Monday, May 17, 2010

How the ESDC quietly increased the amount of (lingering temporary) parking on Block 1129, and why that's an argument for more oversight

When the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) posted an updated version of the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (aka Memorandum of Mitigation Commitments), signed in December, the amount of parking on the southeast block of the site was apparently increased.

Block 1129, bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific Streets, was as of 2006 supposed to hold a 944-space parking lot. Last June, when the project began re-approval, the parking lot grew to 1044 spaces. Only after the process was there any notice that the parking lot would hold 1100 spaces.

I tried to figure out why--and didn't get a full answer.

Incomplete disclosure of impacts

As described below, the ESDC's Technical Memorandum issued last June analyzed the impact of only the addition of 100 parking spaces, not 156 ones.

It concluded that, yes, there would still be an increased traffic delay--nearly a minute-and-a-half--at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue under peak demand, but, since a major delay had already been disclosed, there was nothing new.

And it concluded that there would be increased congestion at the corner of Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, but that could be mitigated by widening the crosswalk. However, the increase in parking was not analyzed, though presumably that might trigger additional widening of the crosswalk.

Surface parking and the need for oversight

Another 650 or so surface parking spaces would be made available on Block 1120, bounded by Sixth and Carlton avenues and Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, which contains both ground-level land and below-grade tracks.

BrooklynSpeaks pointed out in March that Atlantic Avenue was the borough's most dangerous road and that parking at the site should be reduced.

That hasn't happened, and Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) and BrooklynSpeaks suggested that the ongoing issue of traffic and parking demanded greater oversight:
Since its inception, the sponsors of the BrooklynSpeaks initiative have called attention to the traffic and transportation issues raised by the Atlantic Yards project. It is one of our key prinicples underlying an Atlantic Yards that works for Brooklyn. We have specifically attempted to engage the ESDC on the plan to allow nearly 1,700 “interim” surface parking spaces on the Phase II site prior to construction. Unfortunately, the agency’s May 2007 promises to have a substantive and ongoing discussion of this and other traffic issues affecting public safety and quality of life in a “transportation working group” have so far been unfulfilled. We hope that the recent attention on Atlantic Yards’ lack of public accountability will motivate the State to reform its stewardship of the largest development in Brooklyn’s history.
(His comment was not made in response to the issue of the extra 56 parking spaces, but it surely applies.)

Parking increase

From the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), Chapter 12, Traffic and Parking:
p. 29: A total of approximately 750 permanent and 1,596 temporary parking spaces would also be provided in on-site parking garages and temporary parking lots

p. 48: Under Phase I of both the proposed project’s residential and commercial variations, a total of 750 parking spaces would be provided in two on-site public parking garages. Approximately 400 spaces would be provided in a parking garage on Site 5, with two below-grade levels and an entrance midblock on Pacific Street. Approximately 350 additional spaces would be provided in a second two-level public parking garage located on the arena block beneath Buildings 2 and 3. (No parking would be provided beneath the arena itself.) The entrance to this facility would be located on Dean Street approximately 100 feet west of 6th Avenue. Both of these parking garages would be attended-park facilities, and would employ car-stackers. A further 1,596 public parking spaces would be provided in Phase I in three temporary parking lots: an approximately 182-space below-grade parking lot at the southwest quadrant of Block 1120 with access expected to be from 6th Avenue; an approximately 470-space at-grade parking lot midblock on the north side of Block 1120 with access from Atlantic Avenue; and an approximately 944-space at-grade parking lot on Block 1129 with access expected to be from both Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues.
(emphases added)

Parking increased to 1,044 spaces

The Technical Memorandum issued in June 2009:
p. 4: Due to the reconfiguration of below-grade space on the arena block, up to 100 spaces of parking that would have been provided under Building 2 of the arena block would be relocated to Block 1129. Initially, these parking spaces would be part of an interim parking facility on Block 1129. When Block 1129 is fully built out, this parking would be located in a below-grade facility.
The Response to Comments document provided to ESDC board members before their September 17 vote summed it up:
As discussed in the Technical Memorandum, under the MGPP, up to 100 of the 350 parking spaces planned for the Arena block would instead be accommodated on Block 1129. This would bring the number of parking spaces on Block 1129 to approximately 1,044 at the end of Phase I....The MGPP relocates 100 parking spaces from the Arena block to Block 1129, increasing the size of the parking lot on Block 1129 to 1,044 spaces.
Parking increased to 1,100 spaces

However, the December 2009 Memorandum of Environmental Commitments states:
No more than 1100 vehicles, in the aggregate, shall be parked in any surface parking lot(s) on Block 1129 at any one time.
And, as explained today, in March, the ESDC signed an Arena Parking Declaration that describes plans for parking on Block 1129, with "not less than 1,100 motorized passenger vehicles."

Questions posed


I asked the ESDC:
  • have 56 spaces been added and thus the size of the lot increased?
  • if so, is that for all uses of the parking lot (pre- and post-arena opening) or just for construction workers?
  • was the 1100 number described or revealed in any other document besides the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments?
ESDC response

ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell responded:
ESDC's Response to Comments (Sept. 2009) indicates on pages 27-28 that at the conclusion of Phase I, there will be approximately 2,346 parking spaces on the project site, comprised of approximately 1,044 spaces on Block 1129 and approximately 1,302 spaces in other parking lots on the project site. These plans have not changed.

