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Posts from the "Carl Weisbrod" Category

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Trottenberg: Federal Cuts Could Make MTA Funding Gap Even Bigger

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said today that the MTA is making “optimistic assumptions” about federal funding as it plans its next five-year capital program. The agency has identified only half the funds to cover the projected costs of the plan, which maintains, upgrades, and expands the transit system. At a panel with top-level city agency heads this morning, Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board, warned about a possible cut in federal support, which would further widen the funding gap.

Are the doors closing on federal transit funding? Polly Trottenberg says Andrew Cuomo's MTA is too "optimistic" about the feds paying for the capital plan. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Polly Trottenberg said Andrew Cuomo’s MTA is too “optimistic” about the feds paying for the capital plan. Photo: MTA/Flickr

A drop in federal funds would supposedly increase pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo, who controls the transit authority, to support new sources of revenue. So far, the governor has opposed any new revenue for the MTA.

This morning’s panel, which kicked off the annual meeting of the American Planning Association’s New York Metro chapter, featured Trottenberg, City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod, HPD Commissioner Vicki Been, and EDC President Kyle Kimball. It was moderated by Regional Plan Association Executive Director Tom Wright.

Trottenberg, who was a top U.S. DOT official before moving to NYC government, questioned the assumptions the MTA is making about the federal contribution to its capital program. “At the moment, they have half the funds in hand,” she said. “I’m not even quite sure that they have that money in hand, because it does make some optimistic assumptions perhaps about what’s happening at the federal level.”

After the event, I asked Trottenberg why she thought the MTA’s assumptions are optimistic. She took a long pause before answering. “There is a big question mark about what the federal funding picture is going to look like in the next few years, and understandably when you’re doing a capital budget you have to take a guess at a number,” she said. “But I think there’s a chance that the feds are going to be even less supportive on the transit front than they have been in the past.”

Many political analysts expect Republicans to gain control of the Senate in November, which could disrupt the current stasis in federal transportation policy.

While Trottenberg raised the possibility of a decrease in federal support for transit, the MTA expects those funds to remain steady [PDF].

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Weisbrod and Kimball Tie Their Own Hands on Parking Reform

Reducing the amount of parking in new development promises to make housing more affordable and curb traffic congestion, but it hasn’t gained much traction in Bill de Blasio’s first months at City Hall, despite the mayor’s ambitious promises to ease the housing crunch. Today, two top city officials explained why, unlike their counterparts in more car-dependent cities, New York’s leaders are suggesting only the meekest changes to off-street parking policy.

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and EDC President Kyle Kimball. Photos: DCP and EDC

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and EDC President Kyle Kimball. Photos: DCP and EDC

The mayor’s housing plan recommends lower parking requirements for affordable housing near transit, senior housing, and commercial development that also includes residential units. At a Municipal Art Society forum this morning, Planning Director Carl Weisbrod highlighted these reforms as one of the ways the mayor’s housing plan aims to reduce the cost of construction — but only in places where car ownership is very low.

“Other areas have to be examined more carefully,” Weisbrod said after the event. “What we’re looking at is how we can appropriately reduce the cost of construction while not having a significant — or any — impact on the quality of life in neighborhoods.”

This outlook matches the philosophy of DCP’s nascent parking plan for “inner ring” neighborhoods, which lists “maintaining an adequate supply of residential parking for people who choose to own a vehicle” among its ”quality of life” goals. The result: DCP tries to tailor the city’s parking regulations to local car ownership rates, rather than using parking policy as a tool to make housing more affordable and reduce traffic.

DCP isn’t the only place where the tail wags the parking policy dog. If anything, things are worse at the Economic Development Corporation.

EDC President Kyle Kimball said he follows Streetsblog and that while he supports our policy angle, he takes issue with how we’ve reported about EDC projects. “[EDC] never had a policy of incentivizing parking as an economic development strategy,” he said. “Actually, at the end of the day it ends up costing the city. Developers don’t want to build parking, either.”

Yet EDC’s projects often include massive amounts of parking. At Yankee Stadium, EDC arranged public financing for 9,000 mostly-empty parking spaces whose operator defaulted on tax-exempt bonds. “The Bronx parking situation was one where they put in the right amount of parking at the time, given what they thought and what the Yankees were willing to pay for,” Kimball said of the subsidized project.

To hear Kimball tell it, the parking was done in by an over-performing train station. “There has turned out to be more commuting from that Metro-North station than the EIS anticipated,” he said. “So do I think it was a mistake to build the parking? No. Do I think the EIS could have been done differently? Yes.”

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De Blasio Appoints Carl Weisbrod to Head Up the Planning Department

Mayor Bill de Blasio has named Carl Weisbrod to lead the Department of City Planning. Weisbrod, who co-chaired de Blasio’s transition team and has deep experience in city government, now commands a post with tremendous power to shape the quality of New York City’s built environment. Of particular interest for the city’s transportation and housing future will be how vigorously Weisbrod pursues reform of NYC’s parking minimums, which Amanda Burden, the previous planning commissioner, barely touched.

Carl Weisbrod

In a statement, the mayor’s office said Weisbrod will be charged with “using all the tools at the city’s disposal to lift up working New Yorkers, keep neighborhoods affordable, and create stronger, more resilient communities.”

Weisbrod is an insider whose resume includes spearheading Times Square revitalization efforts under Ed Koch and starting up the NYC Economic Development Corporation under David Dinkins. More recently, as head of Trinity Church’s downtown real estate arm, he helped create the Hudson Square BID. Weisbrod is currently a partner with real estate consulting firm HR&A Advisors.

While EDC has developed a well-earned reputation for patronage and parking subsidies, especially in parts of town outside the Manhattan core, Weisbrod built his career mainly in places where the walking environment couldn’t be ignored. He seems to have a good feel, at least by association, for what makes city streets work. The Hudson Square BID, for instance, has been a major proponent of pedestrian safety and public space improvements the last few years.

Still, Weisbrod doesn’t bring quite the same clear-cut policy chops as some other contenders. One of the most important reforms the planning department can spearhead is the elimination of parking mandates that drive up the cost of housing and generate traffic. Anna Hayes Levin, a member of the City Planning Commission who early in the transition was rumored to be in the running for the position, fought against the 17,500 parking spaces called for in the city’s initial plan for Hudson Yards when she was a member of Community Board 4. (Advocates successfully sued the city and a cap of 6,100 spaces was implemented instead.) And Vicki Been, the director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy who was reportedly a finalist for the spot, authored the definitive report about how parking minimums making housing in New York less affordable.

Weisbrod’s insider perspective could be an asset if the administration decides to stop building suburban levels of parking as part of most city-subsidized redevelopment projects. Many of the projects that build parking-saturated development on city land are driven by masters of finance, and Weisbrod speaks their language.