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Posts from the "Parking" Category


DCP Flubs Research on How Off-Street Parking Affects Traffic

In its latest parking report, the Department of City Planning claimed that residential off-street parking is not linked to increased driving, contradicting previous research. In response, the parking policy experts who produced that research are reprimanding the agency for jumping to conclusions based on insufficient evidence. The flub by DCP could have big consequences, because it undermines part of the rationale for eliminating parking mandates.

A majority of car owners in "inner ring" neighborhoods park for free on the street. Image: DCP

About half of “inner ring” off-street parkers use a space away from their home. Image: DCP

At the end of last year, DCP released a report setting the stage for changes to off-street parking regulations in the “inner ring” — areas of Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that have good subway access.

“The report has many valuable findings,” NYU parking policy expert Zhan Guo said in an email, “but this particular one and the associated policy conclusion does not make any sense.”

Car ownership in the inner ring is below the citywide average: 65 percent of inner ring households are car-free, and 28 percent own one car, compared to citywide levels of 54 and 32 percent, respectively.

People who do own cars in the inner ring are most likely to park them on the street for free: 59 percent said they used on-street parking, mostly near their place of residence, while 39 percent used off-street parking.

On-street and off-street parkers used their cars for similar purposes, with on-street parkers slightly more likely to have used their vehicles in the past seven days for virtually all types of trips, from errands to visiting family and friends. Notably, on- and off-street parkers differed significantly on commuting to work: On-street parkers were 50 percent more likely than off-street parkers to drive to work, with nearly half of people who stored their cars on the street saying they drove to work in the past seven days.

DCP said its data does “not support the hypothesis that Inner Ring households with an off-street parking space use their cars more frequently for journey-to-work trips than households that park on-street.” At first blush, this contrasts with research from NYU’s Guo, published in 2013, and parking policy expert Rachel Weinberger, published in 2008 and 2012, showing that availability of at-home off-street parking in New York City neighborhoods increases the likelihood that a car owner will drive for a range of trips, including journeys to work.

A closer look shows that DCP’s data does not give any reason to question existing research. There are two key reasons why. “The destinations matter,” Weinberger said. “It also makes a difference where your off-street spot is.”

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Nature’s Parking Turnover Calculator


Since the theme of the week is snowy streets and what we can learn from them, I thought I would share this photo of snow-covered windshields I took this morning on Park Place in Prospect Heights. The last significant snowfall came down during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, so these cars clearly have not moved since Tuesday at the latest, and in all likelihood have been immobile since before the Monday snow storm. Alternate side parking has been suspended the whole week, after all.

It’s good that the owners of these cars decided not to venture forth and drive this week. But I would estimate that about a quarter of all the cars on Park Place looked like this today. That’s a whole lot of prime real estate for stuff that’s just sitting around.

The curb is probably the most contentious space of all on NYC streets. To daylight intersections so people can walk across safely, you need to claim some curb space. To build the best bikeways or speed up surface transit, you often need the curb lane. But take away a few parking spots, and you’ll have a fierce fight on your hands. Even though, as the snow is telling us, a lot of people who park for free don’t need to use their cars very much at all.


DCP Releases Timid Parking Reform Study for the Boroughs

A report from the Department of City Planning issued during the final days of the Bloomberg administration is a trove of data about parking, but a look behind the pretty maps reveals a department that remains focused on dictating the supply of parking spaces and reluctant to use its power to reduce traffic and improve housing affordability. Mayor de Blasio and his to-be-announced city planning commissioner will have to fix this backwards approach to turn parking reform into an effective tool for the administration’s affordability agenda.

After targeting Downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan Core, DCP is looking at parking in the “inner ring.” Map: DCP

Under Amanda Burden, the Department of City Planning acknowledged the negative impact of parking mandates on environmental and affordability goals, then ignored many of those concerns when it came time to setting actual parking policy. Instead, the Bloomberg administration preferred to tinker with decades-old parking mandates in a few locations while preserving them across most of the five boroughs, using the promise of off-street parking as a bargaining chip to quell residents skittish about new development.

Absent a course correction from the de Blasio administration, this broken approach to parking could continue on auto-pilot. Timid half-measures that DCP made in the Manhattan core and Downtown Brooklyn appear set to spread to adjacent neighborhoods in the “inner ring” covering much of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and upper Manhattan.

