Parking was a major topic at the sixth annual meeting of the Bayside Village Business Improvement District this Monday.
Residents and merchants met in C J Sullivan’s American Grill on 41st Avenue to hear updates from BID officials, who represent over 400 businesses and property owners along Bell Boulevard from Northern Boulevard to 35th Avenue.
The focus was the lack of sufficient parking along Bell Boulevard.
“We have 88 percent car ownership rates in the area surrounding us and more importantly, everyone is a driver,” said BID Executive Director Lyle Sclair, calling the area a “New York City anomaly.”
Sclair said the BID is particularly worried about when the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road East Side Access Project, which will connect the LIRR’s Main and Port Washington lines to Grand Central Station, is finished.
Once completed, the parking demand is expected to increase from 1,000 spots to nearly 1,300, Sclair said, citing an environmental impact study. There will be more than 4,000 commuters out of Bayside.
That will add to what BID merchants say is already a troubling parking situation.
Steven Lastihenos, owner of Apollo Comfort Shoes, said a lack of immediately available parking spots drives away impatient customers.
“I think they give it a try but when they have trouble finding a spot, it’s very easy to just go up to Bay Terrace or head up to Queens Center, or Roosevelt Field,” Lastihenos said.
“There used to be a lot more people that would park further away and walk, but now it just seems like everybody wants convenience. I hear it from my customers all the time, [who say], ‘I passed by but there were no spots.’ They look within that block and if there’s no spots they move on.”
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) announced he has allocated $20,000 for a feasibility study to assess whether a multilevel parking structure should be placed on what is now a 92-spot municipal lot on 41st Avenue at 214th Place.
Some BID members believe the study may reveal that a parking structure wouldn’t be a good fit for the community after all.
Jocelyn Wenk, from the Rauch Foundation on Long Island, emphasized in the keynote address that well-designed garages can alleviate the parking crunch.
Wenk — who also curates the online index Build a Better Burb, which provides ideas for revitalizing suburban downtowns — believes innovative design can be the boost Bayside needs.
She said residents shouldn’t fear a dirty “architectural ugly duckling” typical of some structures.
Wenk showed several striking images of modern multilevel parking garages in towns across the country — some shimmering with colored glass, others completely covered with greenery — that double as after-hours space for yoga classes and special events.
Yet, modern innovation comes at a price. “A basic but attractive garage can be completed for around $21,000 per space,” Wenk said.
One of the best sources of funding, she noted, is user fees. For a 500-car garage, owners would charge more than $150 per month or $7.50 per day.
Some members worried that a parking structure would mean more traffic confusion.
“Ironically, a parking garage can actually make a downtown more walkable,” Wenk said, adding that in the suburbs, roughly 30 percent of all downtown traffic is typically made up of people circling and looking for parking — that number is higher in areas like Bayside. With a garage as a clear driver destination, more will shop on foot.
“You pay a premium for good design but in the long run it is well worth the risk to ensure a successful long-term project,” Wenk said.
BID Chairman Dominick Bruccoleri also reflected on the year’s past activities including a Halloween festival and a Weekend Walk last September, when Bell Boulevard was closed to traffic for the first time in 20 years. The BID added 11 new merchants in the past year.
Bruccoleri also mentioned that the BID entered a lease with the LIRR one month earlier, securing a patch of land right across from C J Sullivan’s, which will be regularly manicured and cleared of trash. The lease allows the BID to decorate the area with holiday lights without needing permission.
Starting in August, the business group will hold outdoor acoustic concerts during Thursday Nights Out, a weekly summer event when businesses have extended hours and offer specials. A food crawl of BID restaurants is also planned.