Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Meeting on TDM plan is cordial, constructive, and frustrating; distrustful faces suggest residents not convinced plan will work; first phase sure to be an experiment


Perhaps 100 people attended last night’s presentation of the Atlantic Yards Transportation Demand Management (TDM) at Borough Hall, a relatively small number. Perhaps it’s because activism around the arena has died down. But it’s more likely because few knew the details of a plan released only yesterday morning. (See slideshow at bottom.)

The meeting was cordial and rather low-key; after a presentation by Forest City Ratner consultant Sam Schwartz, reprising his show at a morning meeting, emphasizing the tagline, "Eleven trains, one destination.” Yes, there will be cross-marketing to local businesses, yes there will be additional post-event transit service, yes, there will be pre-paid parking.

Yes, the surface parking lot capacity has been cut in half, to 565 spaces, including 24 for the police. (The reduction, announced early this month, was driven significantly by the surface capacity and the inability to use stackers.)

But still many people remained unconvinced that the unusual if not unique situation faced by the arena--both adjacent to a transit hub but encroaching on and nearby several low-rise residential neighborhoods with street parking--has been adequately addressed by plans that do not include disincentives like residential permit parking (RPP) nor penalties if goals aren’t met.

Nor does developer Forest City Ratner know how construction of arena block towers--which could start this year--would affect traffic and pedestrian access.

Constructive, but frustrating

Ken Adams, r, with Justin Ginsburgh and Arana Hankin
Photo and set by Tracy Collins
Schwartz (aka "Gridlock Sam") and others fielded numerous questions from the public, read by Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman and culled mainly by CB 2 District Manager Rob Perris. In the audience was Brooklynite Kenneth Adams, CEO of Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the project and his top aide Justin Ginsburgh.

And while Hammerman called the meeting “extremely healthy and constructive,” the emphasis on getting people to use public transit, without specific disincentives (or even incentives like a free MetroCard) led Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council to grouse, “It’s a marketing plan,” not a true plan to deter drivers.

(See Veconi's comments on Patch's live-blog coverage, also emphasizing the lack of details about the surface parking plan, and the PHNDC's Danae Oratowski's comments about the lack of community leverage, as well as comments by CB 2's Perris observation that the plan is "a good starting point," which should eventually lead people to realize they shouldn't drive.)

“It’s our job to make this work as best we all can,” Hammerman said, leading off the Q&A session. “There's no longer an us and them... I need to represent that building. I need to make sure it works.”

How well it works, however, remains in question. Two follow-up studies are planned for 2013, portending tweaks and changes in the transportation plan. And it will take weeks if not months, most likely, for the use-transit message to sink in.

That suggests that the first season of Barclays Center operations will be an experiment, and the neighborhoods around the arena will bear the brunt of that experiment.

Keeping watch, likely not merely for their expertise in transit, were various Forest City Ratner officials and consultants, including Jonathan Rosen of BerlinRosen and Julie Greenberg of Kasirer Consulting.

Here's the opening segment:


(Videos by Jonathan Barkey)

Press coverage: what was stressed, what missed

Coverage of yesterday's events, including both meetings, was quite mixed.

Photo and set by Tracy Collins; foreground left is
Peter Krashes of Dean Street Block Association
WPIX-TV pointed to the distrustful faces in the crowd. Moreover, the six-month delay in releasing the plan left a bad taste in the mouths of those who knew about that delay.

The delay went unmentioned in the Daily News, which focused on the decision to scrap the free MetroCard; the Post, which took the same theme and mentioned the impact of increased parking costs on drivers not going to the arena; the Wall Street Journal and Patch, which stressed the debate over the plan; and the Times, which called Schwartz an “expert” (rather than an expert hired as a consultant) and stressed the not-new news that the parking lot had been cut in half, as did WNYC. (The Times’s Local blog did a much better job.)

Here's my coverage of the earlier meeting and the delay.

