Saturday, November 25, 2006

As protesters warn of gridlock, Ratner’s security guards call the cops

They carried signs like “Atlantic Yards: Where Traffic Comes to Die” and “Atlantic Yards Gridlock Solution: Add More Cars.” Yesterday, they kept crossing the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, from 2 pm to 3:30 pm, warning drivers and pedestrians of the coming gridlock should the Atlantic Yards plan go forward—and, actually, even if it doesn’t.

(Photos by Jonathan Barkey.)

In the protest called “Merry Gridlock,” some 15 volunteers from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) helped escort seniors and those with carriages--and handed sheets with diagrams of gridlocked intersections to those they encountered on foot or stopped at traffic lights.

The message: "Tell the city and the state to FIX THE TRAFFIC FIRST!" (One solution could be congestion pricing.)

They also attracted the attention of three security guards from the Atlantic Center/Atlantic Terminal mall complex, owned by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner. First, the guards told two sign-carriers outside the Target store in the Atlantic Terminal mall that they should instead walk in the street, according to Schellie Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition.

Then, in front of four reporters, the security guards told organizer Jim Vogel of CBN and several others to stop, because they were trespassing on private property, including the sidewalks outside the mall, and the sidewalks outside the Modell’s/P.C. Richard complex, formally known as the Shops at Atlantic Center.

The protesters, somewhat incredulous at the assertion, refused. The security guards, who wouldn’t give their names to reporters, called the cops. Then they waited, away from their stations, on the south intersection on Flatbush outside Modell’s for at least half an hour as the protesters continued in their quadrilateral pattern.

The cops arrive

When a squad car from the 88th Precinct finally pulled up, the security guards had briefly moved away. I asked an officer what the rules were. A security guard materialized and joined the conversation. The sidewalks, the cop explained, were open to the public.

The guard asserted, “You can walk but not picket.”

The officer responded that Fort Greene Place, in between the malls, is private, “but I think they have a right to protest. I don’t understand who’s giving you direction.”

The guard suggested that the protesters had to keep a 30-foot buffer.

The second officer (left) explained that protesters standing in front of a building would have to get a permit.

“We’re not stopping,” insisted Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition (right, in picture).

“So they’re allowed to…?” the guard (center) asked.

“As long as they don’t stop and obstruct people from going into the store,” the second officer said.

(Indeed, the New York Civil Liberties Union advises: If you want to distribute handbills on a public sidewalk or in a public park, have a demonstration, rally, or press conference on a public sidewalk, or march on a public sidewalk and you do not intend to use amplified sound, you do not need any permit. If you want to use amplified sound on public property, want to have an event with more than 20 people in a New York City park, or wish to conduct a march in a public street, you will need a permit.)

With that cleared up, Vogel of CBN called it a day, and said a group would return on selected weekend afternoons. “We want to be crossing guards,” he said. “The old people love seeing us.”

Mitigation situation

Vogel even acknowledged that some of the traffic mitigations proposed in the Atlantic Yards plan—such as an all-pedestrian phase—could mean progress. But he wasn’t convinced that the solutions would be enough.

After all, despite plans for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) parking and shuttle bus service to the arena, the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) acknowledges numerous unmitigatible significant impacts--which could well mean gridlock on nearby streets at certain times.

During the protest, actually, the traffic could've been worse. The intersection was crowded, a few cars got stuck between pedestrians when the light changed, and various vehicles honked and speeded, threatening pedestrians. (I got some photos, but my camera later malfunctioned, so they're lost for now.)

There were some backups--but the situation was hardly as hellish as its been. Then again, as the 90-minute segment proceeded, though, traffic began to back up more. Expect the protesters to select even more opportune times to make their point in the future.

Fifth Avenue unimportant?

Another big traffic challenge presented itself a block away. Given the line of northbound drivers on Flatbush Avenue who aimed to turn right on Fifth Avenue to get to the malls, and the northbound drivers on Fifth Avenue already heading the same way, wouldn't the plan to demap Fifth Avenue to build Frank Gehry’s flagship “Miss Brooklyn” make people nervous.

However, the FEIS, in the chapter responding to public comments, downplays the issue:
The Unity Plan would not close Pacific Street or Fifth Avenue, but retaining these streets would not have a substantial benefit to local traffic circulation.

Uh-oh.

[Update: The plan is to turn narrow Sixth Avenue into a two-way street, accommodating traffic and the B63 bus. That would make for several turns, and backups at traffic lights.]

Looking at the map

Below, one of several diagrams in the FEIS regarding unmitigatible traffic impacts. Click to enlarge.

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