That's certainly the case in Newark, where the draft transportation plan (4.4 MB) for the Prudential Center, prepared by Sam Schwartz PLLC, the transportation engineering and planning firm founded by "Gridlock Sam," recommends that drivers "aim to arrive in Newark 90 minutes early, allowing for traffic, parking, and time to enjoy downtown." The arena opens October 25.
(Emphasis on "90 minutes early" added in graphic.)
And what about Brooklyn?
The advice in Newark casts further doubt on the Atlantic Yards environmental review conducted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which chose the peak hour of 7-8 pm to analyze traffic conditions, even though games would most likely begin at 7:30 pm.
Visitors to the planned Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn might well get the same "arrive early" advice Schwartz's firm is offering in Newark. It's reasonable to expect Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner to try to draw patrons to retail, restaurants, and bars in project buildings, and also to its nearby Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls.
Schwartz's firm has already been hired by the developer to work on mitigating transit and traffic impacts.
[Update: The Newark Star-Ledger reported, in a 10/18/07 article headlined New arena to bring big traffic troubles:
By some estimates, three-quarters of each night's crowd will drive into the city, clogging local streets for at least an hour before and after events, according to Schwartz.
A smaller percentage--less than half--might drive to Brooklyn, but why wouldn't the peak hour be the same.]
ESDC "peak hour" defense
Several community critics and analysts called the choice of peak hour a huge flaw in the ESDC's review, commenting that it would make much more sense to choose the 6-7 pm or 6:30-7:30 pm time frame for those attending events beginning at 7:30 pm.
The ESDC offered answer 12-21 in the Response to Comments chapter of the Final Environmental Impact Statement:
As discussed in Chapter 12 of the DEIS, a total of seven peak hours are analyzed for potential traffic impacts, including the weekday 8-9 AM, 12-1 PM (midday), 5-6 PM, 7-8 PM (pre-game), 10-11 PM (postgame), Saturday 1-2 PM (pre-game) and Saturday 4-5 PM (post-game) periods. On weekday evenings, a Nets basketball game would typically start around 7:30 PM or 8:00 PM, and would, therefore, not coincide with the 5-6 PM peak hour for commuter trips. The EIS traffic analysis therefore examines both the weekday 5-6 PM peak hour, and a 7-8 PM pre-game peak hour. The traffic analyses in the DEIS were appropriate even if all weekday Nets games were scheduled for 7:30 PM. The 7-8 PM peak hour was selected for the analysis of the weekday pre-game condition as it is during this period that residual commuter demand and peak demand en route to a basketball game or other event at the arena would most likely overlap.
For example, survey data from Madison Square Garden reported in the August 26, 2003 Madison Square Garden Modal Split Analysis study (Sam Schwartz LLC) indicate that for a weekday Knicks basketball game with a 7:30 start time, approximately 71 percent of fans arrive during the 7-8 PM hour, with 42 percent arriving between 7 PM and 7:30 PM, and 29 percent arriving between 7:30 PM and 8 PM. By contrast, only 19 percent of fans were found to arrive between 6:30 PM and 7:00 PM. (It should be noted that for the proposed project’s travel demand forecast, a conservative 75 percent of Nets fans were assumed to arrive at the arena during the 7-8 PM peak hour.) Although the AM and PM commuter peak periods are spread over more than one hour, traffic impact analyses typically examine the peak one hour within each period.
Note that the analysis offered by Schwartz's firm presents a potential contradiction, concluding that in Manhattan, people come to games a little late, but in Newark, they should come early.
Which is the more likely scenario for Brooklyn?
And how do we know that the fans arriving "late" to Knicks games are arriving directly from transit or their car rather than from places to eat or drink in the neighborhood? They indeed may have been traveling in an earlier peak hour.
Where's the data? In comments filed in response to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, Brian Ketcham and Carolyn Konheim of Community Consulting Services argued that the wrong peak period was chosen and pointed out that the agency has not made “such anomalous data open to inspection" in time for analysis.
Not in lawsuit
The pending lawsuit challenging the ESDC's environmental review questions (p. 58) the choice of a 5-6 pm peak traffic hour and notes that the state disregarded comments from residents who said that congestion starts at 3 pm and extends well beyond 6 pm. It does not, however, specifically challenge the selection of 7-8 pm as a peak hour.
It looks like there was a case to be made for such a challenge--and now, even more so.