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Posts from the "Downtown Brooklyn" Category

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Council Members Use Downtown Brooklyn Parking Reform as Bargaining Chip

Parking reform for Downtown Brooklyn — which would take the mild but worthwhile step of cutting the district’s mandatory parking minimums in half – went before a City Council subcommittee on Monday. The fate of the proposal now comes down to council members Tish James and Steve Levin, who represent the area. The two representatives are talking tough and trying to get DCP to do more — but what they want has little to do with parking policy.

Tish James and Steve Levin want to use parking reform to address unrelated aspects of Downtown Brooklyn's 2004 rezoning. Photos: City Council

James and Levin want guarantees that repurposed parking garages or future development will include more income-restricted units, a new elementary school, or other community facilities that they say are lacking since more families moved to the neighborhood following a 2004 rezoning. The council members are basically using parking reform as leverage to extract unrelated amenities from the city.

“Council Member James and I would like to see these issues addressed sooner rather than later,” Levin said at Monday’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises hearing, “and see this as a particular opportunity to have that conversation.”

On the affordable housing front, one step that would also make an impact would be to eliminate parking mandates entirely. But neither James nor Levin are asking for the elimination of parking minimums. This despite the fact that James herself acknowledges that parking mandates increase the cost of housing.

The Navy Green development, in her district, received a waiver from the city’s existing parking rules, allowing it to keep costs down for tenants and increase the number of affordable units. DCP wants to eliminate all parking requirements for income-restricted developments like Navy Green, a proposal James supports.

At the same time, James is skeptical that market-rate housing consumers would benefit from the same type of reform. ”I’m not naïve enough to think that savings will be passed along to buyers or renters,” she told Streetsblog. ”Most developers are not in the business of benevolence.”

But the evidence does not suggest that developers will just pocket the savings from not having to build parking, said Simon McDonnell, a research affiliate at New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. ”If the market is operating, a reduction in developers’ input costs clearly gives them more leeway to offer lower prices,” he said, which could put market-rate units within the range of people who can’t afford luxury housing but don’t qualify for income restricted housing.

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Planning Commission OKs Paltry Parking Reform for Downtown Brooklyn

The New York City Department of City Planning announced yesterday that the City Planning Commission has approved a measure to reduce Downtown Brooklyn’s onerous parking minimums. But the commission, chaired by Amanda Burden, appears to have wasted an opportunity to improve on the timid reforms.

The City Planning Commission moved ahead with reducing -- but not eliminating -- the Downtown Brooklyn parking minimums that force developers to build entire floors of unwanted parking, like at 29 Flatbush.

The good news is that new developments in Downtown Brooklyn, one of the most transit-rich places in America, will no longer have to include four parking spaces for every 10 residential units, and the mandate for affordable housing to include parking will be eliminated. That should make it easier to supply much-needed housing and lessen the government-mandated incentive to own and drive a car.

The bad news is that the new rules still require two parking spaces for every 10 units of market-rate housing. Instead of letting builders supply parking based on demand or capping the supply of parking to curb traffic, DCP and the planning commission insist on guessing how many people will own cars and compelling developers to build that amount of parking. In DCP’s words, the amendment is an attempt to “match residential requirements to residents’ use.” But as one downtown Brooklyn developer told DCP officials at a June hearing, a 20 percent mandate still compels the construction of more parking than some developers believe residents will use.

At public hearings this summer, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Community Board 2, and a parade of developers all asked for the lower parking minimums to apply retroactively, so that residential parking spots which currently sit empty can be repurposed as retail space, offices, or other uses. The zoning amendment that the planning department linked to in its Twitter announcement yesterday [PDF] does not apply the changes to existing buildings, however. Streetsblog has a request in with DCP to see if the planning commission decided to update the proposal and let developers repurpose their empty parking spaces after all before voting on the amendment.

UPDATE: DCP confirms that the amendment was revised to apply the lower parking minimums retroactively — a welcome improvement. A second revision would let developers site the mandated off-street parking up to half a mile from a new project, up from a quarter mile in the original amendment. This enhances a provision that allows developers to put the mandatory parking in public parking garages.

