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Minimum Parking-Zoning Law-New York-Untapped Cities
Source: Streetsblog

New York City has been finding innovative ways to transform dead spaces, such as parking lots, into social public places. But are developer incentives still skewed towards excess parking? A recent study has shown that there are eight parking spots built for each car in the United States. Eran Ben-Joseph, MIT Professor of Urban Planning, claims there are 800 million parking spaces in the country, which altogether makes up an area larger than Puerto Rico. Although New York City may be one of the most transit-accessible cities in the US, its minimum parking requirements are a remnant from the 1961 Zoning Ordinance, formulated during an era of peak automobile production in the United States.

Evidence from NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy shows that New York’s parking minimums are “forcing developers to provide unwanted automobile infrastructure,”coaxing higher housing costs and more traffic. Due to the mandated construction of parking, the study depicts a landscape where developers are providing more parking spaces than what the market actually demands.

In early 2012, new buildings like Avalon Fort Greene, a high-rise luxury tower near downtown Brooklyn and neighboring 80 Dekalb Avenue were reported to have nearly empty garages despite both being well-occupied by tenants. Even if developers want to avoid parking minimums, they end up building with the zoning ordinance demands. The above graphic shows that New York City requires an estimation of 43 parking spaces for every 100 housing units, which is relatively low – but parking minimums in the outer boroughs like Staten Island and Queens are still significant.

In the last year, the city has taken some steps, such as the Downtown Brooklyn Parking Amendment, approved in December 2012 which reduces the required parking for new developments by half in the high-density commercial zone. Parking requirements will drop from 40% of new housing units to 20% of new units. Politically, it has even become convenient to support minimum parking–even Anthony Weiner supports it.

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An underutilized parking lot near Yankee Stadium. Source: NY Daily News

But there’s still room for improvement, even in non-residential developments. Garages near the Yankee Stadium which were built over what was originally park land aren’t ever more than 60% full, even on game days. As a result, the Bronx lost public space while developers have lost a fortune. Other cities have taken more drastic steps–Los Angeles completely removed parking requirements around certain transit stops. This month, the Washington DC zoning commission will hear proposals to wave minimum parking requirements around all of its metro stops. Paris has been one of the most extreme and comprehensive in its anti-car push, permanently pedestrianizing portions of the highway along the Seine and turning the Republique traffic circle into a public plaza.

There are also hopes that reducing parking minimums will also alter residential behavior. A study by UPenn Urban Planning professor Rachel Weinberger, covered in The Atlantic, shows that “there is clear relationship between guaranteed parking at home and the greater propensity to use the automobile for journey to work trips even between origin and destinations pairs that are reasonably well and very well served by transit.” Other negative externalities include more expensive housing (parking construction costs are bundled into residential housing costs) and subsidized car ownership by non-drivers (since they also pay for parking costs), according to The City Fix.

The plan for Domino Sugar Factory by Two Trees may herald a new direction, deliberately sacrificing 501 parking spaces to enable more mixed use. The goal is to build a 24/7 community with world-class green space. In another vein, a 700-space automated parking garage in Downtown Brooklyn will finance a new park, Willoughby Square, above it instead of another high-rise. New York officials are calling it Brooklyn’s Bryant Park. Hopefully these are just the first steps in the push towards a more sustainable New York City.

Additional reporting by Michelle Young. Read more from our Cities 101 series about how stuff works in the city. 

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