Focusing on a lack of parking and a lack of parks

BY Aline Reynolds

Last Thursday’s Community Board 1 Planning and Community Infrastructure Committee meeting focused on transportation and green space and included presentations from the City Department of Transportation and the Chinatown Working Group.

The D.O.T. discussed its new car sharing pilot program intended to reduce congestion and free up street parking spots for Lower Manhattan residents and workers.

“Staff use vehicles for a variety of uses when public transportation is not available or feasible,” explained Heather Richardson, senior project manager of strategic planning at the D.O.T.

Once they complete their offsite assignments, the staff members are ordered to return the cars immediately to the designated garage. The car-sharing program, which launched in September, is part of the larger citywide sustainability initiative, PLaNYC 2020.

“The goal is to use vehicles more efficiently to reduce the overall number of vehicles that would be sitting idle” in parked spaces, Richardson explained.

It is also meant to encourage staff to more strictly adhere to the rule of using public transit whenever possible. Fifty-three D.O.T. vehicles have been removed from the Lower Manhattan fleet and are being replaced with 25 cars that are supposed to be parked on street with placards.

“In theory, it’s supposed to free up 53 parking spots,” explained Jeff Galloway, committee chair.

The D.O.T. is awaiting the results of a study examining the impacts of parking occupancy on Maiden Lane and Water Street and are planning to undertake a similar analysis of this program.

“We’ll track vehicle use, compare trips of car sharing before and after, and verify our cost savings,” Richardson said. “If it’s shown to be successful, City Hall might want to do it citywide if it shows to be a great way for fleet utilization and [can] save the city some money.”

The estimated cost savings comes to roughly $560,000 over four years, based on vehicle acquisition, maintenance and the amount of fuel used.

Committee member Anthony Notaro wanted to see more quantitative evidence that the program will lessen air pollution and free up parking space in Downtown.

“We’d like to see a reduction of the carbon footprint, or the utilization of vehicles – some metric that says, ‘Hey, this is a good idea, [the community] has added value from it,’” said Notaro.

Richardson noted the program would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by optimizing the use of vehicles and having the staffers rely more heavily on public transit, but that it had no quantitative benchmarks as of yet.

Reassessing green space in Chinatown

The Chinatown Working Group, whose more than 50 members include C.B. 1, is conducting a study of green spaces in Chinatown. Annie Frederick, co-chair of the C.W.G.’s Parks and Open Space Committee, attended last week’s C.B. 1 Community Planning and Infrastructure Committee meeting to solicit feedback for the needs assessment.

The study is part of a larger community improvement plan that focuses individually on schools, businesses, transportation, land use, and safety. The C.W.G. hopes they will be incorporated in the city’s charter. The group will vote on the green spaces study in the first week of December and will present its findings to City Planning next spring.

“Whether it’s doing plantings in the park or creating temporary artwork, we need community input on local needs to determine the best uses [of space],” Frederick said.

“We do really want this to be a process where the community boards are a part of weighing in on the plans.”

The study, a product of more than a year’s worth of research and community outreach, shows that very little Chinatown park space falls in Community Board 1 territory. It revealed that Columbus Park, Seward Park and Sara D. Roosevelt Park could benefit from additional programming for youths and seniors, such as film screenings and gardening.

The parks also require additional lighting, extended hours and security patrol, and notes the neighborhood’s track and turf fields, predominantly used by sports leagues, could be more accessible to the general public.

The study also cited a need for new play areas such as the section of the S.D.R. Park between Broome and Delancey Streets, which “can be used for pick-up games and informal non-permitted activities.”

The C.W.G. will share the proposals with the Department of Parks and Recreation to determine what is possible.

“We need to concentrate on our neighbors to the north there who are in need,” said Tom Goodkind, who applauded the project.

“It’s somewhat ironic that the C.B. 3 may be suffering from too many athletic fields,” said Galloway. “We have the exact opposite problem in our district.”

Committee member Elizabeth Lamere asked, “To what extent did you reach out to the local schools?”

Frederick replied that C.W.G.’s education committee is in touch with P.S. 134, M.S. 131 and the New Design High School. “We’re constantly bringing youth out to parks and playgrounds,” she said.

Galloway was hesitant to support the plan.

“I’m a little nervous about weighing in on a plan that has so much detail without doing a little bit more due diligence,” said Galloway.

He and Notaro suggested that the committee take a month to evaluate the proposal, and then vote on it at its December meeting.

“We support the examination of the areas — I can’t see why we wouldn’t just say, ‘yes,’” committee member Ruth Ohman replied.

After some back-and-forth, the committee unanimously passed a resolution supporting the plan.

Inventory of green space in C.B. 1

C.B. 1 is conducting a separate study of green spaces with the help of undergrads from Pace University taking a course in city planning.

“It’s really just an inventory” of green spaces in the district, Galloway explained, so that the committee can determine whether the spaces are being used appropriately.

Levine invited Galloway to mentor the students on the project. So far, the students have identified every park in C.B. 1, and they will be visiting the parks to determine their conditions.

“If you just add up the acreage you could get a misleading number because lots of acres are not all that used,” Galloway explained.

He and Levine decided against including privately owned public spaces in the inventory.

“It would be too much to do — there are plazas in front of every office building,” Levine said. “We’ll save that for another study.”

The duo also decided to table Governor’s Island for a separate study. “It’s a lot for them to do in four weeks as is,” Levine said. “We can do more next semester.”

“I’m excited to see what they come up with,” Galloway chimed in. “I think it’ll be very helpful for us in taking the next steps.”