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Old wine, new bottle? Yassky resurrects traffic plan ESDC already considered, mostly

City Council Member David Yassky (right) and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries got some ink in the Daily News Wednesday by proposing “a plan to reduce and counter the massive impact on traffic congestion that will be caused by the Atlantic Yards project.” Their letter went to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Downstate Chairman Patrick Foye.

While the duo's proposal includes some worthy ideas, based on conversations with experts and advocates, it lacks a crucial disclaimer. Yassky already made most of these suggestions to the ESDC last August in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Nearly half of the suggestions were rejected in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Nearly half regard policies that developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) has proposed and the ESDC had endorsed.

(Indeed, in a Courier-Life article this week, FCR spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt commented, "While we are confused as to why they are seeking to package already existing approaches to what is agreeably a very complicated issue, we are pleased that the agree with so much of what we have proposed and look forward to working with them." The Courier-Life article didn't point out that other proposals had already been rejected.)

In other words, there’s not much new. The Daily News, in an article Wednesday headlined Pols press Nets traffic fix, inaccurately called it “the first comprehensive plan to tackle an expected traffic glut near the proposed Nets arena.” Actually, a comprehensive plan would have to go farther; see the extensive comments by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (incorporated into BrooklynSpeaks), and by pre-Streetsblog Aaron Naparstek, which recommend congestion pricing, a dicey political issue avoided by Yassky, Jeffries, Forest City, and the ESDC. Also note the comprehensive criticism by transportation analysts Brian Ketcham and Carolyn Konheim.

Towards dialogue

"We weren’t trying to give the impression these were brand new ideas," Yassky spokesman Sam Rockwell told me, in a bit of a stretch. "We wanted to do our best to present a full picture irrespective of the history of them. The whole thing is a series of suggestions, and we’re trying to get an open dialogue about this."

The letter asks the officials to "direct the appropriate State and City agencies to evaluate the feasibility and desirability of these proposals." Well, most have already been evaluated.

Still, Rockwell made the point that there's a new state administration, at least. "They have made clear that they’re not the ones that signed off on that project, and they are the ones that are going to have to sign off on the payment," he said, referring to the $100 million the state has pledged. "Obviously, that’s one of the barganing points."

Then again, the ESDC would have to reject the analysis in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, an analysis it must defend in court, and the ESDC hasn't exactly expressed an intention to review decisions made by the previous administration.

City: no subsidies toward traffic

Yassky and Jeffries (right) requested “that a substantial amount of the public funds that have been set aside for Atlantic Yards – $100 million in the most recent budget proposed by Governor Spitzer and $205 million in the most recent budget proposed by Mayor Bloomberg – be reserved for traffic and transportation improvements, unless and until it is clear what the cost of these improvements will be, and how much of the costs Forest City Ratner will be assuming.”

City spokesman John Gallagher basically said no, telling the Daily News, "We have budgeted funds to improve infrastructure in the area and will comply with the [environmental impact statement]."

And that means no city cash, at least, for traffic and transit. In response to a question about how the city’s initial $100 million would be allotted, the ESDC responded (1-23):
As described in Chapter 4, “Socioeconomics,” the City funds allocated to this project would be used for land costs and infrastructure improvements. The infrastructure improvements would include replacement and upgrades of utility lines that serve an area much larger than the project site.

Point by point

I’ll go through the Yassky/Jeffries proposal point by point. The ESDC's answers all come from the Part 2 of the Response to Comments, Chapter 24 of the FEIS.

Improving traffic flow?

The proposal states:
Traffic at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue should be completely reconfigured to improve traffic flow in the area. This could be achieved by:
--Constructing a below grade traffic tunnel on Fifth or Sixth Avenues running from Flatbush to north of Atlantic Avenue. This tunnel would become the primary means for north and southbound traffic to cross Atlantic Avenue.
--Creating a Park Avenue style overpass.
--Building a traffic circle at the intersection of Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth Avenue similar to the Grand Army Plaza rotary.

Yassky’s idea for a Sixth Avenue tunnel already was dismissed in the FEIS, and Rockwell acknowledged that it would be prohibitively expensive. The ESDC responded (12-114): Construction of a roadway tunnel beneath 6th Avenue crossing Atlantic Avenue would likely be infeasible. Such a tunnel would need to be deep enough to pass beneath the LIRR tunnel along Atlantic Avenue, and would require long approach ramps that would act as a barrier to eastwest vehicular and pedestrian flow. It is also unclear how such a tunnel would benefit the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, as much of the traffic at this intersection is through-traffic that would not necessarily make use of a tunnel providing access to local streets in Ft. Greene.

