Saturday, August 13, 2011

Slaying the parking dragon

Streetsblog is reporting that the New York City Economic Development Corporation is trying to build a "vibrant downtown" next to the ferry terminal at Saint George on Staten Island, but undermining that goal by swamping it with parking.
Yet EDC wants the island’s transit center and would-be downtown to make room for a sea of parking, which will draw more traffic to the neighborhood streets, eat up space that could be used for housing or offices, and degrade the pedestrian environment. At this stage in the development process, it’s not clear exactly how many spaces the new development might contain. But all the spaces in the enormous surface parking lots would have to replaced one for one, ensuring at least a full floor of parking almost by definition. On top of that, EDC expects that additional parking be provided for all "the expected demand produced by the proposed development." With 14 acres up for development, that could be quite a lot of spaces indeed.
First I want to point out that this much parking will also drive up the cost to build the development. It will reduce the profitability of the development, and thus drive up the cost to the city.

This is not surprising for the EDC, which has a record of overbuilding parking, as documented by Streetsblog. One anonymous commenter attributed the parking appeasement to EDC President Seth Pinsky and City Planning Director Amanda Burden, and called on Bloomberg to override them. But to give them some credit, the EDC has facilitated the parking-neutral Fordham Plaza redesign and the parking-negative Queens Plaza project. Noah Kazis points out that it may be the Mayor himself who is trying to appease the parking dragon: "The potential to develop these sites while maintaining the availability of parking," he said, "combined with projects at the Homeport, Howland Hook, and at the Ferry Terminal – will be a catalyst for the further revitalization of the North Shore, as well as the entire island."

Whether this comes from the EDC or Bloomberg, if livable streets advocates could get the EDC to reduce the number of planned parking spaces, it is not clear that Staten Island politicians would be happy about that. Think about the Flushing Commons plan, where the developer wanted to build a relatively sensible number of parking spaces, but was met with fierce resistance from the area's business and political elite. The EDC and the City Council then put in money to build more parking.

Any effort to reduce the amount of parking at Saint George needs to either go through the local business and political establishments (Kenneth Mitchell in the Council, Matthew Titone in the Assembly and Diane Savino in the Senate), or else to be done with such force as to crush the opposition. Good luck on either of those.

Oh, and the less parking you have at Saint George, the higher ridership will be on the buses that go there, and the lower the subsidy they require.

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