Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting rid of minimum parking requirements

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.


George K said...

Not to mention that the increased demand from the people living in the new housing units would lessen the subsidies needed to run the service, making the service more likly to be improved, in one way or another (maybe adding rail service or Bus Rapid Transit to a neighborhood that was formerly only served by local buses)

By the way, would that 1/4 mile distance be 1/4 mile "as the crow flies" or 1/4 mile via the shortest walking path? Would geography (hills) be taken into account?

Allie Cat said...

See, I think that 10-minute frequency between 6AM and 10PM is great and all... but I think you're missing a key consideration. The line should also be 24 hours. Otherwise, people will want to own cars simply because they might have an out-of-hours emergency and transit won't be there for them.

Now, in most sensible cities (and I assume New York is among them), any line with enough demand for 10 minute service also has enough demand for 24-hour service. But it's an important consideration.

Cap'n Transit said...

Fair enough, JN. I think for off-hours emergencies people would just call a cab if they could afford one. I don't know anyplace that gets enough ridership to justify ten-minute headways at 4AM.

George, it wasn't specified, but I'd say the shortest walking path. Our hills here in Queens are pretty small, but we do have creeks, railroads and highways to cross.

Alon Levy said...

Many lines have almost no ridership late at night while maintaining ample evening ridership - for example, before the service cuts, the M66 supported 10-minute frequency at 11 pm, but by 1 am its ridership plummeted to the point that it had 24 riders between 1 and 5 on average.

24-hour service isn't really necessary for a transit-oriented city. Few cities other than New York have it, even very transit-oriented ones like Tokyo. Late at night taxis are the fastest mode of transportation anyway.

George K said...

Just one thing-not everybody who lives in an apartment building in an urban neighborhood has a job that is easy to commute to via public transportation. They could reverse-commute or commute at odd hours, or commute in neighborhoods that are disconnected and therefore need a car
For example, a relative of mine used to live in Brighton Beach and work in Red Hook. A commute by public transportation would take about an hour during the day and about 80 minutes at night. A commute by car would take about 30 minutes or less. The same relative worked in Yonkers, which is another tough commute by public transportation.
Since this is about parking requirements when building an apartment building, I would assume that there would still be parking spaces provided nearby (at a cost) seperately from the building.