Friday, July 30, 2010

Wiggle room: In FEIS graphics, ESDC suggested Flatbush Ave. lane closures would be temporary, but text was ambiguous (& referred only to utility work)

So, did the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) study the impact on Flabush Avenue traffic of the need to build a lay-by lane for the arena and thus upgrade Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway vent structures?

On July 27, when I reported on the announcement of a "temporary" 17-month lane closure on Flatbush between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue, I suggested no.

That morning, I asked the ESDC if it had been studied in the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or the June 2009 Technical Memorandum and whether ESDC had documentation on the rationale for the change and estimates of its potential impact.

Yesterday morning, I got an answer, and it deserves a close look.

Essentially, the text of the ESDC documents left enough wiggle room for the closure currently planned, but the attached graphics indicated that Flatbush Avenue lane closures would be temporary.

The asterisk, however, is the FEIS mentioned only the impact of utility work, not the upgrade of vent structures.

Intermittent closure

The ESDC stated:
The FEIS disclosed that the construction work for the Atlantic Yards Project would result in significant adverse traffic impacts due principally to bridge and lane closures during the construction period. See, e.g., FEIS at 17-38. More specifically, the FEIS disclosed that the construction work would likely result in the closure of a travel lane on Flatbush Avenue. See, e.g., FEIS at 17-44 & FEIS Figure 17a-2.
FEIS Figure 17a-2 is embedded below in full and excerpted at right. Yes, it indicated closure of a travel lane on Flatbush, but an intermittent closure.

Looking at the text

The text of Chapter 17, Construction Impacts, however, is more ambiguous. On p. 38 it indicates that lane disruptions would be a contributor to adverse traffic impacts:
The detailed construction traffic analysis shows that significant adverse traffic impacts would occur at numerous locations throughout the construction period. However, these impacts would be attributable primarily to factors other than the added traffic from construction trucks and worker vehicles. The permanent closure of several streets within the project site, the lane disruptions during utility installation and rail yard improvements, and the reconstruction of two bridges over the rail yard were determined to be the main reasons for changes in area travel patterns and traffic diversions. These traffic diversions, when combined with construction- generated traffic, would concentrate traffic at specific intersections near the project site and result in the projected significant adverse traffic impacts.
...As described below, all significant adverse traffic impacts identified at the outlying intersections would be mitigated by the early implementation of proposed mitigation measures. However, certain significant adverse traffic impacts identified at 10 intersections adjacent to the project site would remain unmitigated.
On p. 44, it refers to utility work, which I don't think is the same as vent structures:
During the first half of this construction phase, substantial utility work would continue, requiring the closure of curb lanes along Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Cumberland Avenues, and Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, as reflected in the preliminary MPT plan shown in Figure 17a-8... Along the east side of Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, utility installation would require the temporary taking of the curb lane. To maintain peak traffic flow along Flatbush Avenue, this closure may need to be limited to only off-peak or nighttime hours. The appropriate MPT for this roadway segment would be determined in consultation with DOT.
(Emphases added)

At left is an excerpt from Figure 17a-8, which indicates a right-late closure in off-peak hours.

However, as noted in the text, a limited closure was merely contemplated as a possibility, not as a certainty.

Leaving wiggle room

The ESDC message referenced the contemplated MPT (Maintenance and Protection of Traffic):
The FEIS indicated that the "appropriate MPT for this roadway segment would be determined in consultation with DOT." Consistent with the FEIS, NYCDOT reviewed and approved the MPT for Flatbush Avenue. To minimize the potential for traffic impacts, instead of reducing the northbound movement of Flatbush Avenue to two lanes during the morning rush hour, the MPT provides for three travel lanes for the north bound side of Flatbush Avenue during the morning rush hour and three travel lanes for the south bound side of Flatbush Avenue during the evening rush hour. ESDC's environmental consultant (HDR) reviewed the NYCDOT-approved MPT and determined it to be reasonable from a traffic standpoint, in light of the FEIS disclosures, the traffic volume data for the affected roadways, and the analysis presented in the Technical Memorandum, which analyzed the hypothetical impacts of reducing a segment of Flatbush Avenue to two lanes during the pre-game and post-game periods, in which traffic volumes are comparable to or exceed the traffic volumes anticipated during the construction period in which the MPT will be in effect. The traffic engineers for the project will monitor the roadway network after implementation of the MPT to determine whether any adjustments to the MPT are warranted.
(Emphases added)

Given that the city and state reviewed an MPT, that suggests it was prepared by a consultant for developer Forest City Ratner.

The term "reasonable" is the magic word that indicates to judges, if faced with reviewing the decision by an agency like the ESDC, that they should not substitute their judgment.

Also, note that the Technical Memorandum's analysis of "the hypothetical impacts of reducing a segment of Flatbush Avenue to two lanes during the pre-game and post-game periods" refers to a segment below Fifth Avenue, so not the same as the segment that will soon have a closure:
A screening analysis was performed to identify the potential for the absence of a lay-by lane south of 5th Avenue to result in new significant adverse traffic impacts at the Flatbush Avenue/5th Avenue intersection. The analysis focuses on the weekday and Saturday pre-game and post-game peak hours when the highest amount of curbside pick-up and drop-off activity adjacent to the arena is expected to occur. As a worst-case condition for this screening analysis, the northbound Flatbush Avenue approach was assumed to operate with only two moving lanes approaching 5th Avenue, a condition that would occur if vehicles were to illegally stop in the curbside lane.... With only two travel lanes, northbound Flatbush Avenue at the Flatbush Avenue/5th Avenue intersection would continue to operate at an acceptable LOS B or C in all pre-game and post-game peak hours when demand for curbside space adjacent to the arena is expected to be greatest.
Construction Impacts chapter and Technical Memorandum

17 Construction Impacts FEIS

Technical Memorandum June 2009

FEIS graphics

Fig17a-1 Construction

Fig17a-2

Fig17a-3 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-4 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-5 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-6 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-7 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-8 Construction FEIS

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