In many circles, minimum parking requirements have been accepted as part of zoning laws without question for years. Of course there have always been those who disagreed, but the conventional wisdom goes like this: people will have cars, if there's no off-street parking they'll park on the street, off-street parking is in high demand as it is, so we need to force developers to create on-street parking. As I wrote back in May, there is no corresponding mandate in favor of transit expansion, so these constitute an implicit subsidy to driving.
Clearly, parking minima should be phased out, but there will be objections from people who use on-street parking. How do we address these objections? You could argue that anyone who depends on the city for free parking should take what they can get, and you'd probably be right, but those people have more power than us, so we can't just tell them to suck it up. You could also argue that the best way to deal with scarce on-street parking is to start charging for it, and I'd be happy to support you on that, but we should be realistic about your chances of success there.
Some of my neighbors have a proposal. Since the argument for parking minima often rests on the idea that adequate transit is not available, why not eliminate or cap these minima in areas where we know transit is available? That's already what's done in the zone (PDF). The proposal is to eliminate or cap parking requirements within a quarter mile of transit.
One of the members of the group asked how to define transit. Does it include subways and buses, or just buses? It's a very good question: while many people can justify car ownership even if they live above one subway station and work above another one on the same line, I think most people would agree that a lot of the apartments within a quarter-mile of a subway line that goes to Manhattan don't need space for a car. But what about buses?
Well, it's clear that people use the buses. There are many bus routes in Queens that carry more than 10,000 passengers a day, round-trip. Most of those do not go to jobs in Manhattan, but rather they connect to subways. People seem satisfied with them. But those are for commuting; in order to live without a car, you need frequent service around the clock, seven days a week. Fortunately, I've already made a frequent bus network map for Queens. Most of the borough is within a quarter mile of a frequent bus or subway.
Someone could argue that these buses are not as reliable as the subways. If the MTA can cut any bus route, what's to stop them from cutting the Q46? Suppose a developer builds an apartment building without parking along the Q46, and then it gets cut? Then everyone in the building would buy cars, and fill up the streets!
There are a couple things to keep in mind here. One is that these frequent routes are not like the abandoned routes that have been given to the van companies. They have high ridership, and it would be hard to drive that many riders away. Most of them have very high farebox recovery ratios, and if they were abandoned it would be possible for lower-overhead jitneys to make a profit.
The other is the principle of induced demand. If developers aren't forced to build parking, residents will find it much easier to take transit, and that in turn will mean higher ridership for those transit lines. It will also mean more political support for transit subsidies, and less for driving subsidies.
I would argue that it is reasonable to eliminate or cap parking requirements for any building within a quarter-mile of a transit line (of any mode) that has service at least every ten minutes between 6AM and 10PM, seven days a week.