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Barclays Center Opening Weekend Traffic: Not a Total Disaster

Many residents and elected leaders from the neighborhoods near the Barclays Center in Prospect Heights are letting out a sigh of relief after steeling for gridlock this weekend. Sellout crowds for the arena’s first events — three Jay-Z concerts — did not completely overwhelm nearby neighborhoods with traffic, but the strain on local streets was still clear.

Traffic generated by the first events at the Barclays Center was not as heavy as expected, but there are still problems. Photo: Mark Bonifacio/Daily News

“It wasn’t as bad as we expected,” Danae Oratowski, chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, told Streetsblog.

Council Member Letitia James said her office was “pleasantly surprised that we did not receive as many complaints as I had anticipated.”

Despite the relative smoothness of the arena’s opening, there were rough spots. Early indications show that the share of event-goers taking transit may not be as high as predicted during the arena’s planning, while free curbside parking on local streets seems to be irresistible to many drivers looking to avoid paying at parking garages and lots. Sidewalk space fell short of what was needed to handle the number of pedestrians, especially when the concerts let out, which led police to close Atlantic Avenue to vehicles in order to accommodate crowds leaving the arena.

After the concerts ended on Friday and Saturday, NYPD barriers proved to be ineffective crowd control, as sidewalks filled up near the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street and along Atlantic Avenue. Presently, there is no crosswalk for people leaving the arena’s mid-block Atlantic Avenue exit. “The sidewalks are too small to accommodate the crowd,” said James.

Traffic management around the arena was supplemented by additional NYPD personnel for opening weekend. “One of the reasons it worked so well is that there were vast numbers of police officers on the streets,” Oratowski said. “I don’t know if that’s really a sustainable plan for the future.”

Not that the traffic management provided by police necessarily improved matters either. NYPD officers waved many drivers through red lights, leading to conflicts with crossing pedestrians and cyclists who had a green light. Safety apparently wasn’t the top priority. 78th Precinct Captain Michael Ameri told the Patch, ”I’m in a good mood because traffic is moving well.”

A large portion of concertgoers got to the event by subway. Turnstile exits at the recently rechristened “Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center” station increased 6,754 in the four hours before the show compared to other Fridays in September, according to MTA data analyzed by WNYC. If all of those additional riders were going to the Barclays Center, they would make up approximately one in three concert attendees at the sold-out 19,000-seat arena.

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Markowitz: Loosen Downtown BK Parking Regs for Older Buildings Too

Borough President Marty Markowitz wants to reduce parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn, and he thinks developers should be able to convert existing parking spots to other uses.

Downtown Brooklyn Map

The area of downtown Brooklyn rezoned in 2004 will be affected by DCP's proposed parking rule changes.

This spring the Department of City Planning unveiled a plan to cut Downtown Brooklyn’s onerous parking requirements in half, and Markowitz’s recommendations [PDF] are the latest step on the way to enacting some type of reform. In some respects, his preferred parking reforms go farther than DCP’s original proposal and a resolution passed by Community Board 2 this summer. The borough president wants to retroactively apply the reduced parking minimums to downtown Brooklyn properties developed since 2001, condition the relaxed parking requirements for new development on the inclusion of affordable housing units, and increase the requirements for bicycle parking.

While this bodes well for Downtown Brooklyn parking reform, it also indicates that DCP didn’t aim very high with its original proposal. With local Council Member Steve Levin being an early proponent of reform, perhaps the complete elimination of Downtown Brooklyn parking requirements would have stood a chance.

Markowitz’s bike parking recommendation is attracting the most attention this week, but his most significant request may be to retroactively apply the new parking rules to any development built since 2001, which would allow parking spaces that currently sit empty to be converted to more productive uses. Markowitz’s position goes farther than Community Board 2, whose land use committee voted 9-2 in June to support retroactive application only for projects that included an affordable housing component, after a vote to apply the rules to all existing development failed.

