Thursday, November 03, 2011

Residential permit parking passes Council committee, with support from most arena neighbors, but not without DOT opposition (to bill, not concept)

A packed City Council committee hearing room yesterday was evidence that parking problems--especially but not merely linked to Yankee Stadium and expected Barclays Center crowds--frustrate a lot of New Yorkers.

To the satisfaction of many in the crowd--though not the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), which urged caution--a Council committee approved a resolution requesting the New York State Legislature to pass bills that would authorize a residential permit parking (RPP) program in New York City.

RPP, for a not-yet-established fee, would restrict up to 80% of non-metered residential street parking to residents during certain hours, thus preventing commuters and event-goers from monopolizing already scarce space. It would not guarantee a space, and commercial streets would be excluded.

“It’s not enough, but it's one meaningful policy step,” suggested Council Member Brad Lander, who called the traffic and parking situation around the arena “already a nightmare.” He urged that RPP be put into effect before the arena opens next fall.

The full Council will consider the resolution beginning today today. The state bills were introduced by Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Joan Millman, both of Brooklyn.

Significant but incomplete support

Representatives of several civic groups, including the Boerum Hill Association, the Brooklyn Heights Association, and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), expressed support for the bill, though one surprise opponent was the Fort Greene Association (FGA), a former backer.

The only Council Member to oppose the resolution was Lew Fidler, who represents southern Brooklyn and called RPP a tax.

“The nearly-unanimous vote by the committee shows that City Council members understand residential parking permits are an idea whose time has come,” said Danae Oratowski, chair of the PHNDC. “The other demand management strategies proposed in the Atlantic Yards environmental impact analysis don’t have the same potential to encourage arena patrons to use mass transit and leave their cars at home.”

Other arena concerns

The hearing also aired deep concerns from residents near the under-construction Barclays Center, where increased truck traffic and construction worker parking have already caused untoward impacts.

They also expressed concern that a recently launched DOT study, aimed to evaluate the level of parking capacity during events at the arena, was too limited in scope. It will range from Third Avenue (west) to Washington Avenue (east), and from Lafayette Avenue (north) to Lincoln Place (south).

(Also see coverage from Streetsblog, the New York Times, the Brooklyn Paper, Patch,  WNYC, and NY1.)

The Yankee Stadium example

Bronx Council Member Helen Foster, who chaired the hearing, began by saying “my constituents can't find parking, and parking lots around Yankee Stadium are going bankrupt." Not only do fans monopolize street parking, she said, they are not ticketed when they park on sidewalks or at hydrants.

Fisher thanked Brooklyn Council Member Letitia James, who represents the arena site and a good part of its surroundings, for putting the issue back on the table.

Indeed, the majority of the 100 or so people in the hearing room seemed to be there because of concerns about the Brooklyn arena. There were few if any people from Fisher's Bronx district, more distant and less politically organized.

Bronx Council Member Jimmy Vacca added that his committee should soon act on legislation regarding placard abuse, as too many commuters use illegitimate placards to park in the outer boroughs and ride the subway.

Council Members weigh in

James read a statement authored by several Brooklyn community leaders and noted that, in 2004, she and then-Council Member David Yassky spurred the Downtown Brooklyn Residential Permit Parking Study (below), commissioned by the Downtown Brooklyn Council, in partnership with DOT and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. It focused on Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene.

The study laid out options but did not make recommendations.

The study, James said, concluded that nearly half of those who parked in Downtown Brooklyn lived outside the community, “so it’s critically important” that elected officials address the issue.

Council Member Steve Levin, whose district includes most of Downtown Brooklyn, cited not merely the loss of parking spaces but the neighborhood impact of drivers constantly circling. RPP, he said, would “give back a little to the neighborhoods that house our infrastructure and bear the burdens."

In saying that, Levin seemed to endorse a broader RPP program than currently under consideration.

Fidler acknowledged concern about the problem but registered staunch opposition, calling it “horrific precedent,” saying that we’ve “kind of gotten used to government taxing everything that moves and breathes.” (It wasn’t until much later that Prospect Heights resident Robert Witherwax archly expressed thanks for all the free parking he’d gotten over the years.)

Fidler did stress an issue associated with RPP: the impact on adjacent neighborhoods. He suggested that privileged communities will have RPP and others won’t.

DOT caution

DOT Deputy Commissioner of External Affairs David Woloch said the department did not support the bill, but agreed that parking problems “around stadiums and events warrant further attention,” hence the study at areas around Yankee Stadium and the Brooklyn arena, to be completed early next year.

“Where RPP has worked, it's generally been in cities with low densities and less demand for curb parking,” Woloch said. Given the current density of cars, even if RPP were adopted, residents might find themselves paying fees to do what they currently do: circle the block to look for a parking space.

