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Residential Parking Permits: No More Free Street Space?

Bill Morris in Co-op/Condo Buyers

Residential parking permits, already a popular reality from Boston to Berkeley and dozens of cities in between, are something that would affect the quality of life in co-ops and condos in every corner of New York City. And in January 2008, the City held public hearings to discuss the idea for at least such neighborhoods as Brooklyn Heights and Long Island City — where, if the City's proposal to institute congestion-pricing tolls for vehicles entering Manhattan below 86th Street during weekday working hours becomes a reality, residents fear their streets will become de facto parking lots for commuters trying to get as close as possible to Manhattan public transportation without paying a toll.

Proponents have suggested charging anywhere from $25 to $200 a year for a permit, which would enable residents, both renters and owners, to park in specially designated areas near their buildings. David Yassky, a city councilman from Brooklyn, notes that the idea of permits arose during debates over a downtown Brooklyn rezoning plan back in 2004. "We are in favor of resident-permit parking," he says, "because the traffic mitigation that would occur ... would both improve neighborhood character and would be beneficial to the environment: Fewer cars would circle looking for parking." But, he also cautions, "The permit-parking program would not guarantee a parking spot to everyone with a permit. All this would do would be to keep neighborhoods clear of unnecessary traffic."

Unnecessary traffic, it turns out, is no small thing. A recent study commissioned by the activist group Transportation Alternatives noted that during peak business hours, nearly half the drivers in the commercial heart of Park Slope, Brooklyn, are hunting for parking spaces.

Commuter Cruising

Sue Wolfe, president of the Boerum Hill Association in Brooklyn, cites this incessant "cruising" as a major reason for introducing parking permits, regardless of the fate of congestion pricing. "These neighborhoods have such a problem with people circling the block, looking for a place to park, causing pollution and traffic jams," Wolfe says, referring to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Carroll Gardens. "Parking permits would be a much fairer way of dealing with neighborhood parking problems, and it would encourage outsiders to take public transit."

In Harlem, however, as State Senator Bill Perkins notes, "This so-called solution could turn out to be contributing to the problem because, as it was designed, there was no way to avoid the area above 86th Street from becoming a parking lot and having even more congestion."

John Liu, chairman of the City Council's transportation committee, who represents Flushing and other neighborhoods in northeast Queens, argues that residential-parking permits should be issued citywide, not just in a neighborhoods that abut the congestion-pricing zone, and that immediate improvement of mass transit must go hand-in-hand with both new proposals. The federal government has promised $354 million in aid, primarily to improve mass transit, if the city-state commission approves congestion pricing by March 2008.

But many contend that residential parking permits should be issued regardless. Boerum Hill attorney Jo Anne Simon, the Democratic District Leader, says forcefully, "We're already crowded out [of on-street parking] because of the glut of commuters parking here. The fact is it's harder to leave home if you have to pick up a sick child, and it's harder for the plumber [to find parking] if he has to visit. A survey of three Brooklyn neighborhoods last year showed that 95 percent of residents said it was needed. That's overwhelming support. This is not something to be leery of."

Adapted from Habitat January 2008. For the complete article and more, join our Archive >>

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