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Local BID and CB 2 Ask DOT for More Safety Upgrades on Atlantic Avenue

If DOT follows through on local requests, Atlantic Avenue, here at Hoyt Street, could get some pedestrian safety upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

If DOT follows through on local requests, Atlantic Avenue, here at Hoyt Street, could get some pedestrian safety upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

Last week, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn became the city’s first “arterial slow zone” with a 25 mph speed limit. Now, a business improvement district on the avenue’s western end is asking for pedestrian safety upgrades, and Community Board 2′s transportation committee has signed on.

“Pedestrian improvements are customer improvements,” said Atlantic Avenue BID Executive Director Josef Szende. “[Shoppers] on Atlantic Avenue are all pedestrians, at least at some point in their journey.”

The BID is asking DOT to study the following safety improvements [PDF]:

  • Leading pedestrian intervals at all eleven intersections within the BID area. (LPIs have already been installed at Clinton, Third and Fourth Avenues.)
  • Bus bulb-outs at corners to speed loading time for bus riders and shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.
  • Shared-lane markings for cyclists along Atlantic Avenue.

Community board staff refused to talk about Tuesday’s unanimous vote supporting the BID’s request, but a board member characterized the committee’s discussion as involving very little debate. Szende said the committee was skeptical of the need for shared-lane markings, since there are parallel bike lanes on Dean, Bergen and Schermerhorn Streets, but did not ask the BID to remove sharrows from its letter to DOT.

The committee did request that the BID also ask DOT about improvements to Times Plaza, the triangle between Fourth, Atlantic, and Flatbush Avenues. ”It’s kind of a drab triangle right now. It’s just asphalt. There’s no lighting, there’s no wayfinding,” Szende said. ”We’re asking DOT to take an honest look at these things, to consider them, and come back to us with whatever they think is feasible.”

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Brooklyn Parking Preservation Board Votes Down Bike Corrals

Brooklyn Community Board 1 has had enough of the “war on cars,” and they’re taking it out on pedestrians, cyclists, and local businesses.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The Brooklyn Paper reports that four Williamsburg shops want bike corrals, to provide room to park bikes while keeping sidewalks clear. “We believe it is our responsibility to beautify the area,” said Jason Merritt, co-owner of Tutu’s, a Bogart Street bar. “And it is beneficial to businesses to have safe bike parking that is not on street signs and posts.”

But CB 1 member Simon Weiser, for one, isn’t having it. “Enough is enough,” said Weiser. “They can put it on the sidewalk and stop taking away car parking spaces. We need to keep the parking we have.” As if these four spaces will have any effect in a district with thousands and thousands of on-street parking spots.

You might remember Weiser from 2008, when he was a go-to bike lane critic during the Kent Avenue redesign fracas. Well, now he and CB 1 have drawn a line in the sand. They rejected all four corrals by a vote of 12-7.

Board members who voted against the corrals argued that there is plenty of room on sidewalks for bike parking and that their turf has lost too many parking spaces to the CitiBike bike-share program and the planned de-mapping of Union Avenue in the middle of McCarren Park, which is meant to make the greensward more pedestrian-friendly. Parking is now more difficult than it was a few years ago, Weiser argued.

So, North Brooklyn might have lost out on nicer sidewalks (DOT could overlook this vote) thanks to a few people in a position of power who think curbside car parking is scarce because there’s not enough of it. Not because it’s, you know, totally free.

“It is worrying and confusing to me that any community board would side against alternative transportation and neighborhood beautification,” said Merritt. More than that, CB 1 has sided against anyone whose highest priority isn’t securing on-street parking for their car.

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Parking Craters Aren’t Just Ugly, They’re a Cancer on Your City’s Downtown

Downtown Hartford

Downtown Hartford’s Phoenix Building sits atop a moat of (what else?) parking. Photo: Brian Herzog/Flickr

Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition has highlighted the blight that results when large surface parking lots take over a city’s downtown. Even though Rochester, winner of 2014′s Golden Crater, certainly gains bragging rights, all of the competitors have something to worry about: Cumulatively, the past 50 years of building parking have had a debilitating effect on America’s downtowns.

