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Friday, December 30, 2005
Balancing Parking and Housing in New York
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

- Parking Puzzles [Urban Prospect]
- Donald Shoup to Visit New York [S&F]
- Parking Has Value, So Why Is It Free? (S&F]
- 'Landmark' Status Sought, For This? [S&F]
- "Love Parking, Hate Traffic" [S&F]
- Posted at 12:43 AM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |  

Thursday, December 29, 2005
Because He's More Important
Here is a special guest post, a true story from Starts & Fits' lovely significant other, futurebird.

It was the high days of the holiday shopping rush, and with only few days to go, people packed the sidewalks, cars packed the streets. Even I, a died-in-the-wool anti-consumerist radical, had succumbed to the madness. I was fighting my way east through the crowd on 18th Street to buy wrapping paper for my all natural, hand-knitted gifts.

When I got to Sixth Avenue, I noticed that no one was walking. We were stuck on the corner waiting to cross the street, but the cars were not even moving. Nothing was moving. It was total gridlock of cars and even people. Pedestrians could not even weave in and out of the cars to cross because the cars were too close to one another.

Horns began to blare and pedestrians began to yell. A guy up the block was yelling "Move! Hey! Move!" I looked for the source of the confusion.

Halfway up the block I saw it: The biggest, most shiny, most chrome covered, most yellow, most wide and ugly Hummer I've ever seen. It had all kinds of gadgets and extra lights. It was blasting music, or perhaps just some kind of low pulsing sound so deep and loud it made the wind shield wipers rattle on nearby cars.

Bizarrely, it was stopped mid-block with nothing in front of it. It was so wide none of the other cars could get by easily. It was the source of the gridlock, and in that gridlock, two cars back, was a cop car. The cop turned on his lights after a long minute of people honking and yelling for the Hummer to move. The cop spoke into his loud speaker: "Pull over. … You! … Pull over to your right. … The yellow SUV, pull over to your right. … You, in the Hummer, pull over to your right!"

Slowly and only after being asked a few more times, the Hummer crept over … to the left. This cased even more gridlock.

"Your other right!"

Finally the driver understood and pulled over.

And life went on.

I estimate at least 100 people were held up because … because … well, I don't honestly know. There was no reason to stop there. The engine had not stalled. It made no sense.

But then, I'm not thinking like a Hummer driver. You see, Hummer drivers are more important than other people. Perhaps something in a store window caught this fellow's eye. Maybe he wanted to adjust his speakers, or rummage through his glove compartment to find some more of that lovely music to share. Whatever he wanted to do, it's fine to block all of the Avenue of the Americas for two mintues. It's fine to blast music so loud it disturbs people … and it's fine not to be bright enough to know the difference between left and right. And the bigger your car is … the more fine it is.
- Posted at 12:40 AM | Permalink | Comments: 10 | Post a Comment |  

Friday, December 23, 2005
'Landmark' Status Sought, For This?

Neighborhood activists recently rallied to preserve this two-story brick garage at Thompson and Broome Streets that was built in 1922 in anticipation of the Holland Tunnel opening nearby. The building's owner, the Donald Zucker Co., reportedly wants to knock down the garage and build an eight-story mixed-use building on the site.

For a garage, I guess it's not horrible. But that doesn't say much. The city's historic preservation process has resulted in a number of wonderful buildings being saved from demolition or alteration. For example, the Plaza and the Dakota are landmarks, and deservedly so. Somehow, this auto-oriented building doesn't seem to rise to the level of these treasures. Hmm, maybe there's something else going on here.

An article in Downtown Express points to what is perhaps the real issue: "Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director, said the garage is not only historically deserving of landmarking, but also important because the area has lost so much parking in recent years."

A-HA! So perhaps this dispute isn't so much about the architectural merits of the structure, but about the desire for area residents to park their cars cheaply. If parking is worth that much to the neighborhood residents, they could pay the building's owner as much as he would make from the proposed apartment and retail building (which unfortunately would have 117 parking spaces of its own). That would be enormously expensive though, so one can see why they've suddenly become nostalgic for this mediocre building.

