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As arena opening approaches, neighbors express worries about traffic, parking; NYPD commander says they can handle large crowds, but admits challenges (+ comment on VIP drinking provokes pushback)

So, what happens when an arena hosting more than 18,000 event-goers opens at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, major arteries but a very tight fit with nearby residential blocks?

Neighbors from Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and elsewhere got a chance to vent their anxieties last night at a meeting held at 78th Precinct on Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue a block from the arena site. The precinct has been assigned--though the move is not yet official--to police the arena site, as well as the rest of the Atlantic Yards project and Forest City Ratner’s malls across Atlantic Avenue.

(The arena opens Sept. 28, and the City Council may not have voted on the boundary change by then, but presumably the 78th will be in charge.)

The commanding officer, Captain Michael Ameri, expressed confidence that the NYPD, and this precinct, can handle large crowds. He had previously policed CitiField and the U.S. Open, and the 78th Precinct has experience with large crowds at Prospect Park.

Council Member Letitia James, who called the meeting (she was joined briefly by Council Member Steve Levin) urged constructive comments, not a “griping session,” and the 60+ people mostly complied.

The fundamental issue of siting the arena still resonated. One resident asked about the impact of unauthorized vendors, who set up on the fly and deal in cash, on the neighborhood.

Ameri said NYPD would address ticket scalpers and other illegal sellers, though certain items--books--are considered freedom of speech. Such vendors are at every event, such as at Madison Square Garden.

Then again, as one resident pointed out, near MSG, they’re not in a residential area.

Most vendors, Ameri suggested, will be in close proximity to arena. So too are residences, though. Also see coverage in MetroFocus and Patch.

(Note to myopic New York Times reporters who have reported that “die-hard opponents are still resisting” or that “opponents [have] fresh reason to complain.” A large majority of the people in the room have not been active in the Atlantic Yards opposition. They just live there.)

Traffic

Still, Ameri acknowledged that some challenges are beyond NYPD’s control. How, asked one attended, can police funnel arena traffic to main arteries?

“To be honest with you, that's my biggest concern with this arena: traffic,” he said, noting that the city would post traffic agents and Forest City Ratner would add 18 pedestrian managers.

“Now, when it comes to parking, when it comes to residential traffic, it's going to be a problem,” Ameri said matter-of-factly. “It's difficult to answer.” He noted that there are plans to manage the parking and staging of livery cabs and buses.

Is there any way to prevent from visitors to going into these side streets, the resident asked?

James fielded that question, slamming the city Department of Transportation’s study that found no need for residential permit parking, which she and other local legislators favor. The study, based in part on the example of not-quite-analogous Yankee Stadium, “indicated there are sufficient parking spaces.”

That provoked chuckles and belly laughs from the crowd, many familiar with the difficulty of getting parking spaces today.

“Council Member Levin and I said your report is worthless,” James recalled, pointing out that the DOT will conduct a post-opening study of actual neighborhood conditions. “We basically have to wait and see... I believe, and Council Member Levin believes, that it will confirm our worse suspicions.”

Double parking, police parking

Several neighbors pointed to the problems created by double parking by drivers going to a local church, or attending events at the Dean Street Playground, as well as parking on sidewalk by, yes, police personnel.

Ameri suggested there was a balance between enforcement and discretion, with the NYPD’s priorities public safety and then moving the flow of traffic. “On game night, it’s dangerous,” he said of parking violations. “It has to be addressed... I didn’t create the situation; I’m here to work with you.”

He suggested that arena event schedules might be shared to help the community predict times when parking would be tight, and there may be an opportunity to find alternate parking sites.

"All the media people here," James declared, "put people on notice that things are going to change."

Scope of policing

Terry Urban, who lives on Pacific Street just west of Fourth Avenue, asked how the subway entrance on the west side of Fourth would be policed, since it’s not in the 78th Precinct’s territory.

Ameri said that local precincts do not police subway lines and that the “posts” set up above ground in response to arena events, will, when necessary, extend across Fourth Avenue.

Another resident, who lives on Fort Greene Place north of Fulton Street, said her block is not included in the new boundaries but clearly would be affected by the arena.