Markowitz does not go so far as to support removing parking minimums entirely. “We should not make future plans based on initial trends of the past decade,” he states in the letter. Arguing that the area may attract residents in the future who “will view access to automobiles in a different light,” Markowitz says that one of the country’s most transit-rich neighborhoods needs parking mandates in cases when “public transportation is inadequate for the intended journey.”

And in fact he’d like to attach some conditions to relaxed parking minimums in new development. Echoing CB 2, Markowitz wants the zoning code to create further incentive for developers to utilize the inclusionary housing program, by triggering the reduced parking requirements for market-rate units only if at least 20 percent of a project’s units are affordable. It should be noted that lowering parking minimums is, on its own merits, a way to reduce the cost of housing.

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Developers, CB 2: Let’s Repurpose Downtown Brooklyn’s Empty Parking

Parking reform in Downtown Brooklyn doesn’t go far enough, said developers at a public hearing last night, and the land use committee of Brooklyn Community Board 2 agreed. They want reduced parking requirements to apply not only to new buildings, as proposed by the Department of City Planning, but also to existing buildings and developments under construction. This would allow developers to convert empty floors of parking into retail, housing, or office space.

Construction is currently underway on 29 Flatbush Avenue, which was required to include multiple floors of parking that the developer did not want to build.

The DCP proposal is a step forward for Downtown Brooklyn but could go much farther: It would cut the current parking minimums in half, and eliminate them for affordable housing. Though parking politics in New York City is often hotly contested, not a single member of the public appeared at last night’s hearing to testify against the changes or to push for the continued oversupply of parking spaces.

Instead, representatives of Brooklyn’s real estate industry came to describe how the requirements, which currently mandate the construction of four parking spaces for every 10 market-rate residences, are raising rents for everyone in the area. “We have parking in the basement, the ground level, the second floor and the third floor, at great expense,” said Drew Spitler, whose company is building a 327-unit apartment building at 29 Flatbush Avenue. “We went to great pain to build the parking, because of the current requirements.”

Rather than request the outright elimination of parking mandates, the developers asked to make the reduction in Downtown Brooklyn parking requirements retroactive, allowing them to repurpose existing parking. “You could use the third or fourth level of parking for new industries that are coming into Downtown Brooklyn, retail, housing, you name it,” said Tom Conoscenti, the executive director of planning and administration for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Activate these spaces.”

Indirectly, making parking reform retroactive could also allow future developments to be built without parking, despite the continued existence of parking minimums. Existing buildings could rent out no-longer-required spaces to satisfy the parking requirements for new projects going up nearby, confirmed Purnima Kapur, director of DCP’s Brooklyn office.

The call for retroactively reducing parking requirements was echoed by representatives from Two Trees Management Company, Forest City Ratner, 388 Bridge and The Hub. Between all of their Downtown Brooklyn projects, hundreds of parking spaces could be repurposed.

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If DCP Won’t Scrap Downtown BK Minimums, Is Broader Parking Reform Dead?

Thirteen subway lines pass through the Downtown Brooklyn area, shaded in peach. If DCP won't eliminate parking minimums here, what are the prospects for reform elsewhere? Image: DCP

The proposed reduction of parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn, though seriously insufficient, is good news for housing affordability and environmental sustainability in New York City. But it’s terrible news for those hoping to see broader reforms of New York City’s parking requirements. If the Department of City Planning felt so politically constrained that it could only halve parking requirements for market-rate units in Downtown Brooklyn, it’s hard to see any meaningful change happening in the rest of the city — unless residents and activists get serious about advocating for real parking reform.

As Streetsblog reported yesterday, the Department of City Planning considered eliminating parking requirements entirely in Downtown Brooklyn, but opted against it for a single reason: undefined “community input.” By DCP’s own admission, under the new proposal many large Downtown Brooklyn developments would still be required to build more parking than they want or need. Parking minimums would be eliminated entirely for affordable housing.