Missing details

Also, some of the details of that plan remained notably sketchy. For example, the design of the surface parking lot depends on the parking operator chosen.

Sam Schwartz photo and set by Tracy Collins
While the surface parking lot has been cut in half from its maximum, officials did not explain--as they’ve admitted--that a larger lot could be achieved only with stackers, counter-productive to traffic flow. Also, while subcontractor Click and Park is meeting with parking lot operators to get them to sign up for a parking reservation system, those operators have not been identified.

Even Forest City Ratner’s research efforts were inflated by Schwartz. He used the phrase “we interviewed” to describe outreach to 2200 potential arena-goers, aiming to learn about their transit choices and to educate them. As one of those “interviewed,” I can clarify--as Schwartz acknowledged--it was an online questionnaire/survey.

Questions can be submitted to the ESD (AtlanticYards@esd.ny.gov) until June 22, and there will be a public meeting June 20 at 6 pm at Borough Hall to further discuss issues. Answers to some questions and issues will be placed on the ESD website in the coming weeks, and answers to all the questions should be posted within 30 days after the 30-day comment period ends in June.

At one point, Forest City Ratner’s Ashley Cotton said the company would be willing to make additional presentations to the community, and Hammerman said the CBs would participate.

Schwartz's presentation



MTA and LIRR reps also joined briefly:



Q&A: Residential permit parking

The first, and perhaps most important, question concerned residential permit parking, advocated to deter drivers looking for free space on the street.

Chris Hrones of the city Department of Transportation explained, as he’d done yesterday morning, that the DOT is preparing a report on local parking resources around the arena and Yankee Stadium, and will report to City Council soon.

But even if state legislation, currently stalled by Republicans like Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, were to enable RPP, it would take nine to 12 months to get a program going.

First set of Q&A



Disincentives

What disincentives will prevent people from circling neighborhood streets to look for free, on-street parking? When Hammerman read the question, there were some titters from the crowd.

Schwartz answered incompletely, stressing incentives: to use the parking reservation system that will direct them to nearby garages, and to “intercept drivers” so they use remote lots--at 50% of the rate of lots closer to the arena--near the BQE and use a shuttle bus along Atlantic Avenue.

Net gain or loss?

Photo and set by Tracy Collins 
One questioner rephrased a provocative question: how much will Forest City pay the MTA for the additional service it will offer?

Schwartz responded that, in the case of CitiField, the additional service is actually a fiscal gain. “So this isn’t necessarily an additional cost. This may result in a net of zero, or it could even be a benefit,” he said.

That may be so, but Forest City no longer has to spend money on planned free transit bundled into the ticket.

Schwartz said a free MetroCard wouldn’t make a difference, given that a majority of those in focus groups and “interviews” already have monthly unlimited ride cards.

The MTA didn’t respond. Earlier in the day, a transit official noted that most event-goers already have unlimited ride cards.

“The technology just isn't there,” Schwartz added, contending that the plan emphasizing transit is already “a robust plan.”

Goals and penalties

What are performance goals, how will they be measured, and are there penalties for nonperformance?



Schwartz reminded attendees that he’d cited goals to reduce driving to 28% of attendees on weekdays and 32% on Saturdays. He said there’d be an extensive study of traffic conditions.

But he didn’t answer what the penalties would be.

Later, Hammerman followed up by asking about the penalties.

Schwartz paused. Marshall got up and said, “No, there are no penalties.”

Later, she said that there may not be penalties, but there will be “continuing follow-up.”

More Q&A



Shuttle bus

Where will the shuttle bus park after the drop-off and before pick-up?

Schwartz said Forest City is negotiating with a shuttle bus owner in Red Hook, but if that space isn’t used, “we have locations on Pacific” Street opposite the surface parking lot.

Will shuttle buses have local drop-offs so local businesses can benefit?

No, the service will go only from the parking lot to the arena, and back.

Craig Hammerman photo and set by Tracy Collins 
Will there be shuttle service, as mentioned during the environmental review, from Staten Island Park &
Ride lots?