Streetsblog recently spoke with Chris McCahill of the State Smart Transportation Initiative in Madison, Wisconsin, to learn about his research into how parking affects small cities’ downtowns. Most recently, McCahill and his co-authors have shown how policy makers’ preoccupation with parking not only hollows out city centers, it also decimates the downtown tax base.

McCahill began his analysis as a University of Connecticut Ph.D. student in 2006, choosing to compare the postwar evolution of six small, built-up, relatively slow-growing cities: Arlington, Virginia; Berkeley, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Lowell, Massachusetts; and New Haven, Connecticut. For each of these cities, McCahill and his collaborators, most frequently professor Norman Garrick, have gone far beyond the usual publicly available statistics and hand-measured the number of parking spaces (both on- and off-street) and the size of buildings from aerial photos.

The resulting analysis shows how three of these cities have diverged from the other three since the base year of 1960. Arlington, Berkeley, and Cambridge went against the postwar grain and chose a “parking-light” approach: emphasizing transportation demand management (TDM) measures, while de-emphasizing driving and in one case even penalizing parking construction. Hartford, Lowell, and New Haven chose a conventional approach, emphasizing that downtown development should provide “adequate” parking based upon standards of the time.

These two paths led these cities to very different outcomes, which McCahill has chronicled in a series of publications. Most recently, he co-authored two papers about how parking has affected the six downtowns’ urban fabric and their tax bases. Parking lots take a big bite out of the conventional cities’ tax bases, which could reap 25 percent more in downtown property taxes had they chosen a parking-light approach instead.

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Will de Blasio’s Affordable Housing Plan Take on NYC’s Parking Mandates?

With a plan due by May 1, the clock is ticking for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing team to come up with a plan to improve housing affordability. Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, who authored reports on the city’s regressive parking mandates before joining the administration, is at the center of the team producing the plan. But it’s still not clear that the final product will consider the elimination of parking requirements as a strategy to create more affordable housing.

Will the city give developers a break on parking in exchange for more affordable housing? Photo: Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr

Will the city reduce parking mandates in exchange for more affordable housing? Photo: Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr

Parking mandates, which apply almost everywhere in NYC outside the Manhattan core, are a key piece of the larger affordability puzzle. The city and housing advocates have long recognized that parking requirements contribute to the high cost of new housing.

The Department of City Planning, acknowledging that low-income households have low car ownership rates, has eliminated parking requirements for affordable housing in zoning reforms for the Manhattan core and downtown Brooklyn. The department has also suggested eliminating affordable housing parking requirements as part of reforms for “inner ring” neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Affordable housing advocates cheered this approach. “We see parking as a major drag on affordable housing projects,” said Alexandra Hanson, policy director at the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, the trade association representing developers of affordable housing. “It’s a requirement that isn’t really serving the residents or the community.”

Other advocates want a guarantee that lower parking requirements will lead directly to more below-market housing. Moses Gates, of the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, a coalition of non-profit affordable housing advocates and developers, said the city should link any reduction in parking requirements to the creation of more affordable units.

“If we’re going to change the parking rules to make it easier to build,” he said, “that should be explicitly tied to the creation of affordable housing.”

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Will Michael Schlein Stop NYC EDC From Subsidizing Parking?

This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the appointment of Michael Schlein as chair of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Schlein, a Wall Street insider with close ties to the mayor, joins EDC President Kyle Kimball atop the agency’s leadership. EDC has a terrible track record of subsidizing parking garages and overseeing mega-projects with acres of excess parking. The contours of a new direction under de Blasio — perhaps one with less parking – are still taking shape.

