The Parking Crunch in Forest Hills

By Thomas Seubert

 Most New Yorkers will tell you that it’s crazy to drive into Manhattan because of traffic congestion and tight parking, but in the outer boroughs, some neighborhoods’ parking situations rival Manhattan’s.

Like Fordham Road in the Bronx and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, the Austin Street area of Forest Hills, a shopping district, also has a shortage of parking. An abundance of cars traveling on the commercial stretch coupled with city-regulated parking makes the area a particularly difficult place to find parking.

Some areas of Forest Hills are private communities and only residents of them may park there. Photo by Thomas Seubert.
Some areas of Forest Hills are private communities and only residents of them may park there.
Photo by Thomas Seubert.

To the south of Austin Street, roads become private, and while nonresidents can drive through, only members of a Forest Hills gated community can park there. To the north, the multi-lane Queens Boulevard distances Austin Street’s patrons, commuters and business owners from any additional parking spaces. And most  streets in the area are posted with alternate-side parking signs.

The scarcity of parking on Austin Street causes some people to just double-park their cars and trucks, causing traffic back-ups.

“One day a truck needed to unload and had nowhere to pull in,” said Eric Isaac, who works in the area. “Cars in that lane didn’t move for seven light changes. Surprisingly, people only started beeping after the third light change.”

According to Isaac, who lives in Forest Hills, the few who do find parking spaces on or around Austin Street aren’t finished fighting the parking battle.

“People are always out running to refill meters or switch their cars to the other side of the street on alternate-side parking days,” he said. “That’s just how it works here.”

Will Niklaus, a commuter, drives into Forest Hills to park and then continue on to Manhattan by mass transit. Like most commuters, Niklaus cannot park at meters with one- or two-hour limits and is forced to search alternate-side parking streets for spaces.

“I have to leave earlier when it’s an alternate-side parking day,” Niklaus said. “I spend more time searching for a spot, and I end up three blocks further from where I want to be.”

He said he understood the logic of alternate-side parking—no parking on one said allows the streets to be cleaned—but thought the city should amend when these regulations are put into affect. “The city should change the times of alternate-side parking to nights or early evenings so it won’t affect commuters trying to get to school or work,” he said.

The city’s Department of Transportation doesn’t view alternate-side parking as a hindrance. A 2008 study conducted by the DOT in Park Slope, Brooklyn, determined that “parking saturation” is the same no matter the status of alternate-side parking, and that almost 50 percent of New Yorkers feel parking is equally difficult whether alternate-side rules are suspended or implemented.

In Forest Hills, where many factors affect parking, local government bodies are guarded when it comes to discussing the parking situation faced by commuters, residents and visitors. Frank Galluscio, the district manager of Queens Community Board 6, meets with the local police and fire captains every month to discuss various issues in the community.

Heavy traffic and double-parking create huge delays in the neighborhood. Photo by Thomas Seubert.
Heavy traffic and double-parking create huge delays in the neighborhood.
Photo by Thomas Seubert.

“Parking is always on our agenda,” Galluscio said. “We monitor ticket statistics compiled by the police department.” Though crime and moving-violation statistics are available on the 112th precinct’s website, parking summonses are not currently public record. “We take this issue very seriously,” Galluscio added.

The community board tries to work with business owners when parking interferes with their daily operations.

“The Chamber of Commerce offers merchants deals when it comes to parking, sometimes in the form of parking permits,” said Galluscio. “Our goal is to keep things running smoothly…We just look to realistically communicate that parking is tight here.”

In addition to parking permits, private lots work out deals with business owners who need to come and go as they please. The district manager cites a concert held last summer as an example of exemplary communication with local businesses and the public.

Mumford & Sons, a British rock/folk band, performed at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, a few blocks from Austin Street, drawing an estimated 16,000 people to the area. Streets were closed to traffic, and a lot of parking was reserved for concert personnel.

“People were told parking would be a premium and wouldn’t be available that night,” Galluscio said. “Concert tickets were labeled ‘Green Event’ and encouraged people to take the MTA or LIRR trains to the show,” referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road.

Local businesses welcomed the influx of people coming into Forest Hills even though it meant less parking was available. One Forest Hills business owner said:  “Businesses just need accessibility. As long as people can get here…that’s most important.”

On the day of the concert, Station House, a bar that sits between the tennis stadium and Austin Street, was packed. Paolo Chioni, a server at the restaurant was working the night of the concert and recalled, “We definitely were not affected negatively by the concert. A lot of people came into the bar after the show ended,” adding, “Even regularly, it seems a lack of parking doesn’t really hurt us. People either walk here or just look for parking…a little further away.”

Patrons of the local businesses—who have to drive to get to the area—feel they are the ones left out of the situation. In addition to commuting into Forest Hills, Niklaus enjoys going to restaurants and shops in the area but often opts not to visit his favorite hangouts.

“If I’m looking for something quick, easy or convenient, I won’t go over to Austin Street. Parking is too tough,” Niklaus said.

For Galluscio and Community Board 6, protecting the parking spots on Austin Street and open, realistic communication with the public are the keys to the situation.

“Right now we don’t want to lose any more parking spots than we already have…People understand parking is something they have to contend with,” Galluscio said. “They don’t love it, but they understand it.”