In the Project completion condition (Phase I + Phase II), there will be 2,070 parking spaces on Block 1129 (see Technical Memorandum at page 26). During this condition, all of the parking spaces will be in below ground parking lots that are to be constructed on Block 1129. Again, these plans have not changed.
A "more general restriction"

Mitchell continued:
The Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (December 21, 2009) indicates on page 15 that ESDC has imposed a more general restriction on surface parking on Block 1129. ESDC imposed this restriction to address community concerns about the size of the interim surface parking lot at this location. In the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, which has been incorporated into the Master Closing documents with FCRC affiliates, ESDC prohibits parking more than 1100 vehicles on the surface of Block 1129 at any time. This prohibition applies throughout the construction of the project and thus during each interim phase of project completion and construction.

As noted above, the number 1,044 spaces on Block 1129 represents a snap shot in time (the Phase I completion condition). There is no discrepancy between a document stating that there will be approximately 1,044 spaces on Block 1129 in the Phase I completion condition and a different document stating that throughout the multi-year construction period (Phase I + Phase II) ESDC will not permit more than 1,100 surface parking spaces on Block 1129 at any time.
A lingering temporary condition

So, while the cap of 1100 spaces is a temporary condition, that temporary condition could linger for more than a decade.

Those additional 56 spaces could be removed only when Phase 1 is considered completed, which could be a dozen years without penalty (or even longer, if extensions are granted).

Under a lawyerly interpretation, there may be no discrepancy, given that no interim maximum was set. However, it was certainly plausible to have seen 944 spaces, and then 1,044 spaces, as the cap.

Note that I didn't get an answer to this question: was the 1100 number described or revealed in any other document besides the Memorandum referenced above?

Community concerns

The ESDC's cap of 1100 spaces seems like a response to "community concerns" expressed by PHNDC in its comments on the Modified General Project Plan:
The remaining 1,736 [arena parking] spaces must be located on block 1129. They would presumably be used for arena parking, as the distance between block 1129 and the arena block would seem to make block 1129 unattractive as a location for an accessory lot for residential or commercial buildings.
The MGPP contains no commitment to limit the amount of interim parking for the arena to the 1,100 spaces allocated to the arena at the end of Phase II. The amount of parking for arena patrons after Phase I therefore represents an increase of 62% over the amount disclosed at full build.
That actually was a misreading, since the parking on Block 1120 was omitted. But it apparently allowed the ESDC to then set 1100 spaces as a cap for surface parking, rather than 1044 spaces. The figure of 1100 spaces on Block 1129 at the end of Phase 2 represents underground parking.

The impact on traffic: worse but not new?

The Technical Memorandum analyzed the addition of 100 parking spaces, not 156 ones, and concluded that no new adverse impacts would be caused--how could they be sure if the full number wasn't analyzed?--but that one known adverse impact would get worse:
Overall, however, the proposed relocation of 100 parking spaces from the arena block to Block 1129 would not result in any new significant adverse traffic impacts at any of the seven analyzed intersections in any peak hour... One location of note is the intersection of 6th Avenue and Dean Street where the FEIS revealed a significant adverse impact to the eastbound Dean Street approach in the Saturday pre-game peak hour; this impact would remain unmitigated under the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan outlined in the FEIS. As shown in Table 8b, in the 2016 Build with Mitigation condition, the eastbound approach would operate at LOS [Level of Service] E with 77.6 seconds of delay compared to LOS B with 16.3 seconds of delay in the 2016 No Build. The relocation of on-site parking capacity... would worsen to LOS F and 82.2 seconds of delay..
The impact on pedestrians: worse but not new?

The Technical Memorandum, again analyzing the addition of only 100 parking spaces, concluded that the impact on pedestrians at the north crosswalk on Carlton Avenue at Dean Street could be mitigated:
The FEIS proposed widening the north crosswalk on Carlton Avenue by four feet (from 16 to 20 feet in width) and the north crosswalk on 6th Avenue by one foot (from 16 to 17 feet in width) to return both of these crosswalks from LOS E to LOS D conditions, thereby fully mitigating these impacts.
... To accommodate this additional demand [from the relocation of up to 100 spaces of parking], the design development includes the widening of the north crosswalk on Carlton Avenue at Dean Street and the north crosswalk on 6th Avenue at Dean Street by an additional one-foot each.... would maintain each of these crosswalks at an acceptable LOS D, with more than 15 square feet/pedestrian in each peak hour.
Does that mean that, with addition of even more parking, they need to widen the crosswalks again?

Is widening the crosswalk meaningful when the sidewalk itself can't be enlarged?

The Technical Memorandum says that traffic along the north side sidewalk of Dean Street between Vanderbilt and Sixth avenues would be in fine shape no matter what. That will be interesting to see.

Arena Parking Declaration

Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments for The

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