup, Buffalo, New York, is considering a similar proposal, so this could be the start of something big.


34th Precinct Cracks Down on Drivers Double-Parked in Inwood Bike Lanes

A 34th Precinct officer cites a driver blocking a bike lane on Sherman Avenue in Inwood. Photo: 34th Precinct/Facebook

A 34th Precinct officer cites a driver blocking a bike lane on Sherman Avenue in Inwood. Photo: 34th Precinct/Facebook

When DOT installed new bike lanes on Sherman Avenue in Inwood a few weeks back, it didn’t take long before they were blocked by double-parked drivers.

Sherman is one of many Inwood streets that effectively has four parking lanes. This isn’t good for anyone, as it makes it dangerous to walk and bike, and creates aggravation for drivers — which, in turn, makes it dangerous to walk and bike.

Responding to residents’ complaints, on Friday the 34th Precinct announced a double-parking crackdown. Deputy Inspector Chris Morello, the precinct’s commanding officer, posted photos of officers issuing tickets on Facebook.

Well, you asked for it, and you got it: we had a double parking initiative yesterday in the 34 Pct. Summonses were issued for double parking (particularly in bike lanes) on Broadway, Sherman, Dyckman and Post (these are our most congested and dangerous roadways).

In the past month, we have issued 632 double parking summonses, up 10% from last year. And we have issued a total of 7,711 parking summonses this year. This is all done in an effort to keep traffic moving and keep our residents safe.

Hats off to Deputy Inspector Morello and precinct officers for taking on what is mainly a symptom of dysfunctional curb management. Now if DOT would help out by swapping private car parking for commercial loading zones, traffic would flow more smoothly and Inwood streets would be safer.


This Map Shows Where de Blasio Wants to Reduce Parking Mandates

Parking requirements for affordable and senior housing have already been eliminated in the dark grey areas. Under the mayor's plan, they would also be eliminated in a new "transit zone," shown in purple. Map: DCP [PDF]

Under the mayor’s plan, parking requirements would be eliminated for subsidized housing in a new “transit zone,” shown in purple. Map: DCP [PDF]

In February, the Department of City Planning outlined the broad strokes of how the de Blasio administration will seek to change the rules that shape new development in New York. After eight months of public meetings and behind-the-scenes work, City Hall’s proposals were released this week. The documents reveal details of how the city wants to handle parking minimums in new residential buildings, and it looks like incremental progress, not a major breakthrough, for parking reform.

Mandatory parking minimums, which require the construction of a certain amount of car storage in new buildings, have been in the zoning code since 1961. Multiple studies have shown that they drive up the cost of housing and increase traffic. The de Blasio administration is proposing to reduce parking requirements near transit, but primarily for subsidized housing, not the market-rate construction the city expects to account for most new development.

Perhaps the biggest change in the plan, called Zoning for Quality and Affordability, is the creation of a “transit zone” covering most land that allows new multi-family housing within a half-mile of a subway line.

Within the transit zone, off-street parking would not be required for new public housing, senior housing, or apartments reserved for people earning below a certain income. Buildings that include a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing could apply for a special permit to reduce or eliminate parking requirements on a case-by-case basis [PDF].

Existing parking could also be removed: Senior housing will be allowed to take out parking without needing any approvals, but other types of affordable housing would require a special permit to get rid of existing parking.

There are plenty of holes in the transit zone. Most of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights has long been excluded from the map, despite access to the N and R trains. An earlier map included much of the Rockaways, which was later dropped, and sections of Eastchester in the Bronx were also dropped. In Queens, large sections of Woodhaven and Ozone Park are excluded from the transit zone, despite being adjacent to the A and J trains, because zoning in that area is slightly less dense than nearby sections of Brooklyn.

Read more…


Bill Bratton Rolls Back Internal NYPD Parking Reform

On Monday the Times published an in-depth piece on how Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is aiming to boost NYPD morale, in part by giving officers more latitude to skirt departmental rules. The Times said such infractions might include “misplacing a memo book or being late for court.”

According to the story, Bratton is also lightening up on illegal parking.

[O]n day-to-day internal disciplinary issues, Mr. Bratton is seeking to alter departmental culture: He disbanded a so-called tow-away squad that had been giving tickets to and towing department cars on official business but parked improperly.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a number of reforms intended to cut down on illegal parking by city employees. In 2008, City Hall reduced the number of city-issued parking placards. At the same time NYPD cracked down on police parking scofflaws, both those on “official business” and those using their placards as a lifelong entitlement for their personal vehicles.

When Ray Kelly was police commissioner, cops criticized the Internal Affairs Bureau tow unit, saying it interfered with police work. It’s unknown how many tickets and tows the squad was responsible for, but a 2010 Daily News story pegged Internal Affairs’ daily quota at four tows and 20 summonses.

Cops and other government employees who ignore parking rules clog streets, hurt businesses, and block sidewalks and bike lanes. The problem is particularly acute in Lower Manhattan, where space is especially scarce. In 2006, Transportation Alternatives found that just 12 percent of cars with placards in the southern section of Chinatown were parked legally [PDF]. That same year a survey conducted for an NYPD environmental impact statement counted more than 1,100 illegally parked cars with placards near One Police Plaza [PDF].

