Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why was arena transportation plan delayed six months? FCR consultant Schwartz dodges the question; state official cites cut in parking spaces, agency signoff, need for surveys

Transportation consultant Sam Schwartz (aka Gridlock Sam) is well-respected, and for good reason: he has a distinguished career in the public sector and the private sector. 

But he also works for his clients, and they come first. And this morning, when, on behalf of Forest City Ratner, he unveiled the long-promised Barclays Center Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, he wouldn't acknowledge that it was six months late.

(I'll have more about the plan, which, as expected, emphasizes the marketing of transit, in another post. On the plus side, Schwartz said that education has already helped increase the number of expected transit users, and promised to personally warn people not to driver to the arena. By contrast, local elected officials, who've been pushing for residential permit parking and other disincentives to drive, warned that the plan didn't go far enough. Also note: there's a public meeting at 6 pm at Borough Hall today.)

Querying Schwartz

After the meeting of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, when Schwartz took questions, I pointed out that the plan was initially due last December. I asked why it was delayed.

“I don’t see this as being delayed," Schwartz replied. "I see this as being very timely. A lot of work went into it in the past year. Doing it 130, 140 days before we even have a concert at the arena is a reasonable time to get all of our ducks in a row. And in fact, the participation of the MTA administration, all of their divisions, the participation of the Police Department, the DOT, has been key to this. So I don’t find this not to be timely at all."

There are only 30 days for public comment, and elected officials like Council Member Steve Levin have warned that the delayed release was too late to truly incorporate public input.
It should be noted that, during a 6/4/11 Q&A (video) at a forum on Atlantic Yards traffic changes, Schwartz answered a question about bike parking by saying, "That's over the next six months when we come back to you figuring out how we're going to get people out of their cars."

In other words, he knew it was due in December.

State official offers three reasons for delay

After speaking with Schwartz, I queried Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the project.

She agreed that the plan was supposed to be due in December and offered three reasons for the delay. First, she said, "we decided after December to reduct the number of [onsite parking] spaces by half." That require "a thorough analysis.. to ensure there was sufficient parking in the surrounding parking lots."

(Hankin acknowledged that the new surface parking lot capacity of 565 spaces represents close to the full capacity for Block 1129, bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific streets. To put the once-promised 1100 spaces on that block would have required stackers.)

Also, she said, the TDM plan required "some time to get sign-off from all agencies involved," including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other agencies. "It took some time to actually focus on it and finalize their plans," she said, "longer than we had hoped."

That seems a bit murky. I queried MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg, who told me, "The MTA was not delayed in providing its material necessary for the Barclays Center transportation report. I know they [Forest City Ratner and Sam Schwartz Engineering] were dealing with a voluminous amount of material, so we have no complaints about the time it took to prepare the report."

The third factor, she said, was the labor action that stalled the NBA season last year. It delayed the capacity to survey Nets fans on how they'd travel to the arena.

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