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Mark-Viverito’s East Harlem Plan Recommends Tossing Parking Minimums

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets constituents in her East Harlem district, which is slated for upzoning as part of the mayor's plan to increase the city's affordable housing stock. Image: William Alatriste

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets constituents in her East Harlem district, which is slated for upzoning as part of the mayor’s plan to increase the city’s affordable housing stock. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito has released an “East Harlem Neighborhood Plan” to guide the city’s rezoning of the community, and one of the recommendations is the elimination of parking minimums.

The 138-page plan [PDF] was developed over the past 10 months as a joint project of Mark-Viverito, Community Board 11, Borough President Gale Brewer, and the grassroots social justice group Community Voices Heard. Among its recommendations, the plan calls for “increased density in select places to create more affordable housing and spaces for jobs” and that “any potential rezoning should eliminate minimum parking requirements.”

The parking minimum recommendation is unequivocal and would apply to all housing, not just subsidized housing like the de Blasio administration’s citywide “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” plan. ZQA only eliminates minimum parking requirements for affordable and senior housing development within the so-called “transit zone” — areas that are, generally speaking, a short walk from high-capacity transit.

Mark-Viverito hasn’t taken a position on the parking reforms in ZQA, and her office declined multiple inquiries from Streetsblog on the topic. The City Council is fractured on the issue, but the East Harlem plan indicates that the speaker supports the idea that mandatory car storage is less important than maximizing housing options.

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4 More City Council Members Weigh in on Parking Reform

The mayor is proposing the elimination of parking requirements in new affordable housing projects within the designated "transit zone," in purple: Image: DCP

The mayor’s rezoning proposal eliminates minimum parking requirements for subsidized housing within the designated “transit zone,” in purple: Image: DCP

Last week, City Hall’s proposal to reduce parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit got a hearing in the City Council, and for the most part it wasn’t pretty. Council members may say they want more affordable housing, but for many of them, that support gets shaky if it means requiring less parking in residential development.

The parking reforms are part of a larger rezoning package that needs approval from the City Council in order to be enacted. Some changes are expected before a vote is held, and lower parking requirements could be in jeopardy, especially in areas where council members are hostile to the idea.

Last week we published what council members said about parking minimums during the hearing. Streetsblog is calling around to get more council members on the record. Here’s what we’ve heard so far — this batch of four council reps gives more cause for optimism than last week’s batch of nine.


Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez (Washington Heights, Inwood)

YRHSRodriguez, whose Upper Manhattan district is in the transit zone, took to Twitter last week to reiterate his support for the parking reforms. Rodriguez had previously voiced his support for eliminating parking minimums entirely. Speaking at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation in October, Rodriguez argued for the elimination of parking minimums to help get New Yorkers out of cars and into other modes of transportation. “If we can broaden these reforms beyond just affordable and senior housing,” he said, “we will encourage residents to find new, safe and efficient ways to get to work without straining their pockets or our streets.”

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Eric Adams Proposes Downtown Brooklyn Car-Share Fleet for City Agencies

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is open to clearing Borough Hall Plaza of parked cars, and he also wants City Hall to study a car-share system for government agencies in Downtown Brooklyn.

We reported last November that Adams and his staff resumed using the plaza as a parking lot after an $11 million rehab, following the lead of his predecessor, shameless space hog Marty Markowitz.

In a recent letter to Mayor de Blasio, Adams said he is considering an internal survey to determine how Borough Hall employees get to work and looking at using off-site garages instead of the plaza.

He also suggested that city agencies with offices in Downtown Brooklyn may be able to consolidate their fleets. Adams wants to the city to investigate a “municipal car share system” to consolidate the vehicles of the half-dozen or so agencies located downtown. The Department of Buildings, the Department of Education, and DOT are among the agencies with offices in the area.

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Paying for Parking in NYC Is About to Get Easier, But Will It Get Smarter?

Last week, Mayor de Blasio and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced the implementation of a new payment option for all of the city’s 85,000 metered parking spaces. By the end of the year, people will be able to pay for parking using a mobile app.

Parkmobile, the likely contractor for DOT's new pay-by-cell parking, will allow users to pay via mobile app or phone call. Image: Parkmobile

Parkmobile, the likely contractor for DOT’s new pay-by-cell parking, will allow users to pay via mobile app or phone call. Image: Parkmobile

Mobile payment is a lot more convenient for drivers than Muni meters and paper receipts. On its own, however, it can’t change the fact that most metered spots are underpriced, which makes it hard for drivers to find open spots and causes a significant share of traffic in commercial districts. The big promise of mobile payment is that can be the spoonful of sugar that helps dynamic meter pricing go down.

Will mobile payment be rolled out at the same time as expansions of Park Smart, DOT’s dynamic meter pricing program? DOT hasn’t tied the two together yet, but the agency did tell Streetsblog that this year, it “will be collecting parking metrics in neighborhoods across the city to build parking profiles which may influence changes that NYC DOT may make in the near future to parking rates and regulation.”