How much has NYPD been enforcing police placard abuse, and to what extent did the tow squad contribute to that? We’ve asked NYPD for data and are waiting for a response.

Without the numbers, it’s not clear how dissolving the tow unit will affect NYPD’s internal efforts to curb placard abuse. But once the city starts backsliding, the placard enforcement gains of the past seven years could easily slip away.


CB 12: Proposed Building on Top of 1 Train Is Too Big, Needs More Parking

X marks the spot of the 1 train entrance below a proposed apartment building on Broadway in Washington Heights, which CB 12 says needs more than 50 parking spots. Image via DNAinfo

X marks the spot of the 1 train entrance under a proposed apartment building that CB 12 says needs more than 50 parking spaces. Image via DNAinfo

Community Board 12 members voted against a proposal for a new apartment building in Washington Heights, to be built on top of the 1 train, in part because they want the developers to build more parking, according to DNAinfo coverage of the Wednesday meeting.

HAP Investment Developers wants to build a 16-story, 241-unit residential building at 4452 Broadway, with 50 parking spots to be accessed through a garage entrance on Fairview Avenue. Most residential buildings in Washington Heights and Inwood top out at six to eight stories, and the company needs a zoning variance to allow for additional height.

From DNAinfo:

Members of the Land Use committee voted unanimously to oppose HAP’s request for the zoning changes, citing the height of the building, the lack of parking and the potential impact on the character of the neighborhood.

The building would sit on top of the Broadway entrance to the 191st Street 1 train station, and would be served by several bus routes. It’s apparently lost on CB 12 members that the board serves an area where parking is not a concern for most people, given that only 25 percent of households own cars.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: Williamsburg’s “Lively,” “Beautiful” New Garage Wall

Photo: Stephen Miller

Such a lively streetscape on Hewes Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

An apartment building in Williamsburg perfectly illustrates how parking minimums in New York’s zoning code make the city’s streets and sidewalks worse.

Last year, a joint venture of Alex. Brown Realty and Largo Investments finished construction on a 33-unit rental project at 281 Union Avenue in Williamsburg. The seven-story building, roughly the same size as its neighbors, has something those older buildings don’t: 17 parking spaces. While we don’t know for certain whether parking minimums were the deciding factor behind that number, the amount of parking is just enough to meet the zoning code’s requirements.

From an urban design perspective, city buildings don’t get much worse. The lot, shaped like a triangle with one corner lopped off, is bounded on all sides by public streets. In other words, there’s nowhere to hide the parking.

So the developers turned the entire first floor into a caged-in parking garage, with the curb cut on Union Avenue instead of either of the side streets. While there are some plantings along Union Avenue to try and spruce things up, the result is a bleak streetscape. Instead of walking by an apartment building, people walk past grating that masks a parking garage.

Read more…


NYC’s Parking Ticket Deals Cost Millions That Could Be Used for Street Safety

When the city zeroes out the cost of undisputed tickets for delivery companies as part of a special program to reduce the cost of parking violations, it’s also giving them a pass on a fee required by the state. That surcharge funds anti-drunk driving programs, among other initiatives, and advocates say the city and state could be missing out on tens of millions of dollars each year.

FedEx likely isn't paying a dime for double parking. Photo: Stephen Miller

FedEx likely isn’t paying a dime for double parking. That has implications for funding the state’s anti-DWI initiatives, while the city is missing out on money that could be used for Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

The special parking ticket programs in question, known as the Stipulated Fine and Commercial Abatement programs, have given companies that sign up an automatic discount on the cost of parking violations since first launching in 2004.

“We’ve taken issue with the stipulated fine program before,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White, “[for] essentially giving large freight haulers or delivery companies incentives to break parking laws.”

Most parking tickets are discounted under the program. Up to 30 violations, including double parking, have had their fines reduced to $0, according to data collected by parking watchdog Glen Bolofsky of

In a letter sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio today [PDF], TA questioned whether the city is collecting the $15 fee for tickets that have been reduced to $0. State law requires the surcharge in addition to any other fine that may be levied.

“We are in full compliance with the law,” said Department of Finance spokesperson Sonia Alleyne. “The $15 surcharge is collected on EVERY summons or fine that is paid — even the abated ones. It’s automatically included.”

I asked if the city collects the $15 fee on tickets that have been reduced to $0. “No,” Alleyne replied.

Once collected by the city, the $15 surcharge is split between the city and the state. At the state level, it is administered through the Justice Court Fund, which spends it on “legal services for indigent defendants, crime victims’ services, and driving while intoxicated (DWI) education programs,” according to a 2010 report by the state comptroller [PDF].

Read more…


Van Bramer to Car Dealers: Stop Hogging Northern Boulevard Sidewalks

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer isn't shopping for a new car at City Mitsubishi's dealership. He's trying to walk down the sidewalk on Northern Boulevard. Photo:  John McCarten/NYC Council

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer isn’t shopping for a new car at City Mitsubishi’s dealership. He’s trying to walk down the sidewalk on Northern Boulevard. Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council

Walking the car-clogged sidewalks of Northern Boulevard this morning with street safety advocates and press in tow, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer called on two NYPD precincts to crack down on auto dealerships that treat pedestrian space as car showrooms.