The city is swamped with automobile traffic at all hours of day and night. The Broome and Watts Street approach to the Holland Tunnel is particularly choking. The city should do what it can to promote the pedestrian lifestyle that makes New York unique in the United States. The most effective way to reduce traffic is to decrease the supply of parking spaces. The city needs fewer parking spaces, not more. And with housing costs here among the highest in the nation, New York City suffers from a shortage of housing for people of every income level that is slightly alleviated every time a new apartment building goes up. From a citywide land use perspective, this garage should be torn down and replaced by a large apartment building. Housing prices would come down, traffic congestion would be reduced, and the city's unique pedestrian oriented lifestyle would receive a boost.

A special Starts & Fits e-mail correspondent wrote in recently to complain about two highly publicized historic preservation decisions: 1) the Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision in July that prevented Apple from building a new store that frankly would have improved a nondescript and forgettable two-story rowhouse at 136 Fifth Avenue that had once been a four-story rowhouse before the upper two stories burned down in 1960. 2) The City Council's decision a few weeks ago to not landmark Cass Gilbert's full-block warehouse at 184 Kent Street in Williamsburg, which the Municipal Arts Society is infuriated about.

Our frustrated correspondent writes, of the preservation process: "It landmarks things that it shouldn't, and then doesn't landmark things that it should!" Let's hope that Landmarks gets it right at the Tunnel Garage. Community Board 2's Zoning Committee's decision to allow the apartment building to rise is the right one.

- Development Sweeps Through Broome St. [The Real Estate]
- Preservationists dig in for fight on Tunnel Garage [Downtown Express]
- It's Time to Park Your Motorcoach Elsewhere [Curbed]
- Apple battling community over design of third Manhattan store [AppleInsider]
- UPDATED: Build Different [The Real Estate]
- Post-Apple Flatiron Update: This Space For Rent [Curbed]
- City Council Tells LPC to Shove It on 184 Kent [Curbed]
- Austin Nichols Warehouse: City Council Fails Preservation Test [MAS]
- Posted at 6:38 AM | Permalink | Comments: 7 | Post a Comment |  

Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Images of the Transit Strike

Traffic backed up in the canyons of the Financial District.

Rightly or wrongly, I tend to think of the winter as having cleaner air. But how much extra pollution is being pumped into the air during the strike?

A tough job in the cold. We'll spend a lot of money in police overtime.

New York City knows how to do HOV. Most cities are lucky to have a weak HOV-2 lane in effect during rush hours. We have an HOV city, and it's a four-person requirement.

Traffic on Canal Street. Actually, this looks sort of normal.

Gridlock under the Brooklyn Bridge.

A few images from 12:01 a.m. Friday

Pedicabs and the news media were prepared for the strike outside Grand Central Terminal as the contract deadline neared.

The scene inside the terminal was normal at the stroke of midnight.

A train pulled into Grand Central minutes after the deadline passed, its crew suddenly working without a contract.

Images I saw, but missed photographing: 1) A knucklehead driving a Hummer with nobody else but himself in the midst of a HOV-4 area. 2) A young woman sitting bundled up on her bike on packed, honking, freezing, pedestrian-choked Canal Street, warming herself with a bowl of steaming won-ton soup. 3) Swarms of cyclists walking their bikes toward the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Posted at 12:13 AM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Monday, December 19, 2005
My Guess Is Yes
One of the entertaining things about New York is the stuff you overhear people talking about on the sidewalk. For example, this morning, on Nassau Street, a raspy-voiced guy, yelling into his cellphone:
I gave 'em my cousin's urine, so that's gonna be clean. But my blood, is that gonna be dirty?
- Posted at 8:55 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Exurban Oil Users and Far Away Consequences
On Sunday, The New York Times levied a one-two punch against the exurban way of life. An article in the national section presents a brief look at life in the exurbs, characterizing them as bastions of conservative politics and places where community and family life are sacrificed for long commutes and cheap houses.

America is growing at its fastest in places like this, at the margins of some of its biggest cities, in the domain of the automobile and the master-plan subdivision, far from the urban centers that spawned them.

They begin as embryonic subdivisions of a few hundred homes at the far edge of beyond, surrounded by scrub. Then, they grow — first gradually, but soon with explosive force — attracting stores, creating jobs and struggling to keep pace with the need for more schools, more roads, more everything.

And eventually, when no more land is available and home prices have skyrocketed, the whole cycle starts again, another 15 minutes down the turnpike.

