A version of this post originally appeared as an Op-Ed on Streetsblog NYC
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has rightly called for breaking “car culture” and reducing the number of private vehicles by 50% by 2050 in his “Let’s Go” Transportation Vision for the Five Boroughs.
Reducing parking, the space dedicated to car storage, is a key part of that goal, but unfortunately, reducing 50% of an undefined number of parking spaces is itself undefined. So, how do we quantify how much parking have now, so we know how to remove to accomplish a 50% reduction?
DOT Commissioner Trottenberg recently gave testimony to the City Council that there are 3 million free parking spaces in NYC. The reality is there are way more parking spaces beyond that. Millions more.
If we want to reduce vehicle use we need to be ready to think about ALL of the different categories of space dedicated car storage, not just on-street parking managed by the Department of Transportation.
What types of space is dedicated to Car Storage?
- Curbside Car Storage — most of our curbs are given to cars since the 1920’s. Metered parking, unmetered parking, commercial parking, police parking, loading zones, and even “no parking”. All are legal for one person or another to park a vehicle in.
- Paid Parking Garages — businesses that sell parking on an hourly, daily or monthly rate. The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs licenses each business individually.
- Parking Lot’s — parking minimum mandated parking for customers (and/or employees). These lots are the hallmark of malls, big box stores and office parks.
- Private Parking — driveways, attached garages, detached garages and resident-only or employee-only lots. This parking is often added due to city required parking minimums.
Note: Driving Lanes are also vast space dedicated to cars. For the scope of quantifying car storage they are not considered, but we should remember driving space is managed on NYC streets by NYC DOT, on NY State roads by NYSDOT, and some tunnels and bridges are managed by MTA Bridges and Tunnels or PANYNJ Bridges & Tunnels.
Note: While sidewalks, crosswalks and plazas are often used for illegal placard-abuse parking, that space is not dedicated to car storage. It is used illegally.
Questions about parking often focus solely on curbside parking because it’s most visible. Of the different parking categories, curbside parking is the easiest to influence by city policy. It’s hard to comprehend but overnight curbside parking didn’t even exist until the summer of 1950.
In setting a reduction goal, Speaker Johnson recognizes that the car, and more importantly, the ways we require accommodations for cars, is at the nexus of many critical topics from housing affordability, to street safety and health and air quality.
How much parking is there?
There are 5,377,375 parking spaces for vehicles in NYC based on new extensive research using city provided data where possible. Thats practically one space for each of the 5.6 million NYC residents with a drivers license.
There are as many spaces for cars in private detached garages in the outer boroughs as there are in every paid parking garage across all four boroughs. If combined the detached parking garages would fill Central Park two deep with some left over.
Parking Lots in NYC have space for over a million cars, a capacity 3x more than all paid parking garages combined. The 377 million square feet these parking lots cover is the equivalent to the space of 10 Central Parks.
This research on NYC parking is now published at https://toomanycars.nyc/
Strategies for 50% fewer 🚗🚗🚗
How can we reduce car use, and car ownership by 50%? It’s easy (as in we know what would accomplish that), but it requires political fortitude and a vision of a life not centered around cars.
Unfortunately land use is a lagging indicator of land use policy. The parking garages in use today have been built over a period of decades and we are reaping the zoning choices set decades ago. Not every lot is redeveloped each year, and what developments do happen each year are themselves multi-year projects. Because land use changes happen so slowly, it is therefore critical to make zoning changes quickly and dramatically to encourage re-development sufficient that over a 5–10 year time span re-developments have a significant impact.
46% of parking capacity is impacted by land use (zoning) restrictions.
At the city (and state) level we must immediately outlaw all zoning regulations that REQUIRE parking. In zoning terms this is called a “parking minimum”. Removing a parking minimum restriction doesn’t mean no new parking will be built, but it does mean developers won’t over-build parking and forces the choice of parking onto buyers and tenants. Ending required parking is key to developing walkable cities.
The city (and state) should institute Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Parking Maximums. Parking maximums say that there is a limit to the number of spaces a new residential development may have (i.e 1 space per 10 units) or a maximum for a given square footage of retail space. Near a subway, high frequency bus route, or cycle highway it’s critical to have restrictions on how much parking developers can build. Ideally the limit in such areas would be zero so for example, housing built a block from union square doesn’t include a parking garage or parking lot.
Parking zoning changes should also be paired with transit oriented up-zoning to shift a majority of new housing and commercial spaces to be in locations that are naturally less car dependent. In zoning terms we need to set a citywide minimum zoning that at least allows a 5 story building within a half mile of a subway or high frequency bus stop. In many parts of the city where multiple subway lines serve an area that zoning should at a minimum allow a 20 story building.
The Department of Buildings which enforces land use needs to step up and treat available parking more seriously by giving an accurate count of off-street parking in NYC. NYC City Council should also pass legislation requiring such information formally.
A good mayor could make swift changes to on-street parking, but that doesn’t let the city council off the hook, as they also have work to do.
It’s clear that free curbside car storage encourages car dependence, so a program to expand metered parking is obvious. You shouldn’t have free parking a block from Times Square, where you have multi-unit residences or anywhere near the many commercial zones in NYC. In those locations it is geometrically impossible for everyone to have a car, so we need to price parking at market rate at a minimum.
Often a “metered parking” spot covers just a select few hours (i.e. 10am-4pm). Metered parking hours needs to be expanded. In most locations metered parking should be 24/7 as where space is a premium there should not be un-metered hours.
The City Council passed restrictions requiring that metered parking spots be free 15% of the time in 2005, and they need to rescind that restriction on Sunday metered parking. To reduce car use the city should charge for parking on Sundays just like it does on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
DOT would need to remove 3,900 on-street parking spaces every month for 31 years straight to reduce on-street parking by 50%. It would take the removal of 12,500 spaces every month to accomplish that goal in 10 years.
The city should be aggressive in re-purposing on-street car storage spaces as protected bike lanes, bus only lanes, green spaces or just remove the parking all together.
Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)
Parking changes might reduce ownership but we should also directly impact vehicle use. Reducing vehicle use in turn directly improves air quality and street safety.
We know from history that higher gas prices has a direct impact on driving. The city and state should both increase gas tax and should tie future increases to inflation and the inverse of average vehicle MPG (as vehicles use less fuel per mile, the tax should increase to keep a constant level of deterrent).
In locations where there is significant traffic with any reasonable occurrence or frequency (i.e. it so predictable we have “gridlock alert days”) the city should designate all but one travel lane as BUS/HOV only. A Bus or HOV+ lane should also be standard on all 3+ lane streets or highways. This will encourage higher vehicle occupancy and improve bus service while simultaneously reducing vehicle miles per person.
Congestion pricing will make a positive difference on some trips that enter the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) but there are too many other congested roads in the five boroughs without a toll. NYC should either embrace a micro toll approach and add 50 cent tolls far and wide or it should have a second ring toll that reduces congestion going into the outer boroughs.
As it is now, driving is often cheaper, but it’s killing us.