Image: Accion

De Blasio’s nominee for EDC chair, Michael Schlein. Photo: Accion

In recent years, when EDC wasn’t financing parking construction directly, its projects often required builders to not only replace existing parking spaces as part of a new development, but also mandated more spaces than prescribed by the zoning code. The result: Gargantuan, pedestrian-hostile garages sit mostly empty in East Harlem and the Bronx, and increased development costs drive up prices in neighborhoods from the Lower East Side to Flushing.

Schlein hasn’t offered many hints about what he will do at EDC, but has said that New York should decrease its reliance on tax incentives, which EDC often uses to grease the way for parking construction. “I think we no longer need to use tax incentives to get companies and people to come to New York City,” he told the New York Times. “New York City is a magnet for talent and employees, and I completely agree with Mayor de Blasio’s view that we need to be more prudent in how we use that tool.”

Schlein replaces Victor F. Ganzi, former head of The Hearst Corporation, who has served as chairman since 2009. The board must approve all contracts and agreements, so as chair, Schlein can exercise oversight and help set the tone, but he will be less involved in day-to-day operations than Kimball.

Kimball, appointed EDC president by Mayor Bloomberg last August and kept on by de Blasio, took over from Seth Pinsky last August. “The worst thing we could do is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking,” Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010. Asked about EDC’s parking policy last year, Pinsky talked about transit without once mentioning parking.

EDC development requests in recent months haven’t included large-scale parking requirements, though it’s not clear yet if that indicates a shift at EDC or just the nature of the small lot sizes of its recent projects.

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Eyes on the Street: Illegal Parking Crackdown Coming to Jay Street

Photo: Eric McClure

Photo: Eric McClure

Reader Eric McClure spotted these flyers today on cars “up and down Jay Street between Johnson and Willoughby,” in the 84th Precinct. This comes a few weeks after attendees at a public workshop identified illegal parking as a major safety hazard and a major source of dysfunction on Jay Street, where pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and private motorists all mix near the Manhattan Bridge approach.

“Looks like the 84 is getting ready to start writing some tickets,” McClure writes. “Big props to [CO] Capt. [Maximo] Tolentino.”

Judging by the flyer, excuses on the dashboard aren’t going to fly.

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Survey: Majority of New Yorkers Would Pay for a Parking Permit

If you own a car in New York City and need a place to park, leaving it on the street is a nice bargain. The only “cost” is alternate-side restrictions for street cleaning — otherwise, all that space is free. It’s such a good deal that in outer-borough neighborhoods, most car owners with an off-street space at home still choose to leave their cars at the curb.

NYC street parking is free, but New Yorkers are willing to pay. Photo: Chris Murphy/Flickr

NYC street parking is free, but most New Yorkers are willing to pay, according to a survey. Photo: Chris Murphy/Flickr

New York is one of the few large American cities without residential parking permits. While the city has not put any price on residential curbside parking, New Yorkers themselves are willing to pay, according to a new survey by researchers at NYU and CUNY. More than half of survey respondents who live outside the Manhattan core said they would be willing to pay for an on-street parking permit, if the city offered them.

Conventional wisdom assumes that attaching a price to curbside parking in New York is political suicide. ”It doesn’t reflect… what people would be willing to pay,” said Simon McDonnell, a policy analyst at City University of New York who co-wrote the paper with NYU professor Zhan Guo. “There had been no quantification of that in New York City.”

“Curb pricing is not a definite no,” Guo said.

The survey, conducted from 2010 to 2011 and released last October, was filled out by 200 respondents in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan above 110th Street offering information about their demographics and transportation routines. It also included this key question:

Many US cities have parking permits that restrict on-street parking to local residents in a neighborhood. As a result, non-residents are only allowed to park for a limited period of time (e.g. two hours) in these permit zones. If New York City offered your household an on-street parking permit for your neighborhood, how much would you be willing to pay for it?

About 53 percent of respondents — who included car owners as well as car-free New Yorkers — said that if the city offered permits, they would be willing to pay, giving an average price of $408 per year. Factoring in the 47 percent who said they wouldn’t shell out any money for a permit, the average amount respondents said they would pay was $215.