But in the meantime, life here is framed by hours spent in the car.
After this bleak assessment of life in the fast-growing exurban communities, we come to a magazine piece that looks at the effects of this car-dependent, energy-consuming lifestyle. This article notes that the environmental movement's successes at hiding the visual effects of resource depletion in the United States, combined with our voracious and expanding appetite for energy, have pushed environmental degradation into the third world:

We demand clean beaches and untouched wildernesses at home but live in an energy-intensive fashion that leads other countries to sacrifice their waters and forests. This disconnect is easily explained. You don't need to alter your lifestyle much to help protect baby seals or punish Kathie Lee for supporting sweatshops, but you might need to suffer inconveniences — like higher gas prices, energy-conservation efforts and new taxes for alternative-fuels research — if better energy policies were adopted.
Starts & Fits' ideal solution is simpler to say than to do: We need to reinvest in our cities, so that they are places where people want to live as well as work. Shorter commutes and smaller homes will lead to less energy use.

- In Exurbs, Life Framed By Hours Spent in the Car: Time for Family and Community Eroding [NYT]
- The Price of Oil [NYT Magazine]
- Posted at 12:59 AM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Thursday, December 15, 2005
1 Sentence, 5½ Errors
Here's something that just came across the Starts & Fits transom and is too funny to ignore. It's a dispatch in Real Estate Weekly, which bills itself, redundantly, as "The Only Weekly Real Estate Newspaper in the U.S. Serving America's #1 Market."

On p. 2R of the current issue, an unsigned article about 2002 Fifth Avenue, an apartment building under construction at West 124th Street in Harlem and rendered at right, begins:
Across from Marcus Garvey Park, a lush public square which spans 117th to 121st Streets at Sixth Avenue in East Harlem, 24 stylish and elegant residences are beginning to rise.
That sentence, the first in the article, is so wrong in so many ways that I felt it was my duty as a former resident of a building on Marcus Garvey Park (which all the long-time residents call Mt. Morris Park) to offer the necessary corrections.

1) "… a lush public square …" The park's lushness is a matter of some dispute. It might or might not be lush, depending on how you want to look at it (I actually think it's quite pleasant in there, and, indeed, lush). Given the differences of opinion, though, I'd have stayed away from that word. Call this one the half error.

2, 3) "… which spans 117th to 121st Streets …" Where are they getting these numbers from? The park starts at 120th Street, and ends at 124th Street (where the building is). If the editors didn't feel like heading all the way up to Harlem to check this, they could have looked at a map.

4) "… at Sixth Avenue …" Actually, the park interrupts Fifth Avenue, and runs along the west side of Madison Avenue for four blocks. So either of those would have worked. But even if the geography was right, there is no "Sixth Avenue" in Harlem. The avenue one block west of Fifth hasn't been named Sixth in more than a hundred years. These days, it's either Lenox Avenue or Malcolm X Boulevard (depending more on how long you've lived in the neighborhood than on your interest in supporting the legacies of either the 19th century philanthropist or the civil rights leader).

5) "… in East Harlem …" You could make the argument that Marcus Garvey Park is technically in East Harlem because of the way it straddles Fifth Avenue, and because it's included in Spanish Harlem's Community District 11, but, really, Marcus Garvey Park is in (central) Harlem.

6) "… at Sixth Avenue in East Harlem …" Sixth Avenue, where it exists, is on the West Side of Manhattan. How could a Sixth Avenue north of 110th Street be in East Harlem?

Clearly, this article was put together with absolutely zero fact checking, or even the most basic understanding of New York geography. Given all these errors, are we really to believe that the 24 residences will be "stylish and elegant"?

- Double-Height Lobby, Fireplace at Mile 22 in Harlem [Curbed]
- 2002 Fifth Avenue [Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate]
- Posted at 7:23 PM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
New York's "Other" Subway: the PATH

People often forget that New York has an entire, decent-sized subway system that isn't run by the MTA. It's got only six stops in Manhattan, but it just may be the best thing going in the event of a transit strike on Friday.

In the unfortunate event of a strike, people who like walking should use PATH trains instead of fighting traffic above ground. The PATH takes pay-per-ride MetroCards, and would run special, uncharacteristically New York-centric service during a strike in addition to its regular routes. This won't help much beyond Manhattan's core central business districts, but that's where things will be most chaotic anyway. Look at it this way: It's kind of like taking the F or the V and transferring to the A or the C to Chambers Street. But instead of having to transfer at West 4th Street, you get two "bonus" stops over in Jersey (Pavonia-Newport and Exchange Place).