In a report released last month examining parking in those neighborhoods, DCP set the stage for future policy changes by casting itself as the arbiter of parking demand. The report discusses how to adjust parking requirements to match that demand, rather than using policy as a tool to reduce traffic and drive down the cost of housing for all New Yorkers.

There is one bright spot in the report: the recommendations for income-restricted affordable housing. “Parking facilities are often expensive to construct and affect the cost of constructing residential buildings,” says the report, noting that the median cost of structured parking in New York City is the highest in the country at $21,000 per space — sometimes spiking as high as $50,000 per space. “Excessive parking requirements could hinder housing production, making housing less affordable,” it says. But instead of applying this logic to all new housing, the report focuses narrowly on subsidized units.

“Affordable housing is more susceptible than market-rate housing to the cost implications of requiring accessory parking,” the report says, noting that low-income residents are less likely to own cars and less able to pay for parking. “Updating requirements for affordable housing to better match the needs of its residents can reduce construction costs and enable more affordable units to be built.”

This issue plays out constantly in the city. In Harlem right now, a developer is looking to reduce costs by building fewer parking spaces than required, and some community board members want the savings to go toward providing more affordable housing units, according to DNAinfo. But the implications for affordable housing aren’t limited to subsidized units. If the city eliminated all parking requirements, more resources could be devoted to building homes and apartments, not car storage, and housing overall would become more affordable.

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Level the Commuter Playing Field By Reducing the Tax Break for Parking

Happy New Year, transit riders! Congress has a special present: Some of you will be getting a tax increase this year.

Some transit riders will get a tax hike this year. Image: ## Ohio Watchdog##

Some transit riders will get a tax hike this year. Image: Ohio Watchdog

Legislation that puts tax subsidies for transit commuters on equal footing with car commuters has been allowed to expire by Congress. That means people who drive to work can deduct up to $250 in parking expenses each month from their taxable income. But for transit riders, the new limit is $130.

Last year the two were equal at $245, thanks to some shrewd last-minute maneuvering by lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts. This year, no such luck, straphangers. Drivers, on the other hand, get a little bump up.

Many observers — from outlets including Time and the New Jersey Star-Ledger — have pointed out that this is obviously backward policy. And they’re absolutely right: It’s a bad idea to provide an additional financial incentive to commute by car, which has so many negative consequences for society, from air pollution to increased congestion.

Common sense dictates that at the very least, there should be equity between the tax incentives for transit commuters and car commuters. While the path of least political resistance seems to be to raise the maximum transit benefit again, the fact is that most American transit commuters (though definitely not all) would not be affected by that.

Congress should instead achieve commuter tax benefit parity by reducing the incentive for parking so that it’s equal to the transit tax break, especially since deficit reduction is purportedly a high priority on Capitol Hill.

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Real Estate Trend: Parking-Free Apartment Buildings

A wave of new residential construction projects in places like Seattle, Boston, and Miami are showing that, yes, modern American cities can build housing without any car parking on site.

A rendering of the new Lovejoy Wharf 175-unit condo development, Boston's first car-free housing development. Image: ## Curbed##

A rendering of the new 175-unit condo development, Lovejoy Wharf, in Boston. Image: Curbed

Officials in Boston gave their approval last week to what Curbed called the city’s “first big-time parking-less condo,” a 175-unit project named Lovejoy Wharf. The “plan was met with disbelief in some quarters,” according to Curbed, but the city’s redevelopment authority approved it unanimously.

Portland developers have been building housing sans parking for a few years. Last summer, NPR reported that about 40 percent of Portland’s under-construction housing was parking-free. Portland’s zoning rules have allowed zero-parking developments since the aughts, but builders and lenders weren’t pursuing that type of project until recently, the Oregonian reports. Unfortunately, the city pulled the rug out from under parking-free housing this summer, responding to car owners who feared increased competition for curbside parking spots. Portland’s new rule requires some parking in apartment buildings with more than 30 units.

Meanwhile, other cities are marching ahead. In Seattle, parking-free housing developments are becoming more common. Mark Knoll, CEO of Blueprint Capital, led the development of a 30-unit building with no parking in one of the city’s “urban villages.” These designated areas, chosen for their walkability and proximity to transit, have special zoning rules that allow Seattle developers to forgo parking. These relaxed parking requirements were set in motion by Washington state’s Growth Management Act in the 1990s, which was intended to combat urban sprawl. Since the new zoning rules came online in Seattle in 2010, between 20 and 30 parking-free projects have been developed, Knoll estimates.