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NYPD’s Superb New Double-Parking Flyer

Here’s a message we’re not used to seeing from NYPD: Double-parking is dangerous.

Reader Brendan Gray reports spotting this flyer in the window of a Dunkin’ Donuts on Eighth Avenue in Midtown a few days ago. NYPD tweeted it out yesterday afternoon.

It’s just a flyer, and yeah, you could probably spot a few double-parked squad cars on your lunch break today. But this is also a huge step up from, say, the “safety tips for pedestrian” flyer that 1 Police Plaza was distributing a few months ago. Things are changing at NYPD.

We’ll know NYPD has really turned the corner when police take on the scourge of double-parking by going to community boards and making the case for Park Smart metering.

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Parking Madness 2014: Send Us Your Pics of Awful Parking Craters

This eyesore in Minneapolis fell to Columbia, South Carolina, in the first round. Photo: Eddie Cunat

This eyesore in Minneapolis, fell to Columbia, South Carolina, in the first round of last year’s Parking Madness tournament. Photo: Eddie Cunat

It’s March, which can only mean one thing: Parking Madness time. Last year we asked our readers to help us crown the worst parking crater in an American city, and in that inaugural 16-entry bracket, Tulsa blew away the competition. But we know there are still plenty of other parking lots out there that make downtown look like a lunar landscape, so here comes the sequel.

A couple of things are different this time around: We’re accepting submissions from anywhere, not just the United States, though we won’t consider the 16 entries from last year’s tournament. In some cases, like Tulsa, this will probably rule out the entire city, but other places have more than one god-awful parking crater in town. Before you submit a parking crater, please review last year’s field so you can avoid sending an ineligible entry.

So show us the worst parking scars marring your city. Send your parking crater photos and a brief explanation about why it’s the worst to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org by Friday, March 14.

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Two Trees: Less-Parking-for-More-Affordable-Housing a No Go at Domino

A rendering of the Domino Sugar Factory plan from Two Trees Management. Image: SHoP Architects

A rendering of the Domino Sugar Factory plan from Two Trees Management. Image: SHoP Architects

In his first big stand on development, Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to wring more affordable housing out of the Domino Sugar Factory project on the Williamsburg waterfront. The mixed-use plan currently calls for 2,284 housing units, 29 percent of them affordable. The mayor is looking for more affordable housing, while so far developer Two Trees Management has offered to solidify its existing commitments.

One way to shift resources toward subsidized residences could be to reduce the number of parking spaces in the development. The current plan calls for 1,050 parking spaces — several hundred fewer than earlier versions of the project, but still enough to fill about two city blocks. But Two Trees says a parking reduction is off the table because it would require adjustments to the project’s environmental review documents in advance of a City Planning Commission vote scheduled for Wednesday.

Off-street structured parking in New York City costs up to $50,000 per space to build. Recognizing the expense that parking adds to housing construction, the city has suggested eliminating parking mandates for affordable housing in “inner ring” neighborhoods like Williamsburg. It remains unclear how much the de Blasio administration will use the elimination of parking minimums to achieve its affordability goals.

The New York Times first reported the de Blasio administration’s Domino bargaining effort yesterday, and the topic came up at a mayoral press conference today.  ”This proposal on the table offers a lot of opportunity for the developer, and we think it’s important that it also offer a lot back for the people,” de Blasio said, adding that he hopes Two Trees will make a deal “that will allow us to create a lot more benefit for communities, starting with affordable housing.” 

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen and City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod are leading the administration’s effort. Streetsblog has asked City Hall if it is pushing for a reduction in parking as a way to secure more affordable housing but has not received a response.

Asking for affordable housing in exchange for less parking is not unprecedented. In East Harlem, the community board pushed the developer of a 32-story residential tower on 125th Street to add more affordable housing in exchange for building half the amount of parking required by the zoning code. In the end, the developer got the parking variance but the board didn’t get the affordable units, settling instead for an agreement that local residents would be hired for retail jobs in the development.

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