He said that, in other cities, administration costs more than revenue raised. (Costs range from $13/month in Toronto to free in Boston and $35 annually in Washington.) And he said choosing the zone could be dicey. He added that some details in the proposed legislation were too specific.

Foster cautioned about the design of the DOT survey, suggesting that skewed surveys led to the unused garages near Yankee Stadium. “There has to be a consistency of enforcement and respect for neighborhoods,” she added.

Would RPP create a park-and-ride problem in adjacent neighborhoods, Fidler asked.

“A lot will depend on the boundaries,” Woloch replied, acknowledging the possibility.

“I'm just kind of wondering when the ripples all stop,” Fidler responded, “until you get to a neighborhood that just can't afford to charge its residents for parking.”

James tweaked Fidler for supporting the arena and at one point slyly jabbed, "I've seen you park in Downtown Brooklyn." The Post reported last year that, while pursuing his job as a lawyer in Downtown Brooklyn, he was seen parking in a Borough Hall plaza spot reserved for official business.

Foster, generating claps and guffaws from the crowd, suggested that the 9000 unused spaces in the Bronx be used for for the Brooklyn arena, whose visitors could then take the subway.

Lander said he wanted “to emphasize the urgency of getting something done and in place before the Barclays Center opens next year.”

He asked if DOT were looking at the broader issues of traffic mitigations raised by the arena and was told that had been would be better integrated after the study.

Fiscal impact

Fidler, noting DOT testimony that expenditure could exceed revenues, noted that the fiscal impact statement from the Council's Finance Committeet indicated that expenditures would be zero. “That would be incorrect?”

“Yes,” Woloch responded.

Fidler thus suggested a slower process.

He also mused that, given the large amount of parking at Yankee Stadium and the city’s investment in the project, perhaps the “administration and DOT might be better served in pressing the Yankees to use some of that tremendous amount of revenue to reduce the price of parking... Of course the chairwoman's comments about zero tolerance enforcement would go a long way.”

“Extracting money out of Yankees for subsidizing parking gets a little bit out of our turf,” Woloch responded, adding that the agency is trying to look at multiple solutions. “I don’t think there are any magic bullets.”

One Manhattan man later offered perhaps the easiest suggestion to implement: he said the city could raise revenues simply by cracking down on all the residents who keep their cars registered out of state

Examples from other cities

Levin asked if there had been any advice from other cities with RPP.

Woloch suggested other cities have made tradeoffs that New Yorkers would not like. Toronto, for example, limits the number of permits, while Washington reserves only half the space for residents. “All this don't mean it can't work here,” he said, “but it points to some of the problems and tradeoffs and potential unintended consequences.”

Assistant Commissioner Tom McGuire observed that the gap in New York between demand for parking and supply is much wider than in other cities.

Under questioning from Finance Committee Chairman Dominic Recchia, Woloch acknowledged that it was premature to estimate the number of cars impacted or the amount of enforcement.

Thus, Recchia said defensively, “before anyone wants to knock my Finance staff, they should be careful what they say.”

What the FEIS said

Public skepticism about the impact of arena visitors goes back to Chapter 12, Traffic and Parking, of the 2006 Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS, which) stated that there'd be no parking problems:
Sufficient off-street parking capacity would be available both on-site and at existing public offstreet facilities within ½-mile of the proposed arena to fully accommodate peak demand from either of the proposed project’s two variations (residential mixed-use or commercial mixed-use) in both 2010 and 2016... However, as sufficient off-street parking capacity would be available both on-site and at existing public off-street facilities to fully accommodate all project demand in all peak periods, no significant adverse impacts to parking conditions would result from implementation of the proposed project.
However, there would be more than 3000 drivers seeking spaces. Here was the projection for 2010, after four towers and the arena were built:
In 2010, the residential mixed-use variation would generate a total demand for
approximately 818 parking spaces in the weekday AM (7 AM) and 697 spaces at midday. Peak project parking demand during a Nets basketball game would total approximately 3,270 spaces during a weekday evening game and 2,758 spaces for a Saturday afternoon game.
Public support for RPP

Jo Anne Simon, Democratic District Leader, for the 52nd Assembly District, warned that a study that goes only to Third Avenue would be inadequate. She added that her personal experience with RPP, in Washington, was positive.

Regarding parking near the arena, “We want to make sure we're not completely overrun, and we can breathe.”

Jane McGroarty, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said 90% of respondents to the group’s survey support RPP. Brooklyn Heights, she noted, boarders a business district, civic district, and educational district, and has four subway stops.

She said the DOT should not focus only on sports facilities for its study but also look at neighborhoods like hers--and others described at the hearing, in Harlem and Western Queens.

