Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jeffries: ESDC's traffic/transit plans still need work

Residents of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Prospect Heights attending a Mass Transportation Community Speak Out last night sponsored by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries had a lot of things on their minds, including infrequent subway service, bus clustering, and mysteriously protracted street renovations.

But the pressure of new development was a backdrop to the concerns and Atlantic Yards, the biggest planned such development, came in for some special criticism. Meredith Staton, a member of the Community Board 8 Transportation Committee and, overall, a project supporter, scoffed at plans to demap streets to create Atlantic Yards superblocks.

"If you close down Fifth Avenue, it's a bad plan," he said, before about 50 people at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene. Fifth Avenue is scheduled to be closed between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, but, he said, "you can't make those turns off Flatbush" (rather than Fifth).

As for making more use of Sixth Avenue, the narrow street that would serve as the eastern border of the arena block, Staton said, "the Sixth Avenue plan is ridiculous.. I don't see how you can expand it." Rather, he added, "We need to open up some of the streets." That, of course, is not part of developer Forest City Ratner's plan.

ESDC unprepared?

Jeffries told the audience that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the state agency supervising Atlantic Yards, on Friday hosted a meeting that included a representative of his office and City Council Member David Yassky, who, with Jeffries, had previously expressed concerns about traffic and transit impacts. Also present were representatives of local community boards.

"They clearly have not done a good enough job" preparing for the impacts, he said, adding, "We're going to bring them here [to Brooklyn] to talk about traffic and transportation."

After the meeting, Jeffries elaborated on his concerns. He speculated that the pending litigation challenging the ESDC's environmental review may have led the agency to be "less than forthcoming." Among other things, the lawsuit calls the ESDC's traffic and transportation analysis inadequate.

He said he had not gotten "adequate answers" concerning the ESDC's response to two "new realities," including the acknowledgment that subway stations in Downtown Brooklyn are at capacity and Mayor Mike Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan, which could put additional pressure on neighborhoods like Fort Greene that already attract commuters.

Jeffries supports the concept of congestion pricing but won't support the mayor's plan unless neighborhood parking permits are instituted. Otherwise, he said, "Our communities are in danger of becoming parking lots."

Downtown Brooklyn at capacity

It was already widely believed that Downtown Brooklyn stations were at capacity; the lawsuit challenging the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) alleges (p. 58) that the FEIS "understates the present conditions of dangerous overcrowding on subway platforms and the likelihood that such conditions could be exacerbated upon Project completion particularly arena events." (The case, argued in May, is still pending.)

As I previously noted, Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership said at a community meeting in November, “Our mass transit system is pretty much at capacity when we look at linkages between Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan.” And Kenn Lowy of Community Board 2's Transportation Committee has pointed out that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2004 said that the Downtown Brooklyn stations were at capacity.

Jeffries pointed out that corporations creating business plans reassess them in light of changed external factors; similarly, he said, the ESDC should do so. Local legislators, he said, likely will have to pressure the agency.

In April, he and Yassky sent a letter to the ESDC calling for various changes regarding traffic and transit; several had already been agreed to by the agency and Forest City Ratner, while others had been rejected in the FEIS.

FG isolation

Fort Greene resident and anti-Atlantic Yards activist Lucy Koteen said that more and more streets around or bordering the neighborhood are being temporarily or permanently closed. "Fort Greene is getting more isolated, in terms of automobiles," she said. "We're going to be trapped."

"In terms of streets being demapped, we don't have a lot of control," acknowledged Christopher Hrones, the Department of Transportation's Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator. "As this area gets developed, it's going to get harder and harder to get around in automobiles."

MTA $

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Andy Inglesby announced that a hearing on proposed fare and toll hikes would be held at the Marriott Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn at 6 pm on November 5. Some residents last night did complain about rising fares.

And Schellie Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition had a proposal. "The MTA is basically giving away the Vanderbilt Yards," she said, arguing that the real value was well above that bid by Forest City Ratner for the key component of the Atlantic Yards footprint.

"Thank you," responded Jeffries cordially, as he did to other questions that weren't quite in his power to resolve.

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