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Posts from the Parking Category


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.

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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].

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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.

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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.


Developers Adding More Parking Than They’re Supposed To, Thanks to DCP

For years, the City Planning Commission approved special permits that let developers in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea get around limits on parking construction in the Manhattan core. Recently, the city implemented a new formula that reformers hoped would curtail these permits. But Community Board 4, Council Member Corey Johnson, and Borough President Gale Brewer say the city’s math is flawed, resulting in too much new parking. They’re asking the Department of City Planning to come up with a better measuring stick.

The city's rules allow buildings like this to exceed Manhattan parking regulations. Rendering: Related Companies and Zaha Hadid Architects

Luxury condos are securing exemptions to the Manhattan parking cap established in response to the Clean Air Act. Rendering: Related Companies and Zaha Hadid Architects

Since 1982, new buildings south of West 110th Street and East 96th Street have been subject to parking maximums established in response to the Clean Air Act.

But in practice, the city allows exceptions. If developers want to build more parking than allowed, they can apply for a special permit. For a long time, the city reflexively granted these permits for new buildings on the West Side, leading to the addition of thousands of parking spaces that otherwise wouldn’t have been built.

Then the city revised its Manhattan parking regulations in 2013, with DCP issuing new guidelines for developers looking for exemptions from parking maximums [PDF]. Has the new policy made a difference? Apparently not.

The city now requires developers seeking special permits to measure trends in the area over the past decade, by calculating changes in the number of residences and parking spaces within one-third of a mile of the project. Echoing the parking maximums in the law, DCP aims for there to be 20 percent as many new parking spaces as there are new apartments south of 59th Street. On the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, the ratio is 35 percent.

If the extra spaces being requested push that ratio above the target, it’s likely the permit will be denied. If the ratio stays below the target, the city is likely to approve the permit.

It sounds scientific, but by only looking at new development and new parking, DCP rigs the game.

For years, neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and West Chelsea had lots of extra parking but little new residential development. In the past decade, that’s changed. As a result, City Planning’s numbers show the number of new apartments far outpacing the supply of new parking spaces. This opens the door for lots of special permits to get the parking ratio up to the department’s 20 percent target, but ignores the fact that the neighborhood had lots of parking to begin with.

“They are missing a very fundamental element of the calculation,” said CB 4 Chair Christine Berthet. “It’s broken. It clearly doesn’t work.”

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Streetsblog USA
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Seattle Policy Honchos Look to Parking Reform to Make Housing Affordable

They look like houses, but they're not for people -- just cars. Photo: ## VA/flickr##

They look like houses, but people can’t live in them. Photo: Brett VA/Flickr

Buried under headlines about Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plans to battle “economic apartheid” are little-noticed reforms that would reduce or do away with parking quotas that inflate the cost of housing.

Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee released its recommendations yesterday. Noting that about “65 percent of Seattle’s land — not just its residential land but all its land — is zoned single family, severely constraining how much the City can increase housing supply,” the report calls for raising height limits in six percent of that area. The rest of the city currently zoned for single family would get “small tweaks” like allowances for mother-in-law units and duplexes to increase the housing supply within existing height limits.

Seeking to make more productive use of available land — even the land zoned for lower densities — HALA also recommends a number of reforms to parking mandates that “act as density limits” and “inflate the average size and price of housing units.”

Here are some of the major changes to off-street and on-street parking policy in the report:

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Car Dealers Turn Northern Boulevard’s Sidewalks Into Vehicle Showrooms

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

As a matter of practice, car dealerships along Northern Boulevard, one of the most dangerous streets in Queens, illegally use its sidewalks and curb lanes as a showroom for vehicles. NYPD doesn’t enforce against the appropriation of sidewalks and won’t answer questions about it.

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson recently walked down Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights and found cars for sale blocking the pedestrian right of way, including the very crosswalk where a turning truck driver killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian in 2013.

Nahian was walking to PS 152, the school where, later on, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose to first announce his Vision Zero initiative and signed a package of street safety legislation. While the city installed pedestrian islands and banned turns after Nahian was killed, it hasn’t managed to keep the sidewalks and crosswalks clear of cars for sale.

The crosswalk where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed is blocked by a car dealership using it as a display space for its latest models. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A car dealership displays one of its latest models in the crosswalk where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

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De Blasio NYCHA Proposal: More Space for People, Less Subsidized Parking

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to stabilize the finances of the New York City Housing Authority includes higher, but still subsidized, parking fees and a promise to develop a mix of market-rate and affordable housing on under-utilized property, including parking lots.

A conceptual plan for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]

A concept for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]

The mayor announced that the city will be developing new housing on NYCHA property. De Blasio took pains to distinguish the levels of subsidized housing in his proposal from an un-implemented Bloomberg administration proposal to develop housing on NYCHA property in Manhattan.

The new development plan would build 10,000 units in buildings where all residences would have below-market rents, plus about 7,000 residences in buildings that would be a 50-50 mix of market-rate and below-market units.

It’s an open question, however, exactly which NYCHA properties will be the site of new development. De Blasio said the city will begin announcing development sites in September. The New York Times reported that the first sites would be at Van Dyke and Ingersoll houses in Brooklyn and Mill Brook Houses in the Bronx.

The authority says the developments would “transform underutilized NYCHA-owned property,” including parking lots and other street-facing parcels like trash or storage areas, over the next 10 years. Parking lots are particularly promising, since they cover more than 467 acres of NYCHA property, according to a parking reform study prepared for the Institute for Public Architecture last year.

The Bloomberg administration’s development plan would have replaced any parking removed to make way for new housing. The de Blasio administration has not yet replied to a question asking if that will be the case with its plan.

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Streetsblog USA
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How Seattle Children’s Hospital Took the Lead on Healthy Transportation

Seattle Children's Hospital demonstrating how healthcare providers can be leaders in healthy transportation. Image: Seattle Children's Hospital

Seattle Children’s Hospital’s sustainable transportation goals for 2028. Image: Seattle Children’s Hospital [PDF]

It’s more than a little ironic that in many places, hospitals are some of the worst offenders when it comes to perpetrating unhealthy transportation patterns. Often surrounded by enormous parking decks, hospitals have earned a reputation as isolated institutions hermetically sealed off from surrounding neighborhoods.

But that’s beginning to change. Healthcare providers are undergoing a fundamental shift from focusing on contagious diseases to treating chronic conditions that are often related to unhealthy lifestyles, like diabetes and heart disease. Industry leaders like Kaiser Permanente are pushing reforms not only in healthcare policies and procedures, but in the physical form of hospitals and the role they plan in their communities, write Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori in their book, Sustainable Healthcare Architecture

I asked Guenther which hospitals are leading the shift to healthier transportation practices, and she singled out Seattle Children’s Hospital as the best model by a wide margin. It is indeed impressive.

In 2008, under pressure from the city of Seattle, the hospital mapped out a comprehensive transportation plan [PDF] calling for major reductions in solo car commuting. Even before that, the hospital had demonstrated leadership. Beginning in 2004, it used a combination of strategies to reduce the share of daytime commuters who drive alone to work from 50 percent to 38.5 percent.

The 2008 plan laid out a new target: to reduce the share of commuters who arrive alone by private car to 30 percent by 2028. As part of an agreement with Seattle City Hall, the hospital’s permitting to build new clinical space is tied to reductions in solo car commuting.

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