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City Council’s Zeal for Affordable Housing Crumbles If It Means Less Parking

On Tuesday, members of the City Council hammered the de Blasio administration for not guaranteeing enough housing units for low-income New Yorkers in new construction. But yesterday, when the topic turned to building more affordable housing by reducing parking requirements, several Council members lost their zeal for housing and worried more about car storage.

The mayor is proposing the elimination of parking requirements in new affordable housing projects within the designated "transit zone," in purple: Image: DCP

The proposed “transit zone” where parking requirements for subsidized housing would no longer apply. Image: DCP

The hearing yesterday was about the City Hall proposal called “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” or ZQA for short. One exciting aspect of ZQA is that it would reduce mandatory parking minimums for subsidized housing in a large swath of the city — freeing up space and resources to house people instead of cars. It’s not as exciting as eliminating all parking minimums everywhere, but it’s the single largest reform proposed for the city’s parking requirements in a long time.

Yesterday, Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been and City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod answered questions from council members about ZQA. The same chamber that the day before was so passionate about providing sufficient housing for less affluent New Yorkers suddenly seemed willing to compromise the construction of affordable residences in order to preserve the guaranteed construction of parking.

Following the lead of community boards, most council members who spoke yesterday seemed convinced that reducing parking requirements would be a burden on their constituents. Several of them wanted to keep their districts out of the “transit zone,” the area where parking requirements would no longer apply to subsidized housing. They often cited the inadequacy of transit in their districts as a reason to oppose the parking reforms, even though parking requirements make surface transit worse by pumping more traffic onto the streets.

Been and Weisbrod repeatedly emphasized that the overwhelming majority of parking spots in subsidized housing developments are unused. “We’re not saying that, in a given area, a housing provider can’t provide parking to its residents,” Weisbrod said. “We’re simply saying that we shouldn’t require it when we know and they know that it wouldn’t be utilized and those funds could better be used for other purposes — for affordable housing and, even more importantly, the space could be used for either affordable housing or open space or other community amenities.”

A major question going forward is whether City Hall and the council will water down the parking reforms before a vote on ZQA. If that happens, there will be no vote and no public record of council members’ positions on the proposal as it exists today. So here’s a record of what City Council members said about parking minimums at the hearing.

Zoning and Franchises Committee Chair Donovan Richards (Southeast Queens) 

Photo: NYC Council

“In Queens you can get to Florida by plane just as quickly as you can get to Manhattan,” said Richards. While questioning Been and Weisbrod, he suggested that some neighborhoods in the transit zones did not have “reliable” transportation options. “Certainly there would be some adverse impacts on some of the particular transit zones you’ve presented,” he said. “So this is a continuous conversation but we’re certainly hoping that you’re open to refining some of the transit zones as we move forward.”

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The Key for Park Slope to Keep Its Big Grocery Store: Less Parking

pslope_keyfood

The Park Slope Key Food site. Image: Avery Hall Investments via DNAinfo

The notion that New York City housing construction shouldn’t be weighed down by mandatory parking minimums got a combative response from some City Council members at a hearing today. Streetsblog will have a thorough round-up of who said what tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here’s a quick detour to Park Slope for a related story about how parking rules everything around us.

At issue is the redevelopment of a 36,000-square-foot Key Food and adjacent parking lot by Fifth Avenue in north Park Slope. The store sells groceries at affordable prices and is an emblem of the organizing that helped turn around the neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s. Replacing it is a big deal.

In addition to about 400 locals, Council Member Brad Lander, Borough President Eric Adams, and Public Advocate Tish James were on hand for the meeting last night where developer Avery Hall Investments presented its plan, DNAinfo reports. The project would consist of 165 apartments, ground floor retail, a car-free “piazza” between two new buildings — and 182 underground parking spots (the site currently has about 100 surface spaces).

The aspect that has people most up in arms is the smaller size of the replacement grocery store. It would only be 7,500 square feet, about one-fifth the size of the Key Food.

As Stephen Smith pointed out on Twitter, you can swap in a much bigger grocery store if you lose some parking:

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If You Want to Buy a Car in Japan…

If you want to buy a car in Japan, first you have to prove that you have somewhere to park it. That’s one of the policies Streetfilms encountered while interviewing experts for an upcoming three-part series on parking best practices.

Here’s a sneak peek courtesy of Streetfilms correspondent Joe Baur, who grabbed this interview about the costs of car ownership in Japan with Byron Kidd from Tokyo By Bike.

The parking requirement is one of several policies that helps keep cars from overrunning Japanese cities. Factor in yearly taxes, high parking fees, and tolled roads, and Japan does an excellent job of ensuring that car owners pay the full costs of their vehicles — while the first-rate transit system enables people to get around efficiently.

Stay tuned for the full parking series later this year.