That disappointing outcome took place among what will surely be the most favorable conditions for parking reform in the city. Thirteen subway lines stop in Downtown Brooklyn, more than even exist in any other American city. The powerful local business community has been pushing for a reduction or elimination of the minimums for years, and the local City Council member, Steve Levin, had expressed support for such a move. Significantly fewer Downtown Brooklyn residents own cars than in the surrounding community district, much less the borough or city as a whole.

If given all those advantages DCP was only willing to cut parking minimums in half, what could they possibly propose for neighborhoods like Harlem, Williamsburg, or Long Island City, much less the broad swath of neighborhoods being studied in the department’s “inner ring” parking study?

There’s still a chance to show the Department of City Planning that it can think bigger, though, in Downtown Brooklyn and elsewhere. Community Board 2, Borough President Marty Markowitz and the City Council all must weigh in on the proposal, and public hearings will be held by the community board, council, and City Planning Commission. These venues offer an opportunity to show that the preponderance of “community input” is pushing for the elimination of parking minimums, not their retention.

More fundamentally, though, City Planning Director Amanda Burden and her bosses, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel and Mayor Bloomberg, need to show a little spine in the face of motorist demands for more parking. This administration, not one generally known for its timidity, is falling far behind its peers on parking policy. Across the country, cities are eliminating or reducing parking minimums citywide.

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DCP Proposal Will Cut Downtown Brooklyn Parking Minimums in Half

A slide from a DCP presentation shows that at the Avalon Fort Greene, the proposed reduction in parking maximums would still mandate more parking spaces than residents currently use.

Downtown Brooklyn’s mandatory parking minimums would be cut in half for new development and eliminated outright for affordable housing under a plan from the Department of City Planning. The change is significant — the first rollback of the costly and car-ownership inducing requirements under the Bloomberg administration — but doesn’t go far enough. Even by DCP’s own roundabout admission, the reduced parking minimums will still create an unnecessarily large supply of parking.

Currently, zoning for the city’s third-largest business district requires a 40 percent parking ratio for market-rate housing units (i.e. four parking spots for every 10 apartments) and 25 percent for affordable housing. The DCP plan would drop the market-rate ratio to 20 percent and eliminate the requirement for affordable housing. There are currently no parking minimums in the area for commercial buildings and no parking minimums on any development along a designated stretch of Atlantic Avenue.

“Our goal is to rationalize parking requirements for Downtown Brooklyn, recognizing that it has some of the best transit infrastructure and one of lowest rates of auto ownership in New York City,” said DCP Director Amanda Burden. “Our new Downtown Brooklyn Off-Street Parking rules will better allocate parking where it is needed while removing the financial burden of having to provide parking for affordable housing.”

The reforms are badly needed in Downtown Brooklyn, which DCP senior planner Lish Whitson noted boasts “some of the best transit infrastructure in the country.” Residential developments simply don’t use the amount of parking they are being required to build. Existing garages in the area are only half full on the weekend and 40 percent filled during the evenings, according to data provided by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

“There’s an oversupply right now,” Burden said.

In his presentation to the planning commission, Whitson singled out one building to illustrate how the new rules would work. The Avalon Fort Greene has 631 rental units and was required by law to provide 252 new parking spaces along with them. During the evenings, DCP found, only 88 of those spaces are filled. Each parking space in the area costs $50,000 to build, Whitson said. When the spaces sit empty, or when garages have to drop their prices to attract customers, he noted, “those costs are passed on to the residents of the buildings, most of whom don’t own cars.”

But at 20 percent, the proposed parking minimums are still too high for the area. At the Avalon, Whitson admitted that the new minimums would have required 126 spaces to be built, a number that is still 50 percent higher than what the building currently rents out.

Why, then, mandate such a high number? More than one planning commissioner wondered the same thing.