Car parking is expensive: Each space in a city garage costs tens of thousands of dollars to build and hundreds of dollars annually to maintain [PDF]. Eliminating on-site parking brings down the cost of apartment construction between 20 and 30 percent, Knoll estimates. That makes it possible for developers to deliver more affordable housing. Knoll’s California Avenue development, for instance, is targeted at people making 60 percent of the area median income, or about $15 per hour.

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The Two-Step Parking Cure for Mayor de Blasio

Graphic: Matt Garcia

By mandating parking, NYC zoning deepens car dependence and induces more traffic that clogs city streets. Graphic: Matt Garcia

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.

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Affordable Housing and Parking Reform: A Great Match for Mayor de Blasio

Despite a policy book that included a top-notch street safety plank, Bill de Blasio never quite linked progressive transportation policy to social equity during the campaign. But the candidate’s campaign promises to reduce inequality did focus on the high price of housing, including a pledge to require developers to set aside a certain percentage of their projects for below-market units. To make housing more affordable for everyone, the de Blasio administration will have to revamp the city’s zoning code, and parking reform — an affordable housing issue the Bloomberg administration barely touched — should be part of that.

Bill de Blasio has an opportunity to include parking reform in his affordable housing plans. Will he make it happen? Photo: Wikipedia

The Bloomberg administration’s “inclusionary zoning” policy, launched in 2005, allows developers to build bigger projects in exchange for including affordable units. The program has yielded 2,700 units, which is 13 percent of the total number of units built in areas that qualify for inclusionary zoning. Affordable housing advocates say the city needs a more aggressive policy [PDF], and de Blasio has promised to make inclusionary zoning mandatory in a bid to deliver an ambitious 50,000 units of affordable housing in 10 years.

To create that many affordable units would require rezoning significant swaths of the city, as well as providing sufficient incentive for developers to build.

In most of New York outside the Manhattan core, developers are required to include off-street parking in new projects. Parking is expensive to build, with above-ground garages in New York costing at least $21,000 per space. That’s a big cost that pushes up the price of housing in an already-unaffordable market, all while inducing more driving and congestion on city streets.

While parking reform on its own would deliver substantial economic and environmental benefits, mayors and planning commissioners often hesitate to address it as a standalone issue. In Washington, DC, parking reform was included as part of a comprehensive rewrite of the city’s zoning code, and even then, reforms were watered down after drawing opposition from residents afraid that eliminating parking requirements would make it harder for them to find a place to park on the street.

Even the Bloomberg administration’s biggest outer-borough parking reform was only a modest change, cutting parking requirements in Downtown Brooklyn in half, rather than eliminating them altogether. By and large, the Bloomberg administration has retained parking mandates as a way to appease residents skittish about new development, rather than eliminating them as a way to reduce the cost of housing and curb traffic.

Enter de Blasio’s inclusionary zoning plan. De Blasio himself has acknowledged that parking adds to the cost of housing: “We need to fundamentally reevaluate the amount of parking included in new developments,” he said in response to a StreetsPAC questionnaire. “That excess parking induces unnecessary driving, and it also adds costs to projects that make it more difficult to provide affordable housing in new construction.”

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West Side Project Calls For 400-500 Parking Spots. Would EDC Want More?

Developer TF Cornerstone has begun the process of getting rezonings and special permits from the City Planning Commission for its residential and retail project on 11th Avenue and 57th Street, which would replace a string of auto dealerships and a 1,000-space parking garage with a new project containing either 395 or 500 parking spaces, depending on the retail tenants.

This project will cut the number of parking spaces currently on site by at least half. If EDC were in charge, parking would likely increase. Image: TF Cornerstone

TF Cornerstone’s project — 1,189 apartments plus 42,000 square feet of retail that may or may not include car dealerships — would be a step up for the site, but whether the garage has 500 or 395 spaces, it would still be more than what’s allowed under the city’s Manhattan Core parking regulations, which cap by-right “accessory parking” for mixed-use projects at 225 spaces. Even that cap, well below the proposed 500 or 395-space garage, is still higher than peak parking demand estimated in the project’s draft environmental impact statement — 150 spaces.

What’s notable about the project is that it approaches parking differently than city-led developments: It would probably look a lot worse if the Economic Development Corporation were in charge. The city’s economic development arm regularly compels developers to preserve any parking that already exists at a given site and increase the parking supply beyond what zoning normally allows or requires.

