Monday, February 13, 2012

The peril of car stackers on the arena parking lot, Forest City's modular alternative, and delays in (and questions about) the transportation demand management plan

Just before an oral argument tomorrow in the appeal of a state judge's decision to order an additional environmental review for the second phase of Atlantic Yards (I'll have more on this tomorrow), the New York Post reports, in an exclusive:
Stack-parking spaces — which use hydraulic lifts to stack anywhere from two to four cars atop one another — are expected to fill roughly half of an 1,100-spot parking lot going up next to the NBA Nets’ arena in Prospect Heights, according to renderings commissioned by project critics based on approved plans.
With nearly a square block— bordered by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, and Dean and Pacific streets— designated to be the only on-site event parking lot for many years, the renderings show what many feared: It’s mathematically impossible to fill a state-mandated 1,100 spots there without stacking spaces.
And if spaces are stacked, that slows things down, and that "major undertaking that’s never been studied,” said Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, one of three civic groups that commissioned the renderings.

From Atlantic Yards Watch

Atlantic Yards Watch offers an illustration of how the parking lot with stackers might look, and how a parking lot following city design standards for trees and medians--not required in this case because of a state override of zoning--would look.

With required landscaping--one tree for every eight cars--and no stackers, the lot would be reduced to approximately 500 spaces.

Base photo and arena illustration:  Jonathan Barkey and Tracy Collins

Forest City's response and the modular solution

The Post quoted Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco as saying that reducing on-site parking is “important," and they are “conducting an analysis" to try to avoid stackers.

Translation: use a modular system that's never been tested. And that was discussed more than eight months ago, though no formal plans have never been announced.

According to an October 2011 report to Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards, HDR, the agency's Atlantic Yards mitigation monitor, met with Forest City's transportation consultant, Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE), and reported:
On-site parking on Block 1129 was discussed in detail, in particular the use of strategies of avoiding extensive vehicle queues on the local street network due to the use of vehicle stackers for parking. Concern was raised especially for the post-event period, when potential excessive wait times would be experience by many event attendees as event staff retrieved vehicles parked in the stackers. To mitigate this concern, SSSE recommended investigation of the feasibility of constructing the use of a temporary parking stucture sold by MORE PARK, LLC, in lieu of the stackers. The temporary parking structure would consist of standard structural steel and precast concrete members and would be installed over a paved surface, without a foundation. SSE is to perform a detailed queue analysis utilizing the MORE PARK system to ensure optimal performance. FCRC and its consulting engineers will study code compliance with NYC Department of Buildings and FDNY.
I wrote last August that More Park was said to have been chosen for the arena lot, but it was unclear whether the company's modular model had been tested in the United States, though it has been used in Europe.

Recommended changes

Atlantic Yards Watch suggests a planted median, street trees on the perimeter, an a "green wall" for screening:
With these steps, the compliant lot has the advantages of absorbing most stormwater on site, taxing city sewers less and reducing the Heat Island Effect. In addition, the landscaping helps planners control pedestrian crossings and make the lot safer. Finally, aesthetics are improved for residents who live nearby, visitors to retail businesses on Vanderbilt Avenue and arena patrons.
The lot, however, would have to be smaller, which means Forest City Ratner would have to move parking--designed for VIPs and High Occupancy Vehicles--elsewhere. VIPs, at least, would not want that.

Atlantic Yards Watch recommends some additional  "improvements to lessen the lot's environmental impacts and integrate it more into the community given its interim status": 
  • No mid-block curb cuts on Dean Street, Carlton Avenue or Vanderbilt to enter or exit the lot, just on Pacific Street mid-block, rather than at the Carlton and Vanderbilt intersections
  • A small building or pavilion for retail at Dean Street and Carlton Avenue
  • The opening of Pacific Street "to restore a lost connection for the neighborhood for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles"  
  • "Green walls" along Dean Street and Carlton Avenue to provide more dense screening, lower the Heat Island Effect, and improve sound absorption
  • Use of permeable pavement is used to reduce stormwater runoff

Note that Pacific Street, according to current plans, is needed not only for the promised open space serving future apartment towers but also for construction staging.

Delays in the transportation plan

The Post reported:
Although the arena is set to open in September, the developer has yet to reveal a transportation management plan, causing neighborhood groups to fear the worst and lobby for permit parking.
The Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan was supposed to be released in December 2011, then bumped back to February 2012, and now is due in May 2012--delays that cut into the credibility of both Empire State Development and Forest City Ratner.

Changes in the TDM plan and concerns over its extent

According to the report from HDR, which I examined after a Freedom of Information Law request:
On May 23, 2011, SSE presented a detailed overview of Forest City's process for developing the Travel Demand Management (TDM) plan, based on the Mitigation chapter of the FEIS. Working with the New Jersey Nets basketball organization, FCRC compiled a travel survey from current season ticket holders focusing on travel mode share, and also interviewed fans within focus groups, and shared these results with ESD and HDR. Considering the results of these surveys, SSE has proposed to modify some of the recommendations put forth in the FEIS and also presented a more detailed analysis of the travel and parking projections that would be expected for a typical basketball game at the Barclays Center. Some of the notable findings presented by SSE include specifics on assigned parking for season ticket holders in off-site parking garages, on-site parking for high-occupancy vehicles (HOVs) and VIPs, remote parking with free shuttle bus service, the possible removal of bus service from park and ride lots in Staten Island (a TDM element identified in the FEIS), transit fare incentives, on-site bicycle parking, and cross-marketing of area businesses to reduce peak travel surges. For non-NBA games, FCRC stated that some of the TDM measures intended for Nets games could be utilized, depending on the type of event.
(Emphases added)

So it seems that Forest City may have recognized that not many people want to drive to Staten Island and take a long bus ride.

More importantly, the report leaves ambiguous a concern raised by organizations representing Prospect Heights and other neighborhoods: will the TDM plan apply to other events at the arena?

The answer is maybe, and that's an obvious concern, since certain large events, notably concerts, would fill the arena as much as a basketball game would.

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