The overpass and traffic circle ideas are new ideas, but there’s no explanation of how they would fit with the already proposed idea to divert traffic eastbound on Pacific Street, what the Brooklyn Paper dubbed the Fourth-to-Flatbush two-step. (Graphic from Brooklyn Paper)

Result: two new, one rejected.

Off-street unloading

The proposal states:
Design the arena so that all loading and unloading of trucks takes place off-street.

In the FEIS, the ESDC already responded to Yassky’s proposal for off-street loading and unloading areas for both the arena and residential truck traffic (12-90):
Off-street loading and unloading areas would be provided on Site 5 and the arena block to service the arena and commercial uses on these blocks. Residential buildings typically do not require off-street truck loading and unloading facilities.

Result: planned.

Bus rapid transit

The proposal recommends:
Implement a bus rapid transit program on Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, to dramatically speed up bus traffic on both roads.

In response to Yassky’s comment that such a program be implemented on Atlantic Avenue, the ESDC responded (13-34):
NYCDOT and MTA have recently proposed implementation of a pilot bus rapid transit program that would include implementation of a route in Brooklyn along Nostrand, Bedford and Rogers Avenues that does not traverse the project’s study area. Though studied, there are no present plans to implement a pilot bus rapid transit program along Flatbush Avenue.

Result: rejected.

Reduced tunnel toll?

The proposal recommends:
Reduce toll at Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to divert traffic away from downtown Brooklyn and Atlantic Yards vicinity where commuters take advantage of the free bridges.

The ESDC, in response to Yassky’s comment, said in the FEIS (12-30):
The proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan includes a comprehensive package of demand management strategies focused on reducing auto trips in the vicinity of the arena. Introducing a measure that would reduce the costs associated with travel to the arena by auto could be counterproductive to this effort.

Result: rejected.

Combination ticket

The proposal recommends:
Require the arena operator to include an LIRR, MTA or ferry ticket with each ticket to an arena event.

In response to Yassky’s comment that “the cost of mass transit should be built into the price of a game ticket,” the ESDC responded (13-17):
As discussed in Chapter 19, “Mitigation,” of the EIS, a transit fare incentive program would be implemented as part of the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan. Under this fare incentive program, a free round-trip subway fare would be provided to Nets ticket purchasers, targeted to auto-oriented trips in areas accessible by mass transit.

Result: planned, partly. Yassky didn’t specify that most arena events would not be Nets games. Indeed, Ketcham and Konheim blasted the ESDC for not requiring such tickets for concerts and other events.

Ferry service

The proposal recommends:
Require the Nets to provide free ferry service from an appropriate location in New Jersey to a new terminal at Atlantic Avenue to accommodate fans from New Jersey. Free shuttle bus service should be available from the ferry terminal to the arena.

In response to Yassky’s recommendation, the ESDC said in the FEIS (13-18)
Ferry service between the arena and New Jersey would not be effective due to the distance between the arena site and the ferry landing at the foot of Old Fulton Street (approximately two miles) and the availability of other transit modes. It should also be noted that under the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan, free charter bus service would be provided to shuttle arena patrons between the arena and park & ride lots on Staten Island...

Result: rejected.

More #5 trains

The proposal recommends:
All New York City Transit #5 trains should go to Brooklyn during game days to increase transit ridership. Currently it only goes to Brooklyn during rush hour.

In response to Yassky’s recommendation of just that, the ESDC said in the FEIS (13-19):
Increased weekday evening operation of subway service to Brooklyn and increased weekend service are recommended under the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan. Such increases in service would be subject to review and approval by the NYCT

Result: likely.

Increased parking cost

The proposal recommends:
Set parking cost at a premium to discourage people from driving to the arena for arena events.

Yassky made that recommendation earlier. The response (12-91):
As part of a comprehensive package of traffic demand management strategies for game days included in the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan, a surcharge would be imposed on game days for on-site arena parking and adjacent parking facilities controlled by the project sponsors. HOV parking would not be subject to this surcharge.

Result: planned.

Bike parking

The proposal builds on Yassky's previous request, calling for more details:
A large bike parking facility should be built into the arena site. Local residents could use the facility free of charge daily and on game days the facility would accommodate cyclists attending games. The plan currently calls for 400 bike parking spaces in the arena, but no details on the plan are provided. There needs to be an assurance that this will actually be built, and the lanes should be a combination of short-term and long-term parking facilities.