No, said Schwartz. A “remote” lot must be accessible during an event, if a patron has an emergency or otherwise decides to leave early. The Atlantic Avenue lots will be accessible by regular city bus, and even walkable.

Will there be any dedicated bus-only lanes on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues during events?

No.

Will any traffic patterns change once the arena opens?

There will be no directional changes, though some signal timing will be tweaked.

Barclays Center vs. MSG

Schwartz was asked to compare Madison Square Garden operations to the Barclays Center

He portrayed the Brooklyn arena as far ahead, as MSG provides no parking, nor a pre-paid parking system. Nor is there the kind of TDM plan unveiled yesterday. Unmentioned, however, is that MSG is in a business district full of available parking, and also sits on a major transit hub.

How does service compare with that for MSG?

Judy McClain; photo and set by Tracy Collins
The MTA’s Judy McClain said she didn’t have specifics, but noted that no gap trains were needed for MSG.

Plan applies for other events?

Will the TDM plan for other events be the same as for Nets games? (The capacity for basketball is about 18,000, for concerts 19,000.)

For large events, the TDM “is pretty much the same,” Schwartz said, noting that people take more transit to concerts, perhaps because they like to drink. For an event with 3000 to 5000 people, he noted, additional train service is unlikely. It was unclear, however, what the threshold is: 8000 people? 12.000?

Pedestrian safety and noise

Pedestrian safety is paramount, Schwartz insisted, citing the presence of traffic enforcement agents, pedestrian traffic managers, and off-duty cops (aka paid detail).

How will visitors be directed to go quietly to neighborhood destinations?

Forest City’s Cotton said private security and NYPD would be on the streets.

Another question: measuring success



Coordinate with BAM?

What kind of coordination will there be when there are large events, such as at the nearby Brooklyn Academy of Music?

Forest City executive Jane Marshall said there would be coordination, especially regarding parking, “to make sure they have a level of comfort, so Barclays is not taking away the parking away from BAM.”

It’s unclear how that works; won’t BAM attendees have to pay the increased market rates?

LIRR service?

While Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) service will increase, from 10 pm to midnight, from every half-hour to every 15 minutes, would trains run after midnight? (Presumably, this would be for a late concert.)

Maybe, said an LIRR rep: “ if there is a need, we are open to it.”

MTA work

What happens when subways shut down for overnight work?

“We feel we can add the additional gap trains,” said the MTA’s McClain, noting that they may have to go on different lines.

Around the arena

Where will black cars pick up passengers?

“We’re not providing any special area," said Schwartz, noting that Madison Square Garden operates similarly. People emerge from the arena and call their cars, he said, noting that the police department and the Taxi and Limousine Commission. “are routinely chasing people away from the area.”

Unmentioned was that the impact in Prospect Heights would be different.

Where’s the taxi staging area?

Though plans are still in formation, the goal is to have a line of yellow city taxis, and/or green borough taxis, across from the arena on Atlantic Avenue outside the Atlantic Center.

Local lots identified?

Do they have a document that details the number and locations of parking spaces expected to be available for presales?

Schwartz indicated the answer is no, given that “soon we'll know which operators are participating.”

Who gets surface parking spots?

ESD's Arana Hankin photo and set by Tracy Collins
Who gets first dibs on the 541 spots at the interim surface parking lot?

There will be 150 VIP spots that will be attended, and the parking operator will not get revenue, Marshall said. Those spaces will go one per suite, plus to some others. But parking otherwise is not offered with tickets, even to the All-Access holders.

Parking lot plans

What are the operational plans for that surface parking lot on Block 1129, including hours, efforts to reduce queueing, landscaping? When will they be presented, and when will there be comment?

“We are evaluating the responses we got for operating the lot,” Marshall said. The parameters “include not having people circulate in the community,” she said. There will be landscaping on the perimeter, though not to city standards on the interior, because the lot is not required to meet city zoning.

