Earlier this month, I promised to bring you two articles about parking policy. Yet the weeks went by and only one of them appeared. Here, at last, is the second, looking at how to balance the demands of parking and housing in the densifying (and, ahem, transit-rich) neighborhoods of New York City. These are the first 350 words in the 3,000-word piece you’ll find in PDF format on the other side of this link. It appears in the Urban Prospect, the newsletter of the Citizen’s Housing and Planning Council, and is written by Jeffrey L. Otto, the council’s policy analyst and a former classmate of mine at Columbia’s master’s program in urban planning. Jeff makes parking policy sexy, his initials are JLO and he’s from the Bronx, but he’s not to be confused with Jennifer Lopez.
When news surfaced in Riverdale last February that 100 surface parking spots were on the verge of being eliminated to make way for a new high-rise residential building, neighborhood drivers were infuriated. Local politicians and community leaders, sensing both opportunity and danger, responded by organizing a parking forum with representatives from city agencies on hand to answer questions and placate concerns. Throughout the heated discussion, many of the residents in attendance expressed frustration that more households than ever were choosing to own vehicles, but that new residential developments were not doing enough to accommodate them.
As the city experiences its largest residential building boom in four decades, the tension between housing and parking is being intensified in neighborhoods across the city. New housing development, especially when it replaces existing parking lots and adds vehicles, heightens competition for curbside parking and increases traffic congestion. This combination of new housing and lost parking has created a potent cocktail of anti-growth sentiment. Increasingly, parking deficits have become the most visible way for growth-weary communities to quantify the loss of neighborhood character.
Broadening the focus from neighborhood to city, an entirely different set of policy tensions becomes apparent. Currently, about 46 percent of the 3.2 million households in the city own at least one vehicle. Parking availability, an integral component of transportation policy, greatly affects the travel decisions of individual households, giving formidable import to citywide parking strategies. Policies that mandate off-street parking may encourage automobile ownership and spread the cost of that ownership to those that do not own vehicles. Conversely, insufficient off-street parking indirectly increases the costs associated with car ownership and adds to the inconveniences of city life for those who do own cars.
Whether there should be more or less cars in New York City can be debated, but understanding how it affects the quality of life for owners and non-owners alike must be a central concern. Growing tensions over parking, especially in the outer boroughs, merit renewed consideration of citywide parking strategies. Those strategies should favor outcomes that do not deter density, raise housing costs, debase urban design, threaten economic vitality, collectivize ownership costs, or discourage public transportation use, while still reasonably accommodating parking demand.
Ed Note: This reminds me of the incongruity of many community boards’ thoughts on the automobile, which seem to revolve around two never-satisfied complaints: “1) There is too much traffic in our neighborhood, but 2) we don’t have enough parking around here.” I think that well-meaning people often forget that parking is what generates traffic, and that if every local planning body were to provide as much parking as everyone asked for, traffic would be even worse than it already is. —AD