Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How bad are Barclays Center community impacts? Pretty light, say officials. Too burdensome, say frustrated neighbors. Some reforms coming, but no remedies for trucks' nonperformance.

If state overseers/enablers of the Barclays Center are ready to give the new arena a mostly enthusiastic assessment regarding its impact on its surroundings, neighbors at a meeting last night were not so enthusiastic, pointing to a myriad of unaddressed problems, including idling cars, public urination, advertisements flashing overnight, concert noise, illegal parking, trucks regularly violating protocols, and 311 complaints going unaddressed.

Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, Empire State Development, led off the inaugural meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee but saying “just generally, how impressed ESD has been and I think the community overall has been with how things have been functioning... traffic problems have been minimal... the pedestrian experience overall, has been positive.”

Compared to fears of “Carmageddon,” she’s right, but that’s not how neighbors are evaluating it, and officials acknowledged they’re seeking a new place for black cars to queue and have had to make many adjustments in light of crowd behavior since the arena opened on September 28. Other problems persist, with answers on noise and truck routes deemed inadequate by attendees.

So, many of the 40 or so community members at the Borough Hall meeting, most from invited  organizations, clapped when resident Pauline Blake, president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, expressed exasperation.

"Still hearing platitudes"

After hearing arena officials acknowledge they have no incentives or penalties to ensure that truckers follow protocols and avoid queuing on residential Dean Street, Blake said, “I have to put up with all the nonsense that I’ve complained about for four years, that you were going to be resolving before you opened the door. So we are still sitting here, we’re still hearing those same complaints, we’re still hearing the platitudes, We're doing our best, well, it’s not good enough for the community. We need action, because we have to live with the problems.”

“I totally understand,” Hankin responded. “I live in this community too. Most of the people from [developer] Forest City [Ratner] live in this community.” (They don’t necessarily live in the zone of arena impacts. In another example of claimed authenticity, Derek Lynch, the ESD's new Government and Community Affairs Manager, was introduced as having Brooklyn ties that go back 80 years.)

"There are a lot of issues we need to resolve,” Hankin continued. “think they've done a darn good job up to date, and most of these issues are because the arena open.. there's still a handful of kinks, but I think we're doing a pretty good job overall.”

Just this morning, a truck blocked a traffic lane on Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton Avenues for 20 minutes. See report on Atlantic Yards Watch:



Also see Michael D.D. White's overview on Noticing New York: Bullet Points: Community Objections to “Barclays” (LIBOR) Arena Operations (Most Relate Back To Zoning Override Locating Arena Close To Residences).

311 is a joke?

Hankin's view was not, however, how neighbors saw it. “We've had several complaints about complaining to 311,” said Terry Urban, a resident of Pacific Street west of Fourth Avenue. “People have been told they have to speak directly to the manager of Barclays [or] they have to report complaints to Community Boards [and] been told that 311 is not for complaints for Atlantic Yards. And they’ve been disconnected frequently--well, put on long holds... So 311 has not responded to anything."

“That's certainly an issue,” Hankin acknowledged, saying officials will work with the mayor's office to improve things. In the interim, she encouraged neighbors to contact Barclays Center Community Affairs Manager Terence Kelly and the ESD’s Lynch.

Still, residents were frustrated by her advice that residents email Kelly or Lynch late at night, saying there should be a phone number to call. Later, with Kelly looking a little wide-eyed at the prospect, Cotton reminded the group that he was available 24/7: 917-618-6136 or communityaffairs@brooklynse.com. Lynch is at 646-581-6092 or dlynch@esd.ny.gov. (Those are office phone numbers, but presumably they're checking email at all time.)

The New York Post's coverage, Barclays neighbors call foul on 311 over gripes, focused on the 311 issue. (WPIX followed up.) Gib Veconi of Atlantic Yards Watch encouraged people to file complaints both with AYW and 311, since the latter is the only way to track problems officially.

Urban's East Pacific Block Association stated, "It's all well and good that FCR now has a community liaison hired, and everyone can now make their complaints with that person, BUT the 311 system is supposed to work for the benefit of City residents, not for the benefit of a developer who benefits from belittling the environmental impact its arena is having on the community It is unacceptable for the City government to be complicit in that charade."

Meeting concept

The new Quality of Life Committee, which will meet bi-monthly in the evening, replaces the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, a bi-monthly morning meeting of invited agencies.

