Analysis | Exploring Possible Unintended Consequences of Residential Parking Permits

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Issuing residential parking permits is one of those things that seems so self-evident to some New York City residents that it’s unimaginable it hasn’t happened already. But parking experts say they could have unintended consequences.

At a City Council hearing on Wednesday, Council member Leticia James, who represents the area around Barclay’s center, future home to the Brooklyn Nets, summed it the argument for the permits in her characteristically emphatic way: “A residential parking permit program would discourage all-day parking by commuters who use neighborhoods — as is the case in downtown Brooklyn — basically as a parking lot.”

The Council voted 40-8 in favor of implementing a parking permit system. But the bill doesn’t mean the system is going to be put into effect — that requires a vote of the state legislature. Still, even the prospect of a parking permit system got the saliva glands flowing for many New Yorkers.

Unintended consequences

And yet, for the city’s Department of Transportation, parking permits can produce a set of unintended consequences, excluding group of people neighborhoods need to accommodate.  Deputy transportation commissioner David Woloch ticked those groups off:  “those using local businesses and services, residential visitors, in-home workers, residents parking rental cars or car-share vehicles, and deliveries.”

In testimony before the Council, Woloch also the term “hunting license.”  

“One potential unintended consequence is therefore that residents can find themselves paying RPP (residential parking) permit fees for the same privilege they currently enjoy, namely, circling for scarce parking spaces,” he said.

Rachel Weinberger, a University of Pennsylvania Professor and Brooklyn resident (who lives not too far from Barclay Center herself) said the RPPs could “have an adverse impact on commerce” by restricting visitors from parking near businesses that thrive on parking space turnover.

How parking permits have fared elsewhere

In Europe, RPPs have been used to discourage parking and driving, part of that continent’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to Michael Kodransky, a parking expert at the Institute for Transportation Development Policy.
“[Permits] can be used to meet a variety of goals—like as a cap on the parking supply in conjunction with off-street parking regulations (forbidden/frozen) or to encourage cleaner vehicle,” he wrote in an email.

In Amsterdam, Kodransky noted, “off-street parking construction is forbidden since residents already have on-street spaces.”  There is, he writes, a 10-year waiting list there.

However, in both these cases, the permits are used as revenue generators.  Although the state bill that the council supports would cause revenue to go to transit,  there’s little evidence that council members are actually seeking big fees for drivers

Kodransky, of ITDP, said he thinks that permits around a stadium could work, but only if the city were will to charge – a lot – for other on-street parking spots.

“If residential permits are issued, then I think all remaining spaces should be priced with sharp increases on game day to dissuade folks from driving,” he wrote, “If the on-street prices remain cheaper than parking in the arena garage, drivers will certainly put in the time to look for cheaper alternatives on Fifth Avenue, Seventh Avenue, Vanderbilt, Fulton, Dekalb or any other commercial streets where residential permits are less likely to apply while current prices are too low for a game-day scenario.”

That’s exactly what has happened on the streets around Yankee stadium.

The city says its study an option for permits around arenas on game days, and promises a report in early 2012.

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