Another Brooklyn Heights resident, clinical social worker Michael Serrapica, said he needs a car for his work and paid $5,000 a year a year to park in a local commercial garage. Those using free parking in Brooklyn Heights, he suggested, come from the suburbs to work in the legal industry or MetroTech.

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, a sponsor of BrookynSpeaks, noted that the siting of the arena among residential neighborhoods required an override of zoning and that “the limited demand management measures will not address the problem.”

“An effective RPP program should target Barclays Center traffic in its hours of operation,” Veconi said, and the fee should not represent an unreasonable burden. Short-term parking for guests should be allowed. He said an online petition quickly garnered more than 500 signatures.

Truck traffic too

Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, cited ongoing problems with placards and illegal truck traffic on side streets.

“My neighbors in Boerum Hill are willing to pay a reasonable and hopefully nominal tax on themselves in an attempt to limit cross traffic in the neighborhood,” not to guarantee a parking spot, Kolins said. “Right now, we see illegal truck traffic on Hoyt and Nevins, trucks, semis, turning off Atlantic Avenue to come down the side streets.”

Fidler asked about the impact on restaurants. Kolins said, “On Atlantic, we've asked for return of parking from 4-7,” and RPP is from 7 am to 7 pm.

Support from the sports team

Richard Goldstein of the Carlton Avenue Block Association observed that “streets in Prospect Heights are virtually onsite and parking at the site is free. Without RPP, arena patrons will view it as available and free.”

He invoked the experience of Chicago, which has both a citywide program ($35) and a game night stadium permit program (free).

He cited the Chicago Cubs 2010 Neighborhood Protection Report (below), in which the team funded a command center and hotline operated by Chicago Police, reimbursed the city for up to 47 traffic aides during events, and paid for other assistance.

Unmentioned: by contrast, with the Atlantic Yards arena, those obligations are fuzzy. According to the 2009 Amended Memorandum of Financial Commitments:

FCRC shall enter into discussions with NYCDOT to determine the extent of FCRC’s financial responsibility for the traffic enforcement agents (“TEAs”) required to manage traffic flow for major arena events and shall comply with the terms of any such agreement with NYCDOT as required by the DOT letter.  If necessary to ensure that the TEAs are deployed for major arena events as described in the FEIS, and only in the event that FCRC and NYCDOT do not reach a funding agreement, FCRC shall provide such funding for TEAs as ESDC shall reasonably direct, considering funding arrangements at other sports and entertainment venues in New York City.
Some dismay

Paul Palazzo, who chairs the Fort Greene Association, said that the FGA had earlier supported RPP but last year brought the issue to its membership. “What came back were comments, mostly negative, about opening an unintended revenue stream to city of New York,” he said, suggesting “a bottom-up rather than top-down process.”

Also, Antonio Rodriguez, representing the First Spanish Baptist Church of Boerum Hill, said RPP would harm church members who visit daily from outside Brooklyn.

Arena neighbor concern

Andrew Saunders, a member of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, cited recent improvements at the Plaza and nearby streets. “But all of that's for naught if we have thousands of people circling in our neighborhood looking for a spot,” he said.

Yvette Rosario, who lives on Dean Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues less than a block from the arena site, testified with backing by several neighbors. “Sometimes I get home from work at 6 o’clock and wait two and a half hours” for a spot, she said.

Those parking on Dean Street, Rosario said, include those visiting the Atlantic Center Mall, home to the DMV, as well as Atlantic Yards construction workers who are now parking 24/7, as well as police officers and firefighters at the nearby stations. “With the arena, this is going to get worse,” she said, citing noise and air pollution.

Similarly, a resident of Pacific Street between Flatbush and Fourth avenues said that the advent of arena construction had ramped up the competition for area parking. Moreover, she said, rules banning illegal truck traffic was not enforced.

Another Prospect Heights resident, Kim Brandon, commented, “Yes, the stadium is coming, but I don't know why my family, my community, needs to be so penalized.” She said there was already a problem with cars and exhaust, though she expressed concern that the fees not be burdensome.

Not everyone was onboard. Alan Rosner, an Atlantic Yards opponent, suggested that RPP is “the best solution for Forest City Ratner, not Brooklyn or New York City,” and would “create gated communities.” It’s not a solution “to the long ago and accurately predicted problems” created by “this out of scale white elephant dumped on Brooklyn by a millionaire’s club of insiders,” he said.

Witherwax, who noted he had a car, offered thanks for “free use of city streets to park my car” and added, “I wanted to congratulate you for realizing you don't need to give public land away.”

“This is not NIMBYism,” he said. “RPP must preserve the ability of New Yorkers” to drive and visit other communities. However, he said, in the hierarchy of parkers, “residents of that block must come first, before visitors, and before commuters.”
Brooklyn Residential Permit Parking

Chicago Cubs Neighborhood Report 2010

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