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As "impending storm" of arena opening approaches, worries about foot traffic, talk about Neighborhood Protection Plan, and the need for community vigilance

There's "an impending storm" regarding the opening of the Barclays Center September 28, according to Council Member Steve Levin, and while he expressed measured optimism that preparation and coordination can alleviate problems, and perhaps even lead to elements of the proposed Neighborhood Protection Plan, some residents at the same meeting expressed much more dismay.

One sign of progress, described at a monthly meeting Levin holds with constituents to address potential impacts: the assignment of the 78th Precinct to police the arena, as well as the rest of the Atlantic Yards footprint. Then again, issues, like police parking on the street, remain unresolved.

Limited line-up

Though officials from the mayor's office, and Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the project, were invited to the August 8 meeting, those presenting were limited to NYPD officials and Chris Hrones of the Department of Transportation.

(At the meeting, held at the YWCA at Third and Atlantic avenues, Forest City Ratner sent an intern in the audience to take notes.)

Traffic issues

Hrones described various traffic mitigations instituted and planned, such as a change in direction on Pacific Street between Fourth and Flatbush avenues, medians being installed on Atlantic Avenue, as well as planned studies to measure the impacts of arena traffic once the building starts operating.

He also detailed elements of a Transportation Demand Management plan, aiming to encourage use of public transportation, announced in May by Forest City Ratner consultant Sam Schwartz.

However, Hrones seemed unaware that the much-touted plan to allow arenagoers to pre-pay for parking when the module to buy event tickets was not yet operating.

Pedestrian issues

Jon Crow of the Brooklyn Bear's Garden said he was most concerned about pedestrians, many of whom will be walking past the garden on Pacific Street at Flatbush Avenue if they choose to access the piece of subway hub via the entrance at Pacific and Fourth Avenue.

There will be arena-paid traffic agents as well as those from the city; it's not clear yet how and where they'll be deployed.

LIRR-bound foot traffic

While the new subway entrance at the arena plaza leads to the subway, it's of no use to those taking suburban rail. NYPD Inspector Terrence Riley acknowledged, "One of the biggest problems is going to be people going to the Long Island Rail Road stopping traffic."

That's because there's no entry to the Long Island Rail Road from that entrance, and those using the suburban railroad must walk overground, crossing Atlantic Avenue--at least if they don't want to use a subway fare to walk underground through the system.

As I've written, even Borough President Marty Markowitz stated in his comments on the 2006 Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
The FEIS should examine the creation of a thru-ticketing arrangement for LIRR riders which enables them to pass through the paid zone for the subway to reach the Urban Room without payment of a subway fare. Otherwise, project generated trips via the LIRR would be required to use the existing entrance to LIRR’s street level concourse on Flatbush Avenue.
The Empire State Development Corporation responded that that wasn't feasible.

The local impact

Jimmy Greenfield, who owns a building on Dean Street opposite the planned surface parking lot, said he thought that the traffic toward the lot, as well as people walking to the arena against traffic, "seems like madness," especially given the potential for blocking fire trucks that go by seven or eight times a day.

"I'm in awe at the level of civility of people who've been going to meetings all these years and being rebuffed," he said.

Hrones said that, while he couldn't speak for the Fire Department, DOT would keep an eye on Dean Street.

Captain Michael Ameri, commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, said Carlton Avenue would be an alternative.

Riley said, "We won't close any streets, absent an emergency, without discussing it with the community first." Officials have previously insisted that no streets around the arena would be closed, as they have been in Newark, for security issues.

Riley's statement, though not responding to the security issue, did appear to leave some wiggle room.

Parking lot use

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association asked if the city had studied the potential traffic impact of parking lot exits on Pacific Street near Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues.

"We did not do an impact analysis," Hrones said, citing scarce resources. But he said the agency will be watching: "I'm not going to the Jay-Z concert [opening the arena]. I'm going to be on the street."

Could a BID help?

One resident asked if a Business Improvement District (BID) could be created to ensure clean streets and other services. However, the arena sits in between several existing BIDs and, even if combined with the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls, would have essentially the same owner.

"Forest City doesn't need the structure of a BID to impose a duty for additional cleaning," said Robert Perris, District Manager for Community Board 2. "They could just elect to spend the money needed."

Community participation & NPP

ESD and the mayor's office are looking at what models are appropriate for community participation, after the arena opens, said Perris. The implication was that some new structure may be launched, even if it does not represent the governance entity that groups like BrooklynSpeaks have requested.

Meanwhile, Forest City's Ashley Cotton and Jane Marshall have held a couple of quiet meetings with representatives of the civic groups promoting the Neighborhood Protection Plan (NPP), along with Council Member Levin and his colleague Letitia James.

Howard Kolins of the Boerum Hill Association reported that community representatives told company execs that Forest City would of course aim to manage its building, but "what about being a better neighbor?"--for example buying 200 garbage cans for adjacent blocks.

"Ashley [Cotton] wrote that down," Kolins reported. He also said that residents brought up the need to clear snow after an evening snowstorm so arena-goers can get back to their cars and homeowners were not in the morning required to clear snow packed by footfalls.

Afterward, Levin said nothing has been agreed to regarding the NPP--which requested garbage cans, new signage, and funding for two parks positions nearby, among other things--but "we've had a pretty good dialogue."

But he said it was essential to address traffic, crowd management, and sanitation issues before the arena opens.

Residential parking permits?

One element of the NPP that's not moving forward is residential parking permits (RPP). Kolins said many were dismayed by the city's preliminary rejection of RPP, and found suspect the Department of Transportation's optimistic canvass of available street parking.

52nd Assembly District Leader Jo Anne Simon said it was a stretch to compare the area to to the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium.

"I agree, there are only so many parallels you can draw," Hrones said. "So we'll see." The DOT will be collecting new data in early 2013.

Enduring dismay

One theme, from residents long active in Atlantic Yards issues and protests, is why, as Crow put it, the state step in to ensure better procedures.

Because, said Jim Vogel, neighborhood resident and aide to state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, Atlantic Yards is run by a public authority, Empire State Development, that's not accountable.

Crow related that Arana Hankin, the Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for ESD, has said that "[Forest City] Ratner has better contact with the governor than I have."

Levin said that, for the next meeting, he'd extend an invitation to Brooklyn native Kenneth Adams, who heads ESD.

"What's going to have to happen is continued vigilance by this community," Vogel declared at one point. "It's not going to get easier; it's going to get grittier."

"This thing was sold as a cure for blight," he said of Atlantic Yards. "As we know, arenas cause blight."

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