It was chaired by ESD's Hankin and also sponsored in association with the Brooklyn Borough President's Office. (Updated and corrected: Also participating, though not overseeing the committee, is the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, whose Lolita Jackson heads a "Day Two" committee of involved city agencies.)

Council Members Letitia James and Steve Levin were present, as was ESD CEO Kenneth Adams, a Brooklynite. Also present were representatives of at least two community boards.

Only representatives of specific groups were invited to participate--others could simply observe--but the protocols are evolving: Hankin said other groups could send reps, and at one point James, for example, called to the table a resident of South Oxford Street in Fort Greene, an area which has experienced some of the worst impacts, given illegal parking and the queueing of limos.

Forest City's take

After Hankin’s introduction, Ashley Cotton, Forest City’s External Affairs VP, declared, “We are very pleased with the way things have gone, and thank you for saying what you did, Arana.” Later, she said arena operators were thrilled with how "everybody's talking about how everybody's using mass transit.

She acknowledged, however, “we're just a startup and we're still learning,” and later pointed to several areas of improvement.

Around the table, several monitors of Atlantic Yards, such as Veconi and Peter Krashes, active in Atlantic Yards Watch, had concerned expressions and, indeed, they soon provided some counter-evidence.

Cotton said that the arena has made adjustments in response to lines, notably stopping the use of walk-through metal detectors after delays in getting into the Harlem Globetrotters show and before the Barbra Streisand concerts. By using wands to check people, “we can deploy more staff into the crowd out onto the plaza,” she said.

Regarding egress from the building, she noted that, while there are four major entrances, people can leave from more doors. “On the first night of Jay-Z, there were pedestrians on the street.. and police made a decision to make a traffic freeze to make sure pedestrians could safely cross,” she said. That wasn’t used for Barbra Streisand or the Globetrotters, “and as we get to Nets games, we'll monitor where people come out.”

The Jay-Z crowd, younger and about 10% smaller than the Streisand one, exited in 20
minutes, while those leaving Streisand took 35 minutes, she said. (Barclays Center GM David Anderson noted that the arena has 12 wheelchairs, and ordered 20 more for the Streisand crowd "and, sure enough, we used them all." I think they're now stored in the meditation room.)

How much staffing? Not clear

Council Member James asked about how staffing would be maintained to keep order, given that “at least 150 officers” worked the Jay-Z concert, and that’s reduced, the number of city-paid traffic enforcement agents (TEAs) has been cut, and the Forest City-hired pedestrian managers have a limited contract.

“It is a case by case basis,” Cotton responded, citing the profile of event and anticipated number of attendees. She wouldn’t confirm any commitment: “the answer is: we'll have the ones we need to make sure it's still smooth and safe.”

Overriding signals? Unanswered

Traffic signals were overridden for pedestrian flow, James pointed out, asking, “What's the program for bypassing signals?”

She got a convoluted answer from Forest City’s Jane Marshall, who explained that the TEAs, members of police department, have the power to override signals but pedestrian managers, hired via Forest City consultant Sam Schwartz Engineering, do not. But Marshall didn’t say how the decision was made.

Captain Michal Ameri, commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, said there were never 150 officers but rather “half of that,” or 75. (For now at least, there are far fewer high-ranking officers around.)

“It will be event driven,” Ameri said. “Obviously, it's a learning curve for everybody.” While he may redeploy officers in different arenas, he said, “Right now, I'm comfortable with the level of officers we have.”

Flooding Flatbush Avenue--and Atlantic

One more than one night, noted Veconi, arena guests exited Dean Street onto Flatbush Avenue and were “really being pushed off the sidewalk on the northbound lane of Flatbush,” not unlike the way pedestrians flooded Atlantic Avenue and caused it to shut down.

Will arena operators control the crowd so sidewalks aren’t overwhelmed, he asked, “or is it acceptable for NYPD to block traffic so pedestrians can walk in streets?”

Ameri said it occurred one night--a statement disputed by observers--and added that NYPD put metal barriers at that location and told Barclays Center operators they had to control crowds better. “I can't have it [pedestrians flooding streets] on both sides [of the arena]. We can have it on Atlantic Avenue; we can’t have it on Flatbush Avenue--it’s too much.”

Though Ameri said “my intention is not” to continue closing Atlantic Avenue for crowds, “we'll see.” It was an essential acknowledgment that the egress from the arena remains a challenge unanticipated in project planning.