- Special PATH Weekday Service in Case of NYC Transit Strike [Port Authority PDF warning!]
- Posted at 9:21 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Sunday, December 11, 2005
Parking Has Value, So Why Is It Free?
Donald Shoup has written a 700-page book, The High Cost of Free Parking, investigating the effects that underpricing for parking is having on our nation's car-centric built environment. Shoup is visiting New York this week. For a preview of what he's likely to discuss, here's a review of the book by special guest poster Gary Roth, author of "An Investigation into Rational Pricing for Curbside Parking" and a Senior Transportation Planner for BFJ Planning and Elevated City Planning.

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, has written an excellent book that sheds light on a subject that gets very little visibility, the glut of spaces in our country and the reason there are so many: they're free to the user. Parking spaces are all around us … hundreds of spaces, thousands of spaces, millions of spaces. According to the High Cost of Free Parking, there are about 600 million parking spaces in the United States. It is estimated that for every car there are three spaces or two spaces for every man, woman and child. These spaces homogenize our public space, increase the cost of housing and encourage driving.

If you were to perform a survey asking, "What are the top 100 issues facing America"? How many would say "too much free parking"? Probably none. But the zoning code forces people to buy a parking space (or spaces) with their home. Most new developments devote more land to parking than to office or retail uses. Shoup points out numerous studies which show the downsides of our prevailing "free parking for all" attitude.

The interesting thing about our autotopia is that as everyone pays for parking except the person using it. For example, shoppers and office workers pay for spaces mandated by the municipality regardless of whether they drive to their store or office or walk or take the bus or train. Shoup figures that 99% of all parking is free to the user. If you ride your bike to the Wal-Mart (imagine that!), part of the money goes to pay for the parking spot you did not use. Shoup compares the free parking mandated by zoning codes to a hypothetical government program to mandate dessert with every meal. As it comes free, people eat more, get fatter than complain that the seats are too small, and need to be enlarged. In this way, parking begets still more parking as people demand more and more of a seemingly free commodity. If you decide to cut back on sweets, your dessert will just go to waste (instead of waist), so you might as well eat it. But how could such a common practice be wrong? It’s happened in the past. Shoup compares parking requirements to bloodletting, to excellent effect. Bloodletting was practiced for many years by leading medical authorities until it was finally proven to cause more harm than good. Could parking requirements have a similar affect on society?

All well and good, but you may feel that the government knows how many parking spaces are needed. If not mandated by the government, then the marketplace would fail and there would be no spaces at all. The nightmare scenario is new developments would be built without parking, and when drivers arrived, they would burden the area by leaving their car anywhere they could find, on the grass, the sidewalk and god forbid, on the roadways impeding traffic.

According to "The High Cost of Free Parking," the factual basis for the parking requirement figures used by local area planners is shaky. Numbers are based on surveys which occur where parking is free. Planners require developers to build enough parking to meet the demand for free parking during peak periods. As the new development has a large parking lot, it is empty much of the time, but can meet peak demand perhaps met only a few days a year.

As different uses have different parking demands, Shoup explains how some locations are not permitted to be used for things such as restaurants, because they attract too many people. On the subject of "cruising," or the act of driving around looking for a free space, Shoup calculates that one city block can generate 165 vehicle miles per day, or 60,000 vehicle miles per year.

The issue of parking is looked at from many different angles in the book, all adding up to the same issue … free parking creates the "asphalt commons" problem. As parking is free, and exclusive, it is over used. This overuse creates numerous negative side effects.

The book also spells out the solution: market rates for parking. The ideal situation is for the municipality to set the vacancy rate rather than the price of parking. The goal should be to eliminate cruising by ensuring that one space is available on every block. With the right pricing structure, Hollywood's vision can come true: There will be a space wherever and whenever you want one. This can be done by simply raising the price. As the price rises, people will find alternate locations to park their cars, alternate ways to get to the destination and in some cases, will simply go elsewhere.

Areas will welcome curbside parking as it can raise significant sums of money, and possibly even replace property taxes is some areas. Housing would be cheaper, goods cheaper, traffic may even be reduced, all by simply charging a fair market price for parking. Think about it.

