Friday, March 05, 2010

Whither parking maximums for large developments near transit? DCP is moving slowly to implement some obvious recommendations

Noah Kazis of Streetsblog has written an important three-part series on the reshaping of New York City and its consequences for sustainability and livable streets.

And while Atlantic Yards is not mentioned, the failures in the planning for this megaproject--some 3600 spaces--fit right into the critique.

There would 1044 spaces for indefinite interim surface parking, plus (ultimately) the 2570 underground spaces intended for the project's residential component and an additional 1100 underground spaces for the arena that would replace the surface parking.

The rezonings

In Part 1, Shaping the Next New York: The Promise of Bloomberg’s Rezonings, Kazis pointed to a decidedly mixed record on transit-oriented development, amid the city's much-ballyhooed rezonings:
The general thrust of the changes has been to funnel growth into relatively transit-rich locations. Simon McDonnell, a research fellow at NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, has conducted a detailed analysis of recent rezonings that examines proximity to transit. His research determined that, between 2003 and 2007, about three quarters of the lots rezoned for denser development were within a half-mile walk of rail transit stations. However, two thirds of downzoned lots -- where density has been restricted -- were also close to stations.

McDonnell's research suggests that even while the Bloomberg Administration has zoned for growth to be centered around transit, it has also closed off the possibility of more intensive transit-oriented development. The overall effect is positive, but it could be even better. "It's fair to say," McDonnell concluded, "that a majority of the net new residential capacity that came online during this time period was near rail transit.
What about the DCP?

In Part 2, The Next New York: How the Planning Department Sabotages Sustainability, Kazis wrote:
Density, however, is only one piece of the planning process. Amanda Burden's planning department has laid the foundation for transit-oriented growth, but so far failed to create conditions where walkable development can flourish.

Across the city, mandatory parking minimums are holding New York back from true transit-oriented development. Additionally, the largest development projects in the city tend to sacrifice good planning in order to satisfy demands from developers with little interest in creating walkable places. Even as the Department of City Planning takes steps toward good urbanist principles in its rezonings, planners are sabotaging that very effort.

The department's parking policy is one major impediment. By requiring most new residential developments to include a minimum number of parking spaces per unit, the department is artificially inflating the supply of parking, inducing more traffic and subsidizing car ownership.
While Atlantic Yards is not mentioned--indeed, it's not a city rezoning but an override of zoning--it fits right into the critique.

Not all DCP's fault

A couple of commenters pointed to the impact of local politics and car-owning constituencies.

One commenter wrote:
The minimum parking requirements in transit-accessible areas are what they are purely for political reasons. They have nothing to do with best practices in sustainable urbanism or the desires of planners toiling away in bureaucratic city dungeons. Page 4 of the report you linked to even states this - the ratios exist to protect the existing pool of on-street parking users (homeowners/voters in many cases) from an influx of new arrivals with vehicles. It's done to satisfice a self-entitled constituency who would go batshit if they were unable to find parking.
Added another:
Adding to the layers of absurdity surrounding parking requirements are city and state EIS requirements (C/SEQRA which project demand for parking based only on free parking. That hugely inflates demand.)
Parking policy

In Part 3, The Next New York: How NYC Can Grow as a Walkable City questioned whether, "in the next four years, will New York's planners adopt more sustainable practices or continue the status quo?"

Kazis wrote:
The sentiment that "rezonings are not enough" was shared by many. Planning "shouldn't be a sporadic, ad-hoc thing, but a comprehensive approach," said Ron Shiffman, a co-founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development and a former planning commissioner. "I thought that's what PlaNYC 2030 would help us do."

Shiffman urged the incorporation of transit planning earlier in the development process. "They should be putting in transit lines that are guaranteed prior to the development," he said. "There should be a rider and seat evaluation before any redevelopment or any very high-density rezoning."

"The fact is that we're not trying to leverage our transit system to create more pedestrian or transit-oriented environments."

Jonathan Bowles, the director of the Center for an Urban Future, generally agreed. "For several of the rezonings," he said, "there should have been more transportation planning."
That may be on the way, but one of the biggest changes--revising 50-year-old off-street parking requirements--hasn't moved ahead.

Kazis wrote:
Eighteen months ago, a broad coalition of environmental, transportation and planning advocates called on the planning department to implement a package of parking reforms. While the department has begun to study some of the questions raised by these groups, no concrete reforms have been enacted.

The parking reform recommendations, which accompanied the release of the report Suburbanizing the City, urge the city to eliminate parking minimums, institute parking maximums near transit, stop subsidizing the construction of parking, and separate the price of parking from the price of housing (which can make housing more affordable while discouraging the purchase and construction of parking).
Previous coverage

I wrote in January 2009 about the much-overlooked Transportation Alternatives report, Suburbanizing the City: How New York City Parking Requirements Lead to More Driving [29MB PDF].

It reinforces the observation--as I wrote 12/24/07 in a piece headlined PlaNYC 1950--that residential parking shouldn't be required at large outer-borough projects near transit hubs.

The recommendations

The report recommends:
1. Fully assess the amount of existing and planned off-street parking.
2. Consider measures to significantly reduce required parking.
3. Revise environmental laws so that parking impacts are fully accounted for.
4. Freeze special permits and stop directly subsidizing new parking.


Among the recommendations under section 2:
• “Unbundle” the price of parking from the cost of new residences
• Eliminate minimum parking requirements, as several other cities have done (and would make sense for projects considered transit-oriented development)
• Reclassify minimum parking requirements as maximums
• Peg the maximum parking requirement to the proximity to transit
• Establish impact fees for new parking spaces
• Incentivize car-sharing spaces in new development

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