Public urination--and policing

If the pathway to the arena parking lot at Dean Street and Carlton Avenue has so far been free of some feared impacts, those on Pacific Street west of Flatbush Avenue--the path to the N/R train and also parked cars--had several complaints. (DNAInfo's coverage focused on this issue.)

“We've had quite a lot of men urinate,” one resident reported. “It was a cesspool, the stench was so bad.”

Forest City’s Cotton said that the developer aims to have more lighting put up behind Modell's, which is a tenant of the company, to deter those urinating on the blank cinder-block walls.

Others, however, have been urinating in the Brooklyn Bear’s Garden at the corner of Flatbush and Pacific, Council Member Levin pointed out. James added that she’d heard complaints on South Portland Avenue.

Urban said the problems continue on Pacific west of Fourth Avenue, citing five instances of public urination, and “one instance of defecation, which was left in front of one home... and there was no police around.”

James asked if the officers flooding the arena plaza could be sent on expanded patrols. Ameri said he’d respond to such information.

Finding a place to queue

“It's great to know a lot of people are using mass transit,” one Pacific Street resident said, but “we are overwhelmed and bombarded with people that are driving to the concerts, parking in front of hydrants, parking in driveways,”

A resident of South Portland Avenue said five driveways were blocked.

“We know there's a big issue with black cars and limos,” said Hankin, who added that the agency was “working closely with Forest City, NYPD, city DOT to find an area where black cars can queue legally... We’re in the process right now of finalizing that location.”

James was not placated, saying that blocks in Fort Greene were “overrun with cars,” including at bus stops, and in front of churches and fire hydrants. “Obviously, we need more enforcement, I want cars towed... particularly in front of fire hydrants, bus stops, churches.”

Ameri said the Taxi and Limousine Commission last Saturday, at the Streisand concert, “confiscated 27 illegal livery cabs.” The second solution, he said, is to find a location for such cars--which weren’t an issue at Jay-Z concerts.

The need for enforcement

Veconi observed that people were talking “if black cars were invented for the opening of the Barclays Center--they weren’t. This project is one of the most studied transportation impacts any of us could ever possibly remember.”

“Black cars were studied... where they were going to queue... and the answer, to all of this, was: enforcement: the NYPD was simply not going to allow these cars to park and queue and idle,” Veconi continued. “It’s great to hear we're working on a location for these cars now that the arena has opened, after the eight years of study.. but at some point, we’ve got to get enforcement. When do we get enforcement to deal with this?”

“Enforcement is part of the answer, but it's not the solution,” Ameri responded. “The solution is to give them a place. To give them a summons... there’s no reason to expend resources on issuing summonses when the long-term solution is to find a place for them to queue... I don't want to pull my resources for black cars, I want to address quality of life... I don't want my officers too much involved in TLC issues.”

It was perhaps understandable, but it was a bit surprising to hear a NYPD official--in a department long rumored to have quotas for tickets and arrests--avoiding obvious ticket-writing opportunities.

Querying the top cop

After the event, I queried Ameri about the lines of double-parked, idling limos in traffic lanes that I filmed last Saturday.

“It is a problem. We have to get people out of there,” he said. “We have to do what it takes to get the job done. If that means getting people double-parked, lined up... that’s what we have to do. If I spend my time ticketing those people, I’m not getting them out of there. They’re all going to sit there, in gridlock.”

Isn’t that a dismissal of residents’ complaints?

“South Portland is an issue. I have to go look at it myself,” he said, suggesting that maybe traffic patterns need to change.

Wouldn’t limos from the new lot simply inundate blocks around the arena after events let out? Ameri said the aim was to make the location closer to the arena, so people can walk to their cars: “We have to educate everybody; it will eventually work itself out. Will it be perfect? No.”

A parking problem

Forest City’s Cotton said “we encourage [visitors] them to buy a parking pass in advance.” The surface parking lot hasn’t been full, but Forest City has made a tweak, getting workers to stop blowing piercing whistles.

But the nearest lot, at the Newswalk building just east of the arena on Pacific Street, “ was a disaster,” Cotton said, citing fistfights, hourlong waits, “illegal issues left and right.”

The city’s Jackson said police, the Consumer Affairs Department, and her are aware of the issue and had responded.

Truck traffic and loading/unloading

There’s been much documentation of trucks idling on residential streets and taking those streets instead of truck routes, as well as loading at grade rather than below the arena.