- The High Cost of Free Parking [APA Bookstore]
- An Investigation into Rational Pricing for Curbside Parking [Columbia University]
- Donald Shoup's upcoming speaking schedule in New York [S&F]
- Posted at 8:08 PM | Permalink | Comments: 4 | Post a Comment |  

Saturday, December 10, 2005
When Things Get a Little Crazy

At first, things seemed to be going along pretty well over here with the writing: "No Post No Bills" was repeated neatly and regularly. It's not exactly the usual wording, but you as a would-be bill poster get the message. But things started to spin out of control toward the end. "No Post No Biels." Huh? Then it just tapers off: "No Post …"
- Posted at 2:55 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Donald Shoup to Visit New York
As Aaron Naparstek has mentioned over on his website, Professor Donald C. Shoup of UCLA is the man of the hour among urban planners these days. His recent book, The High Cost of Free Parking, sheds light on a ubiquitous but little studied phenomenon: how the mandatory provision of parking spaces, and the fact that they're almost always free to the driver who uses them, distorts the built environment (outside of New York City, where parking is hardly ever free).

Starts & Fits will be bringing you additional coverage on Shoup on Thursday in a few days: a book review by guest poster Gary Roth, who wrote his 2004 master's thesis on parking pricing, and a link to an article by another former classmate of mine from Columbia's urban planning program. In the meantime, here is information about two upcoming events where Shoup will be speaking.

First, on December 15, Prof. Shoup will address the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council's Program, Finance and Administration Committee on the subject of "Pricing Parking in Business Districts." Location: 199 Water Street (between Fulton and John Streets in the Financial District), 22nd Floor. Time: 1:15 p.m. To register, contact Andrea Miles-Cole at (718) 482-4551. For more information on this one, click on the NYMTC's website, then click on "News & Announcements," then scroll down until you find "PFAC Meets on December 15th." (Sorry, no direct link to this.)

Second, on December 16, Shoup will visit the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management. to discuss "how New York City and surrounding communities can cope with complex parking issues." Location: The NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Eisner & Lubin Auditorium, 4th Floor. Time: 10 a.m. 9:30 a.m. to noon. To attend, you have to register. For more information on this one, see a slow-loading PDF brochure from the Rudin Center.

- Seven Solutions to the Atlantic Yards Traffic Problem [Naparstek.com]
- The High Cost of Free Parking [The Book @ APA Store]
- The High Cost of Free Parking (PDF!) [Rudin Center Brochure]
- Rudin Center
- New York Metropolitan Transportation Council
- Posted at 8:09 PM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Saturday, December 03, 2005
Old and New in Midtown

Every once in a while you see an image that epitomizes why New York is a great and successful city. Here we have a row of old tenements on Eighth Avenue in front of the Hearst headquarters at 57th Street, under construction in September.

New York's buildings are as diverse as its people. Soot-covered mixed-use walkups and a $500 million, 40-story, glass tower to house a leading publishing company. This scene is an indication of the city's robust health, and not just because of the new tower. In many places (including many places in New York City), those old walkups would have been emptied out during the late 20th century urban exodus, deemed "blighted" and demolished under urban renewal. In New York, such buildings are needed for housing, and they're fully leased after decades of continuous occupancy. They're economically useful maybe a century after construction. Indeed, they play a vital economic role, as Jane Jacobs notes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities:
Cities need … a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings. If a city area has only new buildings, the enterprises that can exist there are automatically limited to those that can support the high costs of new construction. … As for really new ideas of any kind — no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be — there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction.
And the fact that there is new construction side by side with the old is a sign of the city's health.
A successful city district ecomes a kind of ever-normal granary so far as construction is concerned. Some of the old buildings, year by year, are replaced by new ones — or rehabilitated to a degree equivalent to replacement. Over ther eyears, there is, therefore, constantly a mixture of buildings of many ages and types.
To the this great mixture of new and old in Midtown, the new tower will add density and jobs to west midtown and prestige to its owner. Better still, it was built without tearing down it's four-story beaux-arts base. Space was added with none taken away, history was preserved and made. This is a great enhancement for the city.

- Hearst Magazine Building [Wired New York]
- Posted at 6:35 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

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