We here at the MyParkingSign.com blog spend half our time carping about parking in other cities, so it’s time for us to take a closer look around us here in Brooklyn – particularly since the Department of City Planning just passed a 2012 proposal to lower parking minimums for new buildings in the area surrounding our offices.
(A little background – normally, when you build a new building, you have to provide parking for a certain number of cars, which depends on factors like square footage, the kind of business you’re expecting to operate there, number of residents if any, and so on. These minimums can stymie new developments, because parking is expensive to build and maintain but doesn’t give back much. Urbanists and transportation experts complain that these minimums distort property prices and create less hospitable environments.)
As a sign company, we think tighter, more organized parking (whether curbside or off-street) is often better than the baggy macrolots you find away from the coasts – in general, parking rules, directions, and permits are good for business – but we have to live here, too, and we sympathize with New York residents who have to choose between ludicrously expensive garage spots or cheap but rarely available on-street parking. So is it a good idea for one of the most rapidly developing parts of Brooklyn to cut new buildings’ parking requirements in half? Yes and no.
New Yorkers are less likely to own a car than residents of any other major city in the country, with over half opting to use bikes, public transport or just hoof it, compared to an 8% rate of non-ownership nationwide. So when we crow about the salutary effects of carpooling, transit, bike lanes, and other urbanist hobbyhorses, a little self-criticism might be in order – are we really just trying to turn Tucson into Williamsburg, and is that possible, let alone desirable?
Many of us don’t have to park, so there’s a danger in smugly ignoring the huge contribution to carbon emissions from drivers who’re circling the block looking for a place to plant their wheels, or the sheer human frustration engendered by just wanting to stop, and being unable to.
But Brooklyn’s face is changing. Some of the bigger fights have gotten all the attention, like the acrimonious filibustering of Barclays Center by vocal opponents. At the same time, high-rise projects have been springing up in the Boerum Hill, Downtown and Fort Greene areas with dizzying regularity over the past fifteen years, leaving residents wondering whether the intimate scale that’s made the borough popular with artists and hipsters is leaving for good.
Surprisingly, though, the DCP says that it’s responding in part to slack demand on the part of the residents in the new high-rises who would benefit – fewer and fewer New Yorkers own cars, so even as dense and pricey housing moves in, it isn’t resulting in a linear rise in parking needs. According to the DCP’s statement, parking garages required to secure permission to build residential developments are “half empty in the evenings and weekends.”
But the DCP’s amendments to parking policy for downtown Brooklyn have two more important pieces:
- The DCP is allowing for lot sharing arrangements so that “residents, worker and visitors” can all park in public parking garages – where some of those garages have previously been exclusive to residents.
- It’s also dumping parking requirements for mixed-income and affordable housing developments altogether.
These last two pieces seem like a win/win – they will make room for more revenue in the form of rentals and sales, giving developers an incentive to build mixed-income housing in an otherwise pricey part of Brooklyn, and they’ll keep garages full by removing the resident monopoly on valuable parking spots.
If you’ve never parked in New York, you may not be quite as attuned to what a mixed bag garage parking can be, though. Since the most immediately visible parking spots are the cheap slots on-street, motorists have reason to drive around until they find one (garage spots can cost in the tens of dollars per hour, while on-street parking is usually $1/hour outside of Manhattan, or $1.50-$3 inside of it). Garages don’t always register in drivers’ minds quite as clearly as they’d like to – they’re usually tucked into office buildings or in spots where drivers may not be quite certain whether they’re public or private.
These piecemeal measures to which New Yorkers are accustomed all seem like half a loaf, though, since off-street parking continues to be vastly cheaper than its market value, so it’s scarcer than it would be if it were priced correctly. Even though short supply can be an environmental and quality-of-life problem, higher pricing would discourage short-distance errands, reduce car ownership to some degree, and push drivers to see multi-use garage lots as more viable options.
In the meantime, commentators often remark that parking prices should probably be higher in some neighborhoods; as long as New York is stuck with low and flat rather than dynamic pricing, we’re likely to continue to have problems finding spots when we need them. A cheap, unavailable parking spot is a spot busy pleasing one person but frustrating dozens of others.