CB8 Mulls Possibility of Parking Permits for UES Spots

As congestion pricing nears implementation, and as a bill that would authorize residential parking permits in Manhattan inches forward in the state legislature, UES residents mulled over what such a permitting system would look like. On Feb. 8, CB8’s Transportation Committee invited the policy manager of San Francisco’s permitting program to give an overview of what some options are.

| 09 Feb 2024 | 04:46

There may come a time when drivers who don’t live on the Upper East Side will be prevented from consistently parking there.

On Feb. 7, Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee discussed the possible future implementation of a residential parking permit zone. The session comes as congestion pricing tolls are set to become a reality soon, which will shift Manhattan traffic patterns.

Before residential parking permits could be issued in areas such as the UES, of course, a state law amending traffic regulations–and allowing government bodies such as the City Council to locally oversee any permit program–would need to be passed. State Senator Michael Genaris (Queens) unveiled a proposal to that end last March, but it hasn’t gained much traction.

A bill introduced by State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell (Upper West Side) last January has made slightly more progress, and notes that the city of New York might make a study of any permitting system’s “environmental impact,” not to mention “equity issues” such as household income. It was referred to the Assembly’s Transportation Committee this year.

To help bolster public understanding of what local residential parking permitting might eventually look like, the Transportation Committee invited Raynell Cooper to give a presentation. Cooper, who manages policy for San Francisco’s Residential Parking Permit (RPP) program–which is a part of their “Muni” public transit system–noted that he didn’t speak for the MTA or NYC’s DOT.

However, he had plenty to say about how a UES parking permit system could be configured in many ways. The first consideration that is important is the size of the permitting zone, Cooper said. If the area is too big, people commuting for work can eat up the available parking spaces. If it’s too small, a well-attended event such as a birthday party can have the same effect.

As far as cost goes, Cooper said, “I do not suggest having free permits.” San Francisco uses a “cost recovery” model, with rates determined by “adding up the number of costs and dividing it by the number of permits.” That city’s current yearly permit rate is $170, but will reportedly reach $200 in the next couple of fiscal years due to inflation.

“Just like anything in government budgeting, labor is gonna be the biggest cost,” Cooper clarified. For example, the Muni system must retain officers for its parking control division. It also has to deal with the costs of issuing permits and planning permitting zones, he said.

Public input would be vital for such a permitting system. One roadblock could come in the form of realizing that “there are more permits than there are parking spaces,” Cooper noted. Another difficulty for Muni–and whoever would enforce the permitting system in NYC–is the process of what Cooper calls “picking winners and losers.”

“You have to decide whether to fit people in, or whether you have to tell them that they’re not welcome to the same privileges as residents,” he added.

Congestion pricing, which Cooper called the impetus of permitting programs in NYC for “the last 15 years or so,” will present entirely new questions. Cooper, certainly something of an expert on residential parking permits, predicts that it could be a “shock to the [permitting] system that there’s not much of an equivalent for, at least in the North American planning context.”

However, he said he believes that such a system could please both NYC car users and those in the “non-car boat,” if the details are hammered out correctly. The essential question, according to Cooper, is what city residents feel like they “owe to
residents who park on the street.”

Depending on the values of a given neighborhood, this could range from a dedicated permitting system to absolutely nothing at all.

Then it was time for audience questions. Frank Farance, the president of the Roosevelt Island’s Resident’s Association, seemingly took issue with the entire idea. “Why is it that residents are able to get this? Is there a different paradigm?” he asked, in what was possibly a hint that Roosevelt Islanders are concerned about losing accessible Upper East Side parking.

Cooper told him that many of the current permitting variances in other cities were based on profession, such as an “industrial parking permit” for employees in Chicago’s industrial zone.

Rita Popper, a CB8 member, was curious if there might be a “limit” to issued permits–and if there would be a waiting list because of this. In response, Cooper described the tricky “balancing act” of making sure certain neighborhoods don’t see too many applications, and noted that San Francisco doesn’t have a permit waiting list. Cities like Amsterdam do, he said, and also have quite affordable permits.

In other words, NYC shouldn’t rule out looking across the pond for a model worth importing.