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Willoughby Plaza, Already a Hit, Gets a Capital Upgrade

A diagram of the permanent Willoughby Street plaza. Click here for a larger image with legible text. Image: DDC

Downtown Brooklyn’s Willoughby Street plaza, located just off Adams Street, was the forerunner of New York City’s current efforts to reclaim roadways as pedestrian spaces. Built in 2006, before Janette Sadik-Khan took over the city Department of Transportation, the city used now-familiar ingredients — concrete planters and folding chairs — to close the block to auto traffic and open up space for people to walk and sit.

Six years later, the plaza is a construction site, as the city transforms it from an overnight experiment to a permanent part of Downtown Brooklyn. New street trees and planting beds will supersede the movable planters and uniform sidewalk-style paving will replace the asphalt of the former roadbed.

The neighbors can’t wait.

“The new pedestrian plaza that they’re putting in is going to be fantastic,” said Jeff Kay, COO of Muss Development. “We’re really excited about it.”

Muss Development bought the bottom two floors of 345 Adams Street, a superblock-sized city office building that fronts the Willoughby plaza, in 2007, with the intention of turning the space from offices into retail. Kay said the plaza has been a boon to restaurants signing new leases in the building. “It’s a great complement, the fact that people can eat there and bring stuff out of the restaurant,” he said.

A new Panera Bread is set to open shortly on the ground floor of 345 Adams, according to Brownstoner. A Muss media release says Candy shop Sugar and Plumm and restaurant American BBQ and Beer Company are scheduled to open this fall. A Shake Shack just opened on the other side of the plaza.

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On Jay Street, Police Break Traffic Laws More Than They Enforce Them

Walk out on any New York City street and you’re likely to find rampant disregard for traffic laws. Pinpointing exactly who’s speeding requires special equipment, but for many offenses, you can track the level of lawlessness with the naked eye.

A team of Transportation Alternatives volunteers did just that over the course of October on the block of Jay Street between Willoughby and Johnson Streets, a major approach to the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge in downtown Brooklyn. Over the course of eight weekday rush hours, the volunteers tracked three easy-to-catch violations: Bike lane blocking, bus stop blocking, and illegal U-turns.

On that one block, 49 drivers parked in the bike lane every hour, 18 parked in the bus stop, and another eighteen made an illegal U-ey. You can do your own count in the video above.

Brooklyn cyclists, transit riders, pedestrians and motorists hoping for a safe and easy commute shouldn’t look to the NYPD to clean up Jay Street, either. In an average hour, three of the drivers parked in the bike lane, five parked in a bus stop, and two of the U-turners were cops, according to T.A.

In other words, police officers made as many illegal U-turns on this block in a single hour as the number of summonses NYPD issued for illegal U-turns on the same stretch in the entire month of September, according to T.A.

“The police aren’t paying attention (and are breaking the law), so drivers think they can get away with anything,” said T.A. Executive Director Paul Steely White in a statement. “With so little enforcement against the many drivers who blatantly ignore the rules of the road, everyone on this street is in harm’s way. Police Commissioner Kelly needs to get his department in order and make traffic safety a priority.”

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Eyes on the Street: A Clearer Path for the Adams Street Bike Lane?

The bike lane on Adams Street used to be located on the right side of the street, but it looks like it might be switching to the left, where drivers may be less inclined to block it.

A reader sends this shot of the freshly paved surface of Adams Street, heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge just south of Johnson Street. The parking regulations have switched sides, so it looks like the old curbside bike lane on the right side of the street — a notorious double-parking zone — will be shifting over, either all the way to the left curb or between the parking lane and the moving lane. We have a request in with DOT to find out what the plan is.

A left-curb placement might make this bike lane somewhat less susceptible to chronic blockage by illegal parkers, nicely captured by Brownstoner today on a stretch of Adams closer to Tillary Street and the bridge entrance:

DOT is in the process of fleshing out a substantial redesign of the Tillary and Adams approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge, currently scheduled for construction sometime next year. An early concept for the project included a center median, two-way protected bike lane on one block of Adams south of Tillary. Word is that Council Member Steve Levin’s traffic task force wants to see the protected path extend all the way south to Atlantic, but funding remains less than certain.