Wednesday, June 15, 2011

At forum on traffic, new concerns about unintended consequences of traffic mitigations: spillover onto and around Third Avenue

Before the meeting on Atlantic Yards traffic mitigations last night, held by the Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner, the main objections expressed, via Atlantic Yards Watch and BrooklynSpeaks, were that the plans focused on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, doing nothing to address traffic congestion on the eastern end of the project nor to control on-street parking by arena patrons.

Nor do the plans, which begin this month, fully acknowledge the impact of a much attenuated construction schedule.

And last night, as Forest City Ratner consultant Sam Schwartz described the previously announced plan to an audience of more than 100 at Brooklyn Borough Hall, significant new objections arose.

Schwartz also exhibited a shaky grasp of a few of the project's many details, such as the entry points to the planned surface parking lot.

Third Avenue effect

The plan diverts northbound traffic on Fourth Avenue to Flatbush Avenue via Atlantic Avenue and then Third Avenue, prompting several residents of streets surrounding Third Avenue to object, sometimes loudly interrupting Schwartz, moderator Craig Hammerman, District Manager of Community Board 6, and other officials.

"They came up with a convenient plan that solves someone else's problem and creates problems for us," commented Jonathan Glazer, a resident of State Street just west of Third Avenue, after the meeting.

Glazer pointed out that the environmental review--the state's Final Environmental Impact Statement--didn't study the impact of traffic on such blocks. Indeed, the Traffic chapter of the document addresses Third Avenue's intersections with Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue but not the blocks between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

The same goes for the Mitigation chapter.

The event, which was scheduled to last from 6:30 to 8 pm, began ten minutes late but ended promptly, with numerous submitted questions unanswered. ESDC officials promised that all written questions would be answered within two weeks on the agency AY web site.

(Here's coverage from NY1 and from Patch.)

Demand management in six months

Also, the ESDC's Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, said that additional proposed mitigation measures to diminish use of cars--such as a MetroCard tied in with an event ticket--are being finalized by Forest City Ratner.

Hankin said a presentation on such measures should be held in about 6 months.

Sam Schwartz presentation, Part 1



Sam Schwartz presentation, Part 2



Q&A, Part 1



Black car waiting area?

Questions were submitted in writing and directed to Schwartz and other officials. Not on the tape is the first question asked: where will black cars (limousines) for the suite-goers wait?

Schwartz said no space has been dedicated. "'No standing' zones will be enforced," he said. "We may decide there is an innocuous location nearby."

The lack of certainty led several people in the audience to express skepticism.

Emergency response time

What about the impact on the response time for the 78th police precinct at Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue and the Fire Department station on Dean Street just east of Sixth Avenue?

Schwartz's reply (at about 4:00) sounded somewhat uncertain. "We're working closely with all emergency services in this area," he said, segueing into an answer that didn't quite answer the question.

"The emergency services have a plan for every type of emergency. We've done this with Madison Square Garden. We've done this with CitiField," he said. "It's standard work that is done to deal with any kind of emergency that would occur in the area, both at the arena, and both going through the arena area."

Can you tell us what it is, asked one voice from the audience.

"We're developing a plan with the police department," Schwartz responded.

Parking changes

Hammerman read a question about changes in parking regulations around the project site.
What about Third Avenue between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues?

There would be no parking regulation changes, according to the Department of Transportation's Chris Hrones, citing two travel lanes, with parking on the side.

Some people in the audience expressed dismay.

"There's not one question asked about Third Avenue," interrupted Glazer from the audience.

"No parking changes will be made on Third Avenue," Schwartz said, prompting some scornful interruptions.

Will pedestrian crossing times at Third and Atlantic change?

No significant change contemplated, said Schwartz, but they'll take a look at the issue.

Increased traffic on Third?

Given that drivers northbound on Fourth Avenue would have to shift west on Atlantic Avenue to use Third Avenue to get to Flatbush, why won't they simply start using Third Avenue at points farther south.

"That's a very good question," Schwartz said. "Right now a lot of that is happening. Fourth Avenue is only handling 6 or 700 cars between Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue because savvy drivers already know not to take Fourth Avenue all the way to Flatbush Avenue. Savvy drivers for 50 years now are making turns at other locations or using other avenues to get to Flatbush Avenue, and they will continue to do so… Those 6 or 700 vehicles--some of them will remain on Fourth Avenue and some of them will be using other avenues, and deciding on other routes, including not hopping off the Gowanus to take Fourth Avenue."

What is projected volume increase on Third Avenue north of Atlantic; Hammerman mentioned that the questioner pointed out that the intersection at Schermerhorn Street was already overburdened.

"We're going to get back to you with the exact number; it's in the Environmental Impact Statement," Schwartz said

Glazer interrupted to say Schwartz was wrong. "There's nothing in the Environmental Impact Statement on Third Avenue north of Atlantic."

Hammerman tried to placate him. "What is being to address the fact that the affected roadways are not discussed in the FEIS or the diversion plan?"

"Third and what?" asked Schwartz

"Third and State," Hammerman replied.

Schwartz seemed a bit confused. FCR's Jane Marshall approached the screen to point to the intersection at issue.

"We don't see any impact on State Street," Schwartz responded, to some scorn from the crowd.

Hammerman said this was not the last opportunity to pose questions and raise concerns with the ESDC and Community Boards.

"What if this plan fails?" asked one audience member angrily.

Q&A, Part 2



Residential permit parking

Are there any plans for residential permit parking, which would reserve spaces for residents concerned about an influx of event-related driving.

"Residential permit parking is something that DOT has looked at in the past, in connection with congestion pricing," responded Hrones. "It is something we are going to be looking at over the next few months. That is something we are open to."

Bike parking

Will the 400-space on-site bike parking be sheltered and secure?

