StreetsPAC Urges Wholesale Rethinking of New York City Parking Policy

StreetsPAC testified at today's New York City Council Committee on Transportation oversight hearing on city parking policies, which also included discussion of bills aimed at facilitating car-sharing. Here's what we had to say:

In regard to Intro 267, which would reserve a percentage of parking spaces in public parking facilities for shared vehicles, and Intro 873, which would dedicate some number of on-street parking spaces to shared vehicles, we believe that the promotion of shared-vehicle services in New York City is generally a good thing.  Providing New Yorkers with alternatives to private car ownership makes sense.

However, we need to be cognizant of how shared vehicles are used.  If they provide options for people who might otherwise choose to own or lease a vehicle, that’s good.  But if the use of a shared vehicle replaces a trip that might otherwise have been made by public transit or bike or on foot, that’s perhaps not so good.  If the presence of shared vehicles induces car trips, that’s not good at all.  So it’s important that the dedication of space to shared vehicles comes with comprehensive study of how shared vehicles are used.  Reducing trips made by cars is just as important as reducing the total number of cars.

Additionally, while Intro 873 mentions the possibility of collecting fees for use by car-share operators of metered parking spaces, it makes no such mention of charging for “free” on-street parking spaces.  The bill needs to be explicit in mandating payment for dedicated parking.  Private companies should compensate the city for use of public space, and it begs the larger question of how we use and allocate our curbsides.

We strongly urge this committee, the Council, and the Department of Transportation to initiate a wide-ranging examination of the allocation of curb space in New York City.  The dedication of vast portions of our public streets to free private-vehicle storage is a 1950s-era concept that is ripe for change.  While we have wisely moved on from many other ideas that seemed sensible in the Fifties, our misguided parking policies have gotten a free pass.

As vehicle ownership patterns evolve, we should concurrently be reinventing our streets.  As more and more goods arrive via FedEx and UPS, and Fresh Direct, and as New Yorkers increasingly avail themselves of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, we should be dedicating space on most city blocks – including residential blocks – for deliveries and pickups and drop-offs.

Homeowners and renters should be able to reserve curbside space for plumbers and electricians and moving vans and other service providers.  Shared vehicles – cars and bikes – should be given priority over private ones.

Furthermore, the city should reactivate, and greatly expand, its PARK Smart program, and experiment widely with dynamic pricing of curbside parking spaces.  Multiple studies have shown that a large percentage of city driving involves cruising for parking, and the underlying cause is underpriced curb space.  Or curb space that isn’t priced at all.

We fully understand that this is politically challenging territory to stake out.  Car owners have become deeply attached to free parking.  Altering that dynamic will require political courage.  But it’s also going to be critical to reducing private vehicle ownership, freeing up the gridlock that chokes too many of our streets, and transforming New York City into a global leader on smart and innovative transportation policies.  We’ve taken some baby steps with changes to parking minimums in the Zoning for Quality and Affordability text amendment, but we need wholesale change.

There is, indeed, a high cost to free parking.

Lastly, as to Intros 954 and 1234, which pertain to notification of residents, Community Boards and elected officials when parking regulations are changed or meters are installed, while we believe they’re well intentioned, they would create an unnecessary degree of bureaucracy and mandate notification for notification’s sake.  It’s high time that we stop treating parking as a sacred cow.

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