In 1982, in the context of the Clean Air Act and national and local concerns about deteriorating air quality, the City of New York adopted pioneering rules to manage the supply of off-street parking in Manhattan’s Central Business District. The 1982 Manhattan Core parking zoning amendments sought, in the words of the City Planning Commission’s report, “to institute land use controls over off-street parking which are consistent with environmental policies and sensitive to the concerns of business and development interests in the City.” While the 1982 amendments recognized the continuing need for limited amounts of parking for vehicles associated with services, business, culture, and entertainment as well as residents, the strictest limits were reserved for public parking. It was anticipated that these limits, together with the redevelopment of sites with parking lots and garages, would, over time, reduce the overall number of public parking spaces and that with fewer parking spaces available, fewer motor vehicles would enter Manhattan’s most traffic-congested areas. These regulations continue to be in effect today in Community Districts 1 through 8, comprising Manhattan below 96th Street on the East Side and 110th Street on the West Side. This area is referred to as the “Manhattan Core” in the New York City Zoning Resolution and includes some of the City’s most populous neighborhoods, major institutions, parks and transit hubs, and the City’s primary Central Business District (CBD), defined as Manhattan below 60th Street.
The most significant change in the 1982 parking regulations was a shift from minimum parkingrequirements for new residential development to maximum parking allowances for parking spaces that are limited to residents of the development, known as accessory spaces. Before 1982, off-street parking was mandatory in residential development in the Manhattan Core; since 1982, accessory parking is optional and subject to strict limits on the amount of parking that can be provided – no more than 20 percent of the number of residential units in Community Districts 1 through 6 and no more than 35 percent of units in Community Districts 7 and 8. Accessory parking for other uses is also subject to maximums, and the total number of spaces provided in a development is capped at no more than 225 spaces for any mix of uses. Under the 1982 regulations, only new developments and enlargements may incorporate parking, whereas prior to 1982 the creation of new parking in existing buildings was allowed as-of-right. In addition, the 1982 regulations require special permits for accessory parking exceeding the maximums as well as for new parking in existing buildings and for all public parking facilities. New surface public parking lots are prohibited in prime commuter areas such as Lower Manhattan and Midtown except by special permit.
Looking back after almost 30 years, these regulations have proven to be compatible with a growing, successful Manhattan Core. They allow limited amounts off-street parking to be provided with new development and allow some developments to provide additional parking by special permit. In doing so, the Manhattan Core regulations strike a balance between discouraging auto commuting in a highly traffic-congested part of the city where transit access and walkability are excellent while recognizing that the need for off-street parking remains even when auto commuting is restrained.
However, certain deficiencies in the existing regulations have become apparent over the years since 1982, as has the need for additional data to better understand how off-street parking is utilized within the Manhattan Core. In 2008, with the assistance of a Federal grant, the Department of City Planning launched a study to collect data about off-street parking in the Manhattan Core and to use that information in assessing the zoning regulations. Much of this research was conducted through a survey of users of over 100 public parking facilities. The Manhattan Core Public Parking Study contains the results of that survey and detailed analysis of Census and other data as well as policy goals for a possible update of the regulations.