Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sweet and Sour

The NY Daily News is reporting on the Flushing Commons pot sweetener that we commented on yesterday: "A day before the City Council is set to vote on the controversial Flushing Commons project, the city has made a multimillion dollar concession to help area merchants. The city announced Wednesday that it will nearly triple its assistance plan - from $2.25 million to $6 million - to aid downtown Flushing businesses during construction of the 5-acre housing and retail complex. "This will go a long way to try and ease their pain," said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Hollis), who made the announcement at a Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing. "This meant a lot to us - to protect those small businesses during construction," he said."

Unfortunately, despite Weprin's real earnest concern for the merchants, most shopkeepers were not buying that the remediation would do much good-with Union Street head Ikwan Rim telling us that this is a dagger in his heart  that no amount of mitigation will help change. The most important concession, however, involves parking: "Maybe most significant is the $3 million that will go toward a program to alleviate parking issues while the development is built atop a 1,100-space municipal parking lot. Participating merchants will be able to provide customers with free or discounted parking during construction. The city will also cap parking rates in the complex's new 1,600-spot garage for five years after construction is completed."

The parking issue has been front and center-to the chagrin of Streetsblog, where the efforts of Council member Halloran in this regard were ridiculed: "Most people who testified, however, believed 1,600 parking spaces would be unacceptably few. Without the ability to park all day at the municipal lot, said one Union Street merchant through a translator, "I have to give up my job. I don't want to lose my job and I oppose this project." Her sentiment was repeated over and over again. Elected officials responded by calling for more and cheaper parking, seemingly unaware that their position would take a toll on housing affordability, transit service, street safety, and the bottom lines of many businesses. Council Member Dan Halloran, who represents a neighboring district, identified himself as a Republican normally inclined to support new development, but found himself an outspoken opponent of the parking plan for Flushing Commons. "It would seem to me that if you put in 620 new units of people living there and thousands of square feet of businesses," argued Halloran, "saying there's 500 more spots quickly gets eaten up."

What the blog is arguing here doesn't make much sense: "Basic concepts, like the fact that adding more parking will exacerbate Flushing's grinding congestion, not alleviate it, or that free parking is bad for business, simply haven't begun to penetrate the consciousness of most council members, who wield final authority over major land use decisions. Sustainable transportation advocates have a long way to go in educating our legislators about how parking really works."

What's missing here, is an awareness by the blog that it is the Flushing Commons project itself-with its 570,000 sq. ft. of additional retail and commercial space-that doesn't make sense. The parking issue devolves from the fact that the muni lot is servicing these local small businesses-whose customers are driving to shop at the rate of 70%. Streetsblog may abhor this fact, but it is an economic engine for Flushing nonetheless. The parking being provided, however, will be eaten up by the development itself.

This doesn't stop the blog from actually considering developer TDC as a model for sustainable development: "The irony here is that the project's developer, TDC Development President Michael Meyer, quotes parking guru Donald Shoup and understands the connection between parking policy and broader transportation goals. When the committee members fretted about the traffic that the project would generate, Meyer reminded them of "the congestion that overproduction [of parking] would create." In defending the amount of parking at Flushing Commons, Meyer explained that under the proposed pricing scheme, which would charge less for long-term stays than short-term parking, more customers would get to use each space over the course of the day. Meyer is the kind of developer whom a city interested in using parking policy as a lever for sustainability could work with."

How silly-an an indication just how theory and practice bump into each other with the latter taking a beating. Flushing Commons, as we have pointed out, assigns half of its end users to the transit system-when the system is being overloaded and will be unable to accommodate these new riders. The parking issue is a side issue to this elephant in the room, and after all of the Streetsblog obsession with it, the realization comes to it with this epiphany: "Over the life of this project, a potent mix of motorist demands, political bluster, and policy ineptitude have combined to produce a proposal that contradicts the core principles of PlaNYC, all under the approving gaze of Mayor Bloomberg. And it may get even worse."

And it certainly will-but too much parking isn't why it will. A fraudulent review process that fails to consider transit capacity will be seen, when the dust settles, as the ultimate villain-and no amount of remorse money will change any of this.