By Alex Israel
The third time was the charm for Community Board 7, who after several months of back and forth has passed a resolution in favor of a study on the city’s current parking and curbside usage policies. In anticipation of congestion pricing, CB7 is looking to the Department of Transportation to advise on potential new uses for the curb—a decision that has prompted debate within the community.
The resolution has gone through several iterations since its inception. A version first passed through the Transportation Committee in May 2019, was then toned down in November (following a public forum hosted by the committee in October), was next referred back to committee during the full board meeting in December, and was then refined further in committee later that month.
On Tuesday night, it made its way back to the full board with its most neutral language yet, incorporating many of the suggested revisions from December’s full board meeting. While it initially called for the elimination of free street parking for private cars, the text now avoids categorizing free parking as inherently negative, and instead asks that the city advise on the most beneficial uses of curbside space.
“We understand that it’s controversial,” said CB7 Chair Mark Diller, who introduced the revised resolution, addressing a packed room of nearly two hundred members of the community (“record attendance for our community board,” he guessed) during February’s full board meeting.
“Community engagement is what a community board is all about,” Diller said, thanking the attendees in advance for abiding by a strict one-minute speaking limit during the public session.
Transportation Committee co-chair Howard Yaruss kicked off the discussion, assuring the 62 members of the community who signed up to speak that the latest resolution was “meticulously drafted over many months” with input from hundreds of members of the community.
“All we’re trying to do with this resolution … is just hear from the city—the city that controls the streets,” he said. “What can be done to help us improve the streets?”
The full text of the resolution is below:
Our community currently suffers from traffic congestion, rampant double parking particularly due to growing e-commerce deliveries, significant “cruising” for parking and a substantial number of injuries to street users.
Congestion pricing is scheduled to be implemented in approximately one year and community residents and business owners have expressed concern about the impact of this new policy.
How we use our curbside space has remained largely unchanged for many decades while our City has changed dramatically. This City owned land should be used for the greatest good for the greatest number of people, with a particular focus on the needs and concerns of the residents and businesses of our community.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT Community Board 7/Manhattan requests that the City: (1) assess current policy regarding parking and curbside usage, (2) advise us as to whether there are policies that could provide greater benefit to the community, improve traffic flow and promote safer streets, including, but not limited to, paid residential parking permits, metering with surge capability and strategies learned from studying the practices of other major cities, and (3) conduct studies both before and after the implementation of congestion pricing to establish its effect on the community.
Once again, Upper West Siders remained split on the issue.
Most of those against the resolution oppose it because they believe, despite any softening of language, that the proposed study will lead to the elimination of free parking spaces.
One woman described how losing parking might make it difficult to visit her sick mother on Long Island. “This isn’t a luxury—for many of us it’s a necessity,” she said.
“As a car owner I feel a little bit under attack,” said one local man who echoed her fear of not being able to visit a loved one.
Several community members said they were hesitant to support the study because they were worried about inherent bias from the board.
“[The study] must be unbiased with no foregone conclusions,” said one. “Don’t make a difficult situation even worse.”
“I am for a study, but not this one,” said another.
Those in support of the resolution felt the study as proposed was warranted, and welcomed its findings.
“I don’t see any downside in getting more information,” said one Upper West Side resident of 40 years, summing up the general consensus of supporters.
“It’s the 21st century … let’s not put our heads in the sand, let’s proactively plan for the future,” added another.
“There are a lot of great things that a public space can be used for,” said one local mom, who said she hopes her daughter can grow up in a “different kind of city with different priorities.”
When it came time to deliberate, CB7 members who shared testimony were split along similar lines.
“It disturbs me when certain people in certain organizations rail against ‘free parking spaces.’ It’s not free. We all pay taxes in the city of New York,” said Jay Adolf. “A municipality’s job is to provide services,” he added. “It’s time to stop demonizing car owners.”
“I don’t think what’s written is perfect,” said Elizabeth Caputo—a sentiment echoed by other board members regarding the resolution’s language. But she and several others said she believed it was still important to “get something done” before congestion pricing takes effect.
“The only place you have free parking is on the monopoly board,” joked Sheldon Fine. “The city has its own bias; we need an answer to our problems,” he said, implying that perceived CB7 bias should not deter support for the resolution.
When it came time to vote, the split was less even, with 22 voting in favor of the resolution, 12 voting against it, and three abstaining.
“As a committee, whatever you think our own personal views are, there is nothing here that implies that we’re going to take away cars, or parking, or anything,” closed Howard Yaruss.
“Right now we have problems. And we would like to improve the situation.”