“They have a right to make money,” Van Bramer said of the dealerships. “But they do not have a right to block the sidewalks.”

Northern Boulevard regularly ranks as one of the most dangerous streets in Queens. Van Bramer, standing outside PS 152 at the intersection where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed on his way to school in 2013, said parking cars on the sidewalks doesn’t help the situation. “Northern Boulevard is busy enough, dangerous enough,” he said. “We cannot accept pedestrians’ lives being put in danger in order to sell cars.”

PS 152 principal Vincent Vitolo said he has spoken with dealerships next to the school about keeping the sidewalks clear for students. But after brief bouts of compliance, the dealers put cars back onto the sidewalk, blocking the way for kids going to school. “We’re in touch with all the dealerships around us,” he said. “Nobody’s perfect.”

Cristina Furlong of Make Queens Safer said representatives of a Honda dealership told her there was an exception in state law that allows car dealerships to park on sidewalks. The claim appears to be a complete fiction, and police occasionally do ticket the dealers for appropriating sidewalk space.

Van Bramer said his office has reached out to many of the dealerships, and met with the 108th and 114th precincts yesterday about the issue. While the precincts have done some enforcement blitzes in the past, the dealerships remain defiant. The problem is worse on the weekends, when dealers put out even more display cars on the sidewalks.

“There are some problems, some community issues, that ultimately seem intractable and people come to accept them as ‘that’s just the way it is,'” Van Bramer said. “These businesses cannot accept these tickets as a cost of doing business.”


City Hall Could Start Cutting Traffic Today By Reviving PARK Smart

DOT promised PARK Smart 2.0 last year, but hasn't expanded the program since 2013. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT promised PARK Smart 2.0 last year, but hasn’t expanded the program since 2013. Image: DOT [PDF]

Andrew Cuomo hasn’t come around on the Move NY plan, and Uber beat back City Hall’s proposed cap on new black car licenses for the time being. But the de Blasio administration still has options at its disposal to cut traffic. Chief among them is parking policy — especially curbside parking reform.

Remember PARK Smart? That’s the DOT initiative, first launched in October 2008, that experimented with variable parking meter rates in a handful of neighborhoods. PARK Smart raises curbside parking rates during the times of day when demand is most intense, seeking to increase the availability of spaces and cut down on traffic caused by drivers circling for a spot. Despite encouraging results, the program has stalled in the last two years.

On some commercial streets, the amount of traffic caused by cruising for a parking space isn’t trivial: A 2007 Transportation Alternatives study found 45 percent of drivers on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope were trawling for a spot. A similar study in 2006 found 28 percent of Soho drivers looking for parking [PDF].

DOT launched PARK Smart nearly seven years ago in Greenwich Village, then expanded it to Park Slope. The agency aborted a PARK Smart program on the Upper East Side after opposition from the local community board. The most recent action came in 2013, when DOT rolled out modest PARK Smart reforms in Jackson Heights and Atlantic Avenue. Since then no new neighborhoods have been added to the program.

Read more…


State’s Top Court: Low-Cost Parking Is Not a Tax-Free Charity

The owner of five Queens cut-rate parking facilities will have to pay property taxes, the state’s top court has ruled. The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the city’s decision to take back a tax exemption it had previously granted the politically-connected non-profit that operates 2,000 parking spaces in downtown Jamaica.

Photo: Google Street View

The politically connected non-profit operator of discount parking garages in Jamaica will have to pay property taxes, the state’s top court ruled. Photo: Google Street View

Over the course of a decade starting in 1996, Jamaica First Parking LLC, a subsidiary of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), purchased parking garages and lots in downtown Jamaica from the city. The GJDC board, which includes former Congressman Rev. Floyd Flake, is well connected to much of the political establishment in southeast Queens.

In 2007, the city’s Finance Department said Jamaica First’s parking garages would be exempt from property taxes because they serve a “charitable” purpose under the law. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez smelled something fishy in late 2010, and the city reversed its property tax exemption just months later.

GJDC then sued the city for taking back the property tax giveaway. The case ultimately went to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which on July 1 ruled 5-2 that the non-profit will have to pay property taxes for its public parking lots [PDF].

While the court didn’t question the wisdom of below-market parking garage construction as an economic development strategy, it was clear that the court didn’t buy the argument that operating public parking is related to non-profit charitable work.

“We disagree with petitioners’ assertion that the parking facilities are charitable in and of themselves because they fulfill the primary purpose of economic development,” wrote Judge Eugene Pigott for the majority. “While these goals may be laudable, they are not charitable.”

“We’re waiting for the lawyers to review the decision so we can figure out how to move ahead,” GJDC spokesman Bob Liff told the Press of Southeast Queens. “If this means they have to pay property tax, it is our job to figure out how much that is.”

GJDC now owes at least $2.7 million in back taxes, a de Blasio administration spokesperson told the paper.