"It will be open during events," Schwartz responded. "We're going to come back to you on the details on whether it will be open around the clock."

The facility will be secure, he said, and provided in both temporary and permanent condition of the arena block. He didn't answer whether it would be sheltered.

Honking

Since initial street closures, honking has increased substantially at intersections. What can the police do to enforce the honking laws?

Hankin said DOT is considering speed bumps on Pacific Street.

Traffic calming

Schwartz was asked to summarize the traffic calming measures.

Changing Fourth Avenue from two-way to one-way eliminates a turn and increases the amount of crossing time for pedestrians, and reduces the crossing distance by 30 feet.

Put a flyover, suggested one audience member. (That would be costly, of course.)

Along Flatbush Avenue, neckdowns will be introduced to constrict traffic and reduce the crossing distance.

Also, medians along Atlantic Avenue will make it easier for pedestrians to cross. There will be neckdown at Fort Greene Place.

Greenery on median?

On the Atlantic Avenue median, why won't there be greenery (which did appear in a rendering by project landscape architect Laurie Olin)?

FCR's Marshall responded, "The reasons that there were never any planted medians in the project. All the medians are on top of the Long Island Rail Road tunnel. That we know from experience is not a substantial structure."

She said the planted medians along Flatbush Avenue are very heavy. "We don't know at this point whether that roadway on Atlantic could even hold that type of structure," she added. "After the arena is open, we can look into what structural issues are. It's really complicated to perform these structural studies and then come up with a design, and then the LIRR or the MTA say no, as they often do, or to say yes."

Some audience members were skeptical.

Spillback at Flatbush and Lafayette avenues


Hammerman asked about the impact of spillback at Flatbush and Lafayette avenues.

Schwartz said no changes to the intersection design were planned but there would be signal timing changes, which will be monitored.

Some audience members were skeptical. Schwartz stood silently.

Routes to parking lot

What are the routes to the 1100-space surface parking lot bounded by Pacific and Dean streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues.

"Pacific Street is the entry to the parking lot," Schwartz responded inaccurately. "And you can enter from either Vanderbilt or Carlton. And any of the details of the parking lot are subject to being worked out."

As the map below shows (click to enlarge), from Part 3 of the 2010 Technical Analysis, there are multiple entry points, on all four sides of the block, with as many entry points on residential Dean Street as demapped Pacific Street.

Atlantic Avenue resurfaced?

Will Atlantic Avenue be resurfaced between Flatbush and Vanderbilt avenues?

It will be resurfaced between Flatbush and Sixth avenues, Schwartz responded, with a prompt from his aide.

Hrones added that several projects are going on, some related to Forest City, some not.

A city project unrelated to AY is a water and sewer project, which will include infrastructure work on the north side of Atlantic between Carlton and Vanderbilt. "What we all want to see is, when the arena open, Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenue be fully [inaudible]," he said.

Q&A, Part 3



All mitigations implemented?

Why aren't all traffic mitigation proposed in the FEIS being implemented before the arena opens?

"All the ones that are associated with the arena are being implemented," Schwartz responded. "Except for Sixth Avenue, which DOT has asked us not to the widening, to observe Sixth Avenue…. Any others?"

"The Carlton Avenue Bridge won't be open for two years," one audience member said.

"The Carlton Avenue Bridge will be open by the time the arena opens," Schwartz responded.

However, it was supposed to take two years when it was closed in early 2008.

What happens to Pacific Street?

"I believe the roadway width is 37 feet, and the south sidewalk is 18 feet and the north sidewalk is 15 feet," said Schwartz.

What happens to the trees?

Marshall said she wasn't sure how the widening of Pacific Street would affect street trees.

"Twenty," said some in the audience, indicating the number that would be lost.

Hammerman said the answer would be provided.

"They might come back," Marshall said.

Enforcement?

How can traffic enforcement be improved?

Marshall said, in addition to demand management, "we are working with local agencies to come up with what we call a game-day plan, which is really an event management plan. And it is going to be something that is coordinated with the general manager of the arena for all events, with the police department and the fire department."

"We are required to provide the necessary support staff," including Traffic Enforcement Agents and security, she said.

Sidewalk closure timetable?

Marshall said plans, once approved by DOT, would be appended to the two-week look-aheads prepared by FCR and distributed by the ESDC.

The biggest change, at Fourth Avenue, is two to three months of construction time, she said.

Feedback

Hammerman noted that Borough President Marty Markowitz and Council Member Letitia James have established the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, which allows FCR, affected agencies, and local officials to share information and concerns about project impacts.

(The next meeting should be at Borough Hall on July 14 at 9:30 am. The public may attend but must submit questions beforehand via the ESDC, elected officials, city agencies, Community Boards, or the BP's office.)

"It is essential that the three Community Boards hear from you," Hammerman said. "If we don't know about your issues, we can't carry them forward… I have to say, I personally have not heard from many people. That is likely because Community Board 6 has the smallest piece of this project."

Hankin added that answers to all the questions will be posted on the ESDC's web site. "I want to just reiterate Craig's point. ESDC has an Ombudsman; Forest City Ratner has a Community Liaison. We have not been hearing from the community."

Hankin's statement was technically untrue; the ESDC has long had an Ombudsman to receive feedback, but he recently left.

Study of impact of traffic changes?

Hammerman read the final question. When will the scope for follow-up study be established, and when will local stakeholders have input into that?

ESDC planner Rachel Shatz responded, "The development of a scope for the monitoring plan for monitoring how effective these traffic changes are once the arena's open… is a tomorrow project for us at this moment. The most important thing right now is to have enough time is to have these roadway changes in place by the time the arena opens so the mitigation we envision can truly be tested, and hopefully work."

"We will be working with DOT to develop that scope of work," she added, and that will be shared with the community."

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