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A Vote for Parking Minimums Is a Vote to Keep the Rent Too Damn High

Photo: Google Street View

Mandatory parking minimums add construction costs, restrict the supply of housing, and help put rents out of reach. Photo: Google Street View

[Editor’s note: With the City Council debating potential reforms to the city’s parking mandates today, we’re republishing this piece that originally ran in December. Stay tuned for coverage of the hearing later today.]

Jimmy McMillan may have retired from politics, but the rent is still too damn high and New York City’s mandatory parking minimums are a major reason why.

That’s because parking costs a lot of money to build and takes up a lot of space. With city rules requiring parking in new construction, New York ends up with higher rents and less housing to go around than would otherwise be the case.

The de Blasio administration has proposed doing away with parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit. Predictably, a lot of community boards still want to compel the construction of parking spaces, even if the city knows most of them will go unused.

Members of the City Council, which will negotiate the final rezoning plan with City Hall, are by and large on the fence about the proposed parking reforms. This is an issue Streetsblog has covered a lot over the past several years, so here are five reminders that a vote for parking minimums is a vote to make housing in New York City less affordable.

1. The Time Building a Project Without Parking Made It More Affordable

Navy Green is an affordable housing project in Fort Greene that consists of 458 homes, 75 percent of which will be affordable to households earning between 30 and 130 percent of the area median income. That level of affordability was possible because the project includes zero parking spots, developer Martin Dunn told Streetsblog.

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Parking Reforms Cut Congestion, So When Will DOT Get Serious About Them?

Where is PARK Smart 2.0? Image: DOT [PDF]

Where is PARK Smart 2.0? Image: DOT [PDF]

Earlier this month City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez convened a hearing on city parking policy. The committee addressed abuse of DOT- and NYPD-issued parking placards, but did not discuss one of the most promising initiatives in the city tool kit.

PARK Smart is a program that increases parking rates on certain blocks at times when demand is highest. It has proven successful in cutting congestion, but technological advancements such as pay-by-phone and a dynamic payment structure would make it even more effective.

DOT launched PARK Smart in Greenwich Village and Park Slope in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Community board opposition prompted the agency to spike parking reforms on the Upper East Side. The most recent PARK Smart expansions came in 2013, with pilot programs in Jackson Heights and on Atlantic Avenue.

Streetsblog reached out to DOT concerning the future of PARK Smart. A department spokesperson indicated that additional parking reform proposals may be forthcoming, but gave no specifics:

“The NYC Department of Transportation is moving toward the development of a more comprehensive management plan for the metered parking environment. The Park Smart initiative will seek to develop a toolbox of approaches to improve the operation and utility of the curb, as well as programs and policies that are more reflective of neighborhood demand and character. Over the course of the next year, NYC DOT will be collecting parking metrics in neighborhoods across the city to build parking profiles which may influence changes that NYC DOT may make in the near future to parking rates and regulations.”

With Governor Cuomo showing no interest in bridge toll reform, innovative parking policy is probably the best means the city has to reduce traffic congestion along its busiest commercial corridors.

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NYPD Still Resisting Attempts to Reform Parking Placard Abuse

Fraudulent parking placards are rampant in NYC, but NYPD remains opposed to a bill that would require the city to include a barcode on placards to ensure proper enforcement.

It may look official, but this “Amtrak police surgeon” placard was not issued by the city. Still, NYPD is in no hurry to cut down on placard fraud. Photo: Noah Kazis

Testifying before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Richard Schroeder cited “significant fiscal, operational, and technological issues that… cannot be resolved within the one year effective date of the legislation” as one reason why the department opposes Intro 326, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick. When Garodnick introduced a similar bill in 2011, it also met resistance from NYPD.

Schroeder said the legislation doesn’t give NYPD enough time to build a secure database of placards issued to city agencies by DOT and NYPD. He also noted that barcodes would not be able to completely prevent the fraudulent reproduction of placards, since they can be easily scanned and copied. He said NYPD was open to other strategies to improve enforcement, and expressed hope that DOT’s adoption of pay-by-phone parking technology could help mitigate the problem.

DOT Assistant Commissioner for Parking Operations Mike Marisco later testified that pay-by-phone “will also provide opportunities for much more efficient ways of managing permits.” While that’s intriguing, it’s not at all clear how placard management will be improved by a better parking meter payment system. Fake placards, after all, let people park without paying a cent.

There are approximately 104,000 valid NYC parking placards in circulation, with the largest chunk distributed to members of NYPD. They entitle the placard holder to park for free in any legal parking spot.

The placard system is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that it creates a huge incentive to drive for tens of thousands of public employees in some of the most transit-rich parts of the city. Legitimate placards are often abused as entitlements to park illegally in bus stops, crosswalks, or no-standing zones. Fake placards are shockingly easy to produce and work as well as the real thing. The mere sight of something vaguely official-looking on a dashboard is enough to intimidate enforcement agents.

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