“I'm not going to promise any dates, because I'm usually wrong,” she added.

When will those plans be released? When’s the comment period?

“Remember, I'm the one who's really bad with dates,” Marshall responded not so helpfully. “I don't thing there will be a comment period,” but “we'll have a discussion” and take comments informally.

Bike parking area

Will motor scooters and motorbikes be able to park in the bike parking area?

No.

Impact of construction

How will construction of Building 2, the first planned tower, at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue, and of other towers affect traffic and pedestrian access to the arena?

Marshall gave an incomplete answer. Noting that “we have plans to break ground on Building 2” this year, she said, “we need to come up with a logistical plan, that shows how the building will be built.”

That plan will be approved by city and state agencies, and will look at any impacts on arena operations.
People may be directed differently, “but those kind of detailed plans are not available now.”

Classon Avenue turns

Given that Classon Avenue is the first legal left turn off eastbound Atlantic Avenue, how to prevent cars from using Classon on their way to the BQE?

Chris Hrones photo and set by Tracy Collins
Hrones said there were no plans to ban left turns onto Classon, but traffic calming was being implemented. And traffic volumes both before and after the arena opens will be monitored, so potential countermeasures will be considered.

Ferry service?

Would there be ferry service to link into shuttle buses at Atlantic Avenue?

Schwartz noted such ferry service had been successful with Ikea in Red Hook. “As a dreamer, yes,” he continued, but said it likely wasn’t practical.

Directions to drivers

Various online mapping services all direct drivers on the southbound BQE to use Kent and Wythe avenues in Williamsburg rather than Tillary Street. How to avoid taht?

Wayfinding signs will be posted prior to Kent Avenue, Schwartz said, directing people to use Tillary Street.

Security

Given that the arena cantilever is closer than 20 feet form the curb at Atlantic Avenue, what protections will be needed to move traffic and curbside vehicles away?

Ashley Cotton photo and set by Tracy Collins
FCR’s Cotton, a recent hire, said she didn’t fully understand the question, but said that arena operators had been working fully with the NYPD to ensure that the building is safe.

(Note that, because the arena in Newark was that close to the street, officials closed streets there, an issue that provoked obfuscation from Forest City.)

Local impacts

Will residents near the arena receive quarterly surveys regarding impacts?

Schwartz repeated plans for post-opening traffic surveys. Cotton, who's trying harder than predecessor Bruce Bender to build ties to the overall community, said “we're not going anywhere” and that people should reach out. “And we're open to hear your concerns, even the ones shaking their heads in the background.”


Plan changes

Given the reduction in parking, have the ESD and Forest City amended project documents such as the Master Development Agreement, the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC), and the Modified General Project Plan.

No, said Schwartz, apparently relying on others’ information, as well. It was a question that hung out there with the rejoinder: why not? After all, the MEC has already been amended, and other aspects, such as the free MetroCard, have been scrapped.

Will the ESD release studies that support changes in the parking plan?

Either prior to or at the same time answers are posted, said the agency’s Rachel Shatz.

Impact of marketing

Won’t the proposed cross-marketing plan induce people to drive?

“We're hoping people stay, enjoy themselves, have a few drinks, and never drive,” Schwartz responded.

Final Q&A section


Truck routes

Why are trucks leaving the construction site taking non-commercial routes, and how will that be controlled in the future?

Cotton gave a wobbly answer, acknowledging that Forest City has seen photos (as posted on Atlantic Yards Watch) and saying the company was doing its best.

The ESD’s Arana Hankin got up and said the agency was “working closely with NYPD to step up enforcement.”

The circus

The last question: when the circus comes, when and how are the animals walked.

Schwartz, smiling, didn’t quite specify the route, but said that with Madison Square Garden, the animals walk through the Queens Midtown Tunnel in the middle of the night. He invited parents to bring their kids.

Barclays TDM Presentation Revised Notes

No comments:

Post a Comment