Even if TF Cornerstone gets a special permit for its garage and builds by-right accessory parking on top of that, the combined 725 spaces would still fall below what’s currently on site. That’s something EDC simply doesn’t do in most of its development projects.

At the Lower East Side’s Essex Crossing development, formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, EDC got a special permit for a 500-space public parking garage, exceeding the project’s estimated demand for parking, the caps written into the zoning code, and the number of parking spaces already on the site.

At Flushing Commons, zoning mandated 700 spaces, but EDC made sure the project included 1,600 spaces – more than double the requirement – in an effort to replace existing on-site parking. EDC is pretty explicit about its desire to never eliminate a parking space: For a project in Harlem that would replace an under-capacity garage, it told developers to “maintain as many parking spaces as possible.” EDC declined to comment on the TF Cornerstone project.

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Parking Break: What Cities Gain When They Lose Parking Quotas

This is the season climax, the culmination, the big reveal.

Previously on Parking? Lots!

Cities mandate off-street parking (guided only by junk science and groupthink). They do it in fear of territorial neighbors who want “their” curb spaces left alone. Our communities suffer horribly as a result. Information technology is shaking things up, though, and cities can now charge for curb spaces more easily. They can also share the proceeds with neighborhoods. Doing that breaks the vicious political circle that perpetuates parking quotas.

Photo: Dunwich Type, flickr

The final step — here’s the reveal — is so simple it’s anti-climactic. (Sorry.) Once they’ve metered the curb and bought off neighborhoods, cities can just ditch parking quotas: scratch them out and turn the page.

There’s never been a good policy reason for minimum parking requirements. Their political rationale — preventing spillover parking — disappears when street parking is no longer free. Then, developers can figure out for themselves how much car storage to provide, just as they decide how many dishwashers, light fixtures, and bay windows to install. The market, a spot market, emerges.

What’s not anti-climactic — and what’s the focus of this episode — is the encouraging degree to which cities are already taking this step. A few are reducing or outright scrapping off-street parking quotas, and many are writing exceptions to them.

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Curb Appeal

Alan Durning is the executive director of Sightline. This post is #15 in the Sightline series, Parking? Lots!

Imagine if you could put a meter in front of your house and charge every driver who parks in “your” space. It’d be like having a cash register at the curb. Free money! How much would you collect? Hundreds of dollars a year? Thousands? How might all that lucre shift your perspective on local parking rules?

The idea of a private meter (already available on eBay) — or a variant of it that is legal and practical — is the crux of this whole series. It’s the deal with the devil that forms the pivotal second step in UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup’s three-point plan to fix parking. Why that’s true is because of politics, and those politics take some explaining. The explanation will bring us back to the buccaneer parking meter, I promise. First, though, I need to show you some other terrain.

Parking Wars

Let’s start in Seattle and Portland, where Cascadia’s two biggest recent fights over parking have unfolded. In Seattle, in early 2012, restaurant owners in Chinatown/International District mobilized against the extension of meter operations from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., arguing that metered parking was undercutting their businesses. The evidence offered little support for their position, but the city capitulated. It reverted to shutting off most of the neighborhood’s meters at 6:00 and cutting meter rates at all the others.

In Portland a few months later, the uproar was over a spate of new apartment buildingsconstructed without on-site parking, thanks to a city exemption from parking quotas for buildings near frequent transit lines. Indignant neighbors protested, intent on keeping newcomers out of “their” parking places. It was classic parking politics — intense, irrational, expressed as righteous rage at developers allegedly “dumping their problems” on the neighborhoods. In Portland, as in Seattle, the city rolled over, reimposing parking quotas on new apartments despite the damagethey cause.

These dramas from the last 18 months in the urbanist heartland of the Northwest illustrate just how far parking reform still has to go. Parking reformers have risen through the ranks in most big-city planning departments, yet performance pricing remains at best an incipient solution and parking quotas — the invisible but massive bulwark of rules that silently malform our cities, jack up rents for working families, and tilt the whole transportation field toward internal combustion—remain deeply entrenched.

The root of the problem, as I argued at the outset of this series, is that parking territoriality is more powerful than anything currently arrayed against it. The current power imbalance reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit in which Dan Aykroyd asks, “What if Napoleon had a B-52 bomber at the battle of Waterloo?” To overcome it, we need something that can split neighborhood coalitions and thereby neutralize territoriality (and local businesses’ analogous attachment to free curb spaces on shopping streets).

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