Parking leads to gridlock: Study

By Philip Newman

No other borough even comes close to the number of registered motor vehicles in Queens, but parking space have long eluded motorists, so why not require new apartment buildings to furnish off-street parking?

That would only make matters worse, according to Transportation Alternatives, an urban environmental agency, which is convinced that the city must slow rather than encourage car ownership.

In fact, the organization has called on the city to stop requiring off-street parking spaces in new residential buildings lest it bring more cars to already congested streets and “suburbanize” the city.

“One of the unique aspects of New York City is that you don't need to own a car, but city policy is telling thousands of New Yorkers otherwise,” said the study “Suburbanizing the City: How New York City Parking Requirements Lead to More Driving.”

“Unless these policies change, the resulting traffic will completely erase the city's positive efforts to reduce congestion,” the study concluded.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles reported that Queens had 657,196 motor vehicles as of 2007 followed by Brooklyn with 387,325, Staten Island with 244,375, Manhattan with 225,047 and the Bronx with 225,024.

Transportation Alternatives last week asked Mayor Michael Bloomberg to do something about the matter.

The appeal to Bloomberg was presented by Transportation Alternatives, of which Paul Steely White is executive director, and also signed by the Municipal Art Society, Straphangers Campaign, Regional Plan Association, Tri-state Transportation Campaign and other organizations.

“We were alarmed to learn that city-mandated parking is likely to produce as much as 1 billion more miles of driving annually by the year 2030” (when city planners say New York City can expect one million more residents than now), Transportation Alternatives said. “It will also erase any traffic reduction achieved by your Sustainable Transportation Initiative.”

“We write to urge you to substantially reduce the amount of off-street parking being planned and built in the five boroughs,” Transportation Alternatives said.

Transportation Alternatives said the city should “unbundle” the price of parking from the cost of new residences.

“Parking is often included [bundled] in the sale price or rent of new housing, partly because it is accepted practice and partly for the developer's convenience,” the group said. “This forces households without a car to pay for parking they do not need and encourages other households to purchase a vehicle as there is no additional cost for parking.”

The agency said that “unbundling” parking, by contrast, enables households to choose the amount of parking they are willing to pay for, makes housing more affordable for car-free households and increases the flexibility of developers to build less parking spaces.

Transportation Alternatives said Miami, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have already unbundled parking in new condo and apartment projects and the policy is to become effective in San Francisco and many new developments in Arlington County, Va.

The organization said its study found that city residential off-street parking requirements encourage car ownership and use and contradict policies aimed at reducing traffic, air pollution and carbon emissions.

The study included maps showing that Queens areas with the most dense parking were Jackson Heights, Woodside, Sunnyside, Elmhurst-Corona, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Middle Village, Kew Gardens and Flushing.

Only some areas of Brooklyn have more car parking spaces per acre than Queens.

Reach contributing writer Philip by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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