Thursday, June 29, 2006

Are nine acres of interim surface parking part of the plan?

Missing from Forest City Ratner’s latest brochure (below, right) and the AtlanticYards.com web site is any mention of the two huge interim surface parking lots planned for the Atlantic Yards site, in the north central and southeast blocks of the site, blocks that are later slated for towers and landscaped open space.

How big? How many spaces? For whom? For how long? We don't know yet. The two large blocks occupy about nine acres of the 22-acre footprint. An acre can typically accommodate spaces for about 130 cars (plus driving lanes, etc.), so nine acres could provide parking for 1170 cars. It's unlikely that the entire blocks would be used for parking, though.

Still, the project would take at least ten years to build, so it's possible those parking lots could persist in whole or in part, especially if changes in economic conditions alter the development.

No one’s willing to say much for now. Not the city Department of Transportation. Not the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office. And not Jim Stuckey, President of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Development Group, who, when asked June 15 before the Municipal Art Society session, said that it would all be discussed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which should be released sometime next month.

Open space doesn't come first

But two large parking lots--one over a segment of the railyards, one on a block that now has several warehouse and factory buildings--would be a distinct contrast from the lovingly detailed open space that is to be designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin. (Example at right from AtlanticYards.com web site)

Parking lots are a magnet for traffic and would perpetuate, rather than heal, the division between Prospect Heights and Fort Greene posed by the railyards and broad Atlantic Avenue.

Why doesn’t Forest City Ratner build the parkland first? It’s not an unreasonable sequence; at Battery Park City a park and part of the Esplanade were built during the early stages.

Said Andy Wiley-Schwartz, VP at Project for Public Spaces, “We always think: what’s the potential to create a place? A surface parking lot is a great place for a market. Or you can throw some sod down and have a park. If you want to provide connections and amenities, and knit together the neighborhoods, that would be quite a statement.”

Final Scope hints

The first hint of the parking lots came in the Final Scope for the EIS, released 3/31/06, which stated:
The blocks on the eastern part of the project site (Blocks 1120, 1121, 1128, and 1129) would be built out during Phase II, though some preliminary work on the eastern blocks, including improvement of the rail yard and interim surface parking, would occur during Phase I.

It added:
Project components expected to be complete and operational at the end of Phase I (2010) include the newly reconfigured and upgraded below-grade rail yard and the development planned for the blocks housing the proposed arena (consisting of Buildings 1 through 4, and the arena) and Site 5; interim parking would be located on Blocks 1120 and 1129. The remainder of the program would be developed during Phase II, to be completed by 2016

This was first noticed by architect Jonathan Cohn in his Brooklyn Views blog on 4/3/06. He wrote:
One change in the Final Scope is the admission that an unspecified amount of “interim surface parking” on the eastern part of the project site will be constructed during Phase I. (P.14). This “use” of the site could be in-place for some time. While the Phase I analysis year is 2010 and Phase II is 2016, schedules for large projects are notorious for being accurate only at the moment they are proposed.

How many spaces?

It's unclear whether the surface parking would be included in amount of parking already specified in the Final Scope, or whether it would add spaces. The Final Scope stated:
[T]he proposed project anticipates providing a substantial number of new spaces: approximately 2,000 parking spaces in the first phase of project development (2010), increasing to approximately 3,800 parking spaces in the full build (2016).
(At right is the parking plan as depicted in the 2/18/05 Memorandum of Understanding between Forest City Ratner, the city, and the state. There are no plans for parking under the arena itself, however.)

Stuckey said in January there would be parking "part on the arena block, part across the street, part down on Block 1129, and dispersed throughout a number of different areas." But he apparently was talking about parking garages, not interim surface parking. Block 1129, which is between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Pacific and Dean streets, has always been mentioned as a location for underground parking, not necessarily surface parking, as the graphic from the 1/8/06 New York Times indicates (right).

So, if 2000 underground spaces are planned for the first phase, the surface parking could add another 1000 spaces or so. If there are only 1000 underground spaces planned, the surface parking would mean a total of 2000 spaces. What's more likely? The language of the Final Scope suggests that the 2000 spaces in the first phase are permanent spaces, so that suggests that the surface parking would be an addition rather than part of the 2000 total.

Parking for construction workers?

Would the surface parking lots be for arena visitors, residents, construction workers, or all three? One of the lots would be close to the arena, while another would be farther to the east. It seems that the lots would provide spaces for some the 1500 construction workers expected to be working annually on the project. This is anomalous, as large-scale urban construction projects typically don’t provide onsite parking.

Stuckey told a group of Atlantic Avenue merchants at a 3/29/06 meeting that construction workers--that is, those that drive, I assume--would be required to park onsite. (How many is that?) Also, according to Terry Urban, a merchant who attended the meeting, all the construction traffic will be at the east end and onsite, and deliveries would be made at night in order to not disrupt business. (Well, they might disrupt some people's sleep.) Once buildings are torn down, pull-off lanes would be constructed to ease through traffic.

What’s wrong with interim parking

Several analysts of transportation and public space policy added criticism of the interim surface parking. "It sets a bad tone for the rest of the project when one of the first things they do is create a parking lot," said Kate Slevin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "What if something changes in their fiscal situation and the company can no longer afford to build?"

Wiley-Schwartz of PPS added, "If you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. This project does nothing to cut into the current demand for cars and road space in Brooklyn, and adds to it. I’d suggest traffic calming on Flatbush and Atlantic, making it harder to go there, so people don't choose to use their cars."

Peter Krashes, a Dean Street resident who lives across the street from a potential parking lot, pointed out that, if the southeast block contains an interim parking lot there, "they’d have tear down all the existing buildings on that block, including the historically significant Ward Bakery." (right) The Municipal Art Society has suggested that such a historic resource be preserved.

Krashes said it wasn't clear how soon a platform would be built over the railyard after it's moved to the eastern portion of the site. He lamented the lack of detailed information yet available: "There is no way to differentiate between what is necessary because of infrastructure demands, when it simply saves FCRC money, or serves some other end."

The transit solution

Aaron Naparstek, an organizer at the Open Planning Project, observed, "The way to solve the problem is not to build more parking around the arena." He cited several solutions:
--residential parking permits (priced, not free).
--congestion charging either on the East River bridges or around the Downtown Brooklyn central business district
--direct revenues from cars and parking into transit improvements, particlarly express bus services.

Naparstek wrote in April:
You've got to wonder what ever happened to the original sales pitch: That an arena could work at the congested intersection of Atlantic, Flatbush and Fourth Avenues because it was being built atop of a major transit hub?

Indeed, FCR transportation consultant "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz recently offered this summary of the Atlantic Yards plan he's working on: "Transit, transit, transit."

Within a month, perhaps, the Draft EIS will provide some more clues.

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