Wednesday, November 05, 2008

RPA looks at infrastructure investments for Brooklyn, slams (implicitly) AY parking plan

Maybe the local, state, and federal governments will decide it’s time to invest in infrastructure, notably transit. If so, a study released last month by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) lists possibilities and priorities to improve transit for New York City and Northern New Jersey.

“Tomorrow’s Transit: New Mobility for the Region’s Urban Core” (PDF 24.9 MB)adds urban portions of Northern New Jersey to the five boroughs of New York City. (Someday there will be an integrated rail system and it will be a one-fare ride to Newark and Jersey City, right?

“In every recent recession, government has invested in transit and infrastructure to spur recovery,” said Thomas K. Wright, Executive Director, Regional Plan Association. As the report explains, “Transit projects can provide immediate construction jobs and purchases that can help fill the void left by sharp declines in private construction projects.” (Like, perhaps, a particular megaproject?)

Parking policy

Though the report says nothing about Atlantic Yards and little about projects that might impact the plan, it does offer some belated but now mainstream wisdom about parking:
To reduce the overabundance of low cost parking, establish parking ratio requirements in non-residential areas commensurate with the level and use of transit in the area.

More generally, in transit-rich areas follow the lead of Manhattan and Jersey City and require lower parking ratio requirements and establish maximum, rather than minimum ratios.


Indeed, as I pointed out last December, Mayor Mike Bloomberg's much-praised PlaNYC 2030 contains a glaring omission, a failure to address the antiquated anti-urban policy that mandates parking attached to new residential developments outside Manhattan, even when such developments, like Atlantic Yards, are justified precisely because they're located near transit hubs.

Brooklyn transit recommendations

The RPA’s recommendations for Brooklyn include:
Convert the Atlantic Branch of the LIRR to subway service and connect it to the Second Avenue Subway; build a Utica Avenue branch off the converted Atlantic Branch of the LIRR; extend the Nostrand Avenue 2 and 5 lines to Kings Highway; extend the Canarsie L line to Spring Creek Towers/Starrett City; and establish high speed ferry service from Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bay Ridge.

Interestingly, though the RPA recommends Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for Nostrand Avenue, which is the MTA’s first Brooklyn route (albeit in 2012), the report doesn’t push BRT on Flatbush Avenue, which presumably would be welcomed if the Atlantic Yards arena emerges.

It does acknowledge:
Local bus service, as in the other boroughs can be exceedingly slow. The heavy bus volumes on Nostrand Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Kings Highway and Flatlands Avenue led the MTA and the City to include these corridors in their initial list of BRT candidate.

Finding priorities

RPA explains:
Project recommendations were based on population density, rail transit and express bus coverage, travel times, poverty and auto-ownership. They fell into four main categories: those that can be implemented relatively quickly and inexpensively; those that help serve underserved constituencies; those that would add value to the current set of expansion projects; and those that are major, new expansion projects to be implemented over many years.

Among priorities are dense areas with no transit service, high poverty levels and low auto ownership, such as the central Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick and Brownsville.

“Projects that could improve service to low income areas at relatively low cost should be considered first,” said the RPA’s Jeff Zupan. “Those include Bus Rapid Transit routes on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn and in Newark, express subway service on unused tracks on the Dyre Avenue line in the Bronx and the J line in Brooklyn, discounted price service on inter-city commuter rail service and a new station entrance on the L line to serve the Lower East Side.”


Rapid transit to Flatbush

An intriguing but expensive (and long-term) recommendation is to convert the Atlantic Branch of the LIRR to rapid transit service. That would offer a connection to southeast Queens, a stop at East New York, and a high speed trip to downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, and a connection to the JFK AirTrain station. Indeed, the AirTrain could become a one-seat ride to the Flatbush Avenue terminal or to Penn Station.

Moving people faster

Some recommendations seem like no-brainers:
To speed buses, purchase only low-floor buses, encourage riders to exit from the rear door, and establish off-fare collection using the smart card technology.

Install time-to -next-vehicle information technology on all subway and bus routes, as is now available on the Canarsie L line.


Transit-oriented development

The report recommends:
The MTA and NJTRANSIT should establish a priority subset of stations (out of the combined 900 they serve) for transit oriented development (TOD). The priorities would be based on availability of developable land, quality of transit service, and willing partners in the community. Among the areas that should receive the most attention are those where redevelopment in urban areas has begun or is anticipated soon. This could include areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx, which suffered most in the economic decline in the 1970s.

It adds:
To encourage more development near stations, local efficient mortgages should be instituted by the state legislatures.

As the graphic indicates, the more residential density, the less likely urbanites will drive and the more likely they will take public transit.

Take another look at the charge. The net residential density tops out at 200 units per acre. Atlantic Yards, at least as currently planned, would be 292 units/acre--and it would be higher if we subtracted the acres devoted solely to the arena.

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