In response to Yassky’s previous request for a bike parking facility, the ESDC had responded with at least some details (12-61):
The proposed Atlantic Yards bicycle station would be a secured, staffed facility providing storage for 400 bicycles. It is anticipated that this facility would be located on the arena block in ground-floor space along the Sixth Avenue corridor. At this location it would be conveniently situated next to the arena and easily accessible from the bicycle lanes on Dean and Bergen Streets. As currently contemplated, in addition to dedicated bicycle storage space, the facility would include amenities such as lockers, restrooms and a security desk, and an adjacent bicycle repair and accessory retail shop would provide services to both users of the facility and the surrounding community.

Result: planned, mostly.

In a new comment, Yassky and Jeffries also point out:
The 400 bike parking spaces planned for the arena will be unusable because no one will be able to get to them due to the lack of bicycle infrastructure in the area. For example, bike lanes on Bergen and Dean need to be protected from ‘displaced traffic due to project-related changes’ (wording from the EIS), and new public lanes must be created.

Result: new idea.

Longer traffic lights

The proposal recommends:
In project area, readjust traffic lights to give more time for pedestrians to cross the street in all directions.

Yassky had previously made a similar request, and the ESDC responded (13-45):
Traffic signals in the study are typically timed to optimize traffic flow while also providing sufficient time for pedestrians to cross streets. Allocating additional time to one phase or another to give pedestrians more crossing time would in many cases adversely affect traffic flow and progression between intersections. The proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan does, however, include the introduction of an all pedestrian phase at Flatbush and 4th Avenues...

Result: rejected, mostly.

Residential parking permits

The proposal recommends:
Implement a residential parking permit program in the neighborhoods surrounding the arena.

Yassky and others had made a similar request, and the ESDC in the FEIS had said it would be tough (12-82):
The May 2006 Downtown Brooklyn Residential Permit Parking Study, released by the Downtown Brooklyn Council in conjunction with DOT, found that residential neighborhoods around Downtown Brooklyn present unique challenges for implementing a residential parking permit program, and presents a set of options (one including multi-space meters) for implementing various forms of such a program. If the City were to pursue a residential parking permit program, it could solely do so as a pilot program. Permanent residential parking permit programs are authorized by specific State legislation. The DEIS does include detailed quantitative analyses of the proposed project’s potential impacts to both off-street and on-street parking....[N]o significant adverse impacts to parking conditions would result from implementation of the proposed project...

Result: rejected, mostly.

Shuttle buses

The proposal recommends:
Environmentally friendly shuttle buses should be used to link off site parking with the arena. Currently, all off site parking planned is within a half mile radius of the arena. The parking available in this radius will not be sufficient on game day.

Yassky had previously made such a suggestion, and the ESDC responded (12-88):
The buses that would be used to shuttle people to and from the remote parking locations would be required to be compliant with all applicable environmental codes and regulations. Alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles would be used for this service.

Result: planned.

Community Advisory Task Force

The proposal closes with a new suggestion, at least compared to Yassky’s previous letter:
A community advisory task force should be created to oversee and have input on every stage of the Atlantic Yards Project development. The group should meet regularly and should represent a sampling of residents from all of the affected areas in community boards 2, 6 and 8.

What exactly does “oversee” mean? What kind of powers would this group have? It sounds like the BrooklynSpeaks recommendation—if so, Yassky and Jeffries could have said so.

Suggestions dropped

The proposal from Yassky and Jeffries does not mention a few of the suggestions Yassky had previously made.

Yassky had recommended that the number of traffic lanes on Atlantic Avenue going to and from the arena should be increased during game days. The ESDC had agreed in the FEIS (12-8):
As discussed in Chapter 12 of the DEIS, with implementation of the proposed project, Atlantic Avenue would be reconfigured adjacent to the project site to increase the number of eastbound travel lanes from two to three between Flatbush Avenue and Ft. Greene Place, eliminating a major constraint point...

Perhaps Yassky got the word that some local residents and merchants do not like that idea at all. (See newsletter from the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association.)

Yassky had also recommended two-way tolls for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The ESDC had said no (12-29):
Implementation of new tolls on the East River Bridges, changes in the current toll system at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and replacement of the Gowanus Expressway with a tunnel are beyond the scope of this project. Any implementation of new tolls would be subject to an independent environmental review.

Yassky had also recommended that crosswalks be realigned at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues so they run at right angles with streets rather than in diagonals. The ESDC had said no (12-131):
...To enhance pedestrian safety, the sidewalk at the northeast corner of the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues was extended to shorten the crossing distance on the north crosswalk from seven lanes of traffic to six lanes. The possibility of further realigning the crosswalks at this intersection was examined in consultation with DOT, but was not recommended as part of the traffic mitigation plan due to potential constraints on the amount of reservoir space available for vehicle queuing.


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