“If we see some crime developing around the arena, I'm going to have to adjust my security plan,” Ameri said. He recommended that people attend the monthly precinct Community Council meeting, as well, on the last Tuesday of each month.

Traffic patterns

Would any streets be closed off, as with the West Indian Day Parade?

“As of right now, there’s no intent of changing traffic patterns,” Ameri said.

Interlopers on the stoop?

One resident, from the St. Felix Street Block Association, asked what would be done about arena-goers sitting on local stoops, especially when the police might not be able to distinguish between locals and visitors.

“I don't think we're in the process of moving people along,” Ameri said. If people want to walk around the neighborhood, that's their prerogative.. “I'm not in the business of shooing people away. Are we going to funnel them to proper egresses?... Yes.”

“How do I keep them off of my stoop?” the questioner asked, acknowledging, “This is what I used to in the Village....We want to make sure that people who don't live on the block are off the block.”

“I'm not in the business of moving people off the block,” Ameri responded.

Traffic enforcement

Several people returned to the issue of enforcement. “I would love to see our neighborhood have a reputation for ruthlessly ticketing people who are not following the law,” one resident said, adding that the “problem is in the enforcement of the law.”

Ameri, who when the issue was brought up stiffened a bit, said that, during events, there will be significant enforcement, with tow trucks and ticketing. “We want to get the word out that mass transit is the place to go,” he said.

Several people raised the issue of the police, and precinct employees, parking on the sidewalk. “When you get big crowds, where are people going to walk--in the street?” asked neighborhood veteran Joe Pastore.

One longtime resident, a former auxiliary police office, remembered, “We couldn’t patrol Fifth Avenue; now it’s been gentrified.” He asked neighbors to be vigilant and cooperative with the police and said their parking needs need to be taken into
account.

Dean Street playground

Would the playground be closed early when there are arena events? The issue hasn’t been decided yet.

Peter Krashes of the Friends of Dean Playground said input has been solicited from users, and a report will be made to a Community Board 8 committee on September 4. The playground, he noted, is “only an asset when it's open.

The priorities, he said, are sanitation, security, and noise.

Liquor impact

Alan Rosner of Pacific Street asked if cops would have randomized police stops to look for people over the legal alcohol limit. He pointed out that some people would be served alcohol “pretty close to when people will be driving.”

Ameri pointed out that, during NBA games, alcohol sales would be cut off at the end of the fourth quarter and during concerts, an hour before the close. He noted that three locations would serve alcohol for an hour after events, until 2 am, but didn’t express much worry.

Then again, those locations would serve up to 1800 VIPs--the equivalent of a dozen or two local bars.

A comment on Patch:
I guess because they are VIP's or Club customers they don't get into accidents or hit pedestrians, only those holding regular tickets do that sort of thing. What are they thinking? It only takes one drunken fool to take someones life or injure them and it doesn't matter what kind of ticket you hold.
See MetroFocus:
“The people who are going to be going to these clubs are a very small number of people, they’re going to be very wealthy people,” said Ameri, who immediately winced after recognizing the gaffe, but not before a small chorus of heckles was directed his way.

Trucks in the neighborhood

Pacific Street resident Jim Vogel noted that trucks, including arena construction vehicles, ignore the “No Trucks” sign on Pacific between Fourth and Flatbush avenues and requested more enforcement.

Planning ahead

Krashes said the police and arena officials should distribute an event schedule to different civic organizations. “Community members are going to need to know: we’ve got an event happening tonight, I can’t have a party,” he said.

What should residents do in response to a problem, he asked: call 311? He noted that the proposed Neighborhood Protect Plan requested a dedicated call center and hotline for neighborhood needs.

What about public bathrooms in the neighborhood if people need to go to the bathroom, another resident asked.

“That issue is beyond the commanding officer,” James said, pointing to a meeting on the Neighborhood Protection Plan on Sept. 5 at 7 pm.

Arena developer Forest City Ratner will attend that meeting. They had no one official at last night's meeting.

Sanitation

What if arena goers drop trash on the street; would residents be fined?

James said Forest City would have a clean-up crew, and that would include the area of the questioner: Carlton and Dean.


Security

Asked to generally outline security preparations, Ameri said NYPD had met with Department of Homeland Security and that 25 of officers have recently gotten specific counter-terrorism training.

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