“We're not pleased with the way it's going so far,” Cotton said. “ I'm afraid the loading dock and truck traffic systems haven't been as successful as we would’ve hoped. I assure you, it has our full, full attention.... All deliveries are scheduled, there should be no idling on Dean Street. It's written into contracts... we absolutely understand that it needs to get better.”

One reason, she suggested is, “we've been a little constrained on space, internally,” given that punch list work on construction continues.

Krashes noted that functions have been moved at grade and “nobody ever told us there'd be parking on the arena block, including for buses.” Moreover, the arena broadcast lot, at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Dean Street, “has been used for every purpose but that.”

Cotton said the pad next to the loading dock is required by the NBA, at-grade space for emergency egress, for visiting team player bus, and an ambulance.

Regarding the lot, she said, “We know people have been parking there, and using it in ways that were never expected... We are committed to making it better.”

An AY Watch complaint:
As far as I can tell, for nearly every arena event the operations of the loading dock, and of arena operations generally, has been spread out into the at-grade areas called the "pad" next to the loading dock, the satellite broadcast uplink parking lot and often Dean Street between 6th Avenue and 6th Avenue.
Both the pad and the broadcast lot are being turned over to the productions. A truck used to pull a trailer was parked in the pad all day instead of being taken to the Navy Yard. Before the production ended Sunday night a truck arrived from Pennsylvania to remove the production. They waited on Dean Street and were eventually parked on the pad. I asked the driver and no one had advised him of the existence of the Navy Yard staging area. He came straight from PA. For every event so far the pad has been used by trucks associated with arena productions.
Also Sunday night the bus for the talent was parked in the pad. I thought no buses were to be located in the project footprint? Monday night the NBA bus was parked in the "no standing" zone across from the arena on Dean STreet. At some point after 6:30/7:00 it was moved to the pad.
For every event so far the pad has functioned as parking for cars. I've been told the cars are VIPs and/or associated with the arena staff and production.
The broadcast lot Sunday night had an idling van at 11 PM. It took me about 10 minutes to find help to turn it off. The van was associated with the production and the driver was in the van. He appeared to be sleeping, but according to security was charging his cellphone. The rest of the lot was apparently cars associated with the production or with arena staff. So far the lot has also been used to store each production's merchandise. When more merchandise is needed, someone from the production enters the lot, rolls up the gate of the rental truck with the merchandise, and retrieves it. Shouldn't that be happening inside the arena loading dock below grade?
Only last night for the Net's preseason game was the broadcast lot empty.

No remedies

Veconi asked if there were remedies for nonperformance regarding trucks.

“We don't have any kind of penalty,” Anderson acknowledged. “We’re working with all the guys--they're all Teamsters, the same drivers for each event.. it's about educating them.”

“For concerts, trust me, it's stressful on us, when you try to tell a guy who drives a truck for 20 hours a day to keep moving or whatever, a lot of guys are pretty hardcore,” he acknowledged. “So, we are pushing them, but I think we'll get there. I know we’ll get there--we have no choice.”

“If you don't have any remedies for the truckers... for nonperformance,” Veconi countered, “we don't have any remedies for your nonperformance.”

Cotton asked about a possible remedy.

Veconi suggested liquidated damages.

“We're putting quite a bit of pressure on Forest City and Barclays,” asserted Hankin, whose overall attitude did not necessarily reinforce that.

Does ESD have remedies?

Hankin said she didn’t have attorneys present, “but it is written into the FEIS that they are not to queue.”

Newswalk resident Wayne Bailey offered a warning: “I talked to some of the truckers, they said Lady Gaga has over 45 semis. [coming].”

“We're hopeful things will be resolved,” Hankin stated. And that spurred Blake’s warning about platitudes.

Indeed, while Forest City officials said residents should contact Kelly, several at the meeting, including James, wondered whether that would work. Bailey pointed out that, at one point, arena officials pointedly didn't intervene while trucks were idling late at night on Dean Street.

Noise: Jay-Z concert

Responding to reports of arena neighbors feeling bass from the Jay-Z concert on their apartments and in the streets, Geraldine Kelpin of the Department of Environmental Protection said, “we did hear, on the street, sound from the concert... it's not a violation of the noise code... but it's a closed arena.. we're somewhat perplexed.”

She said DEP “staff did go to someone's apartment... we heard it, but it wasn't a violation.”

Bailey, who said he was present when the noise was measured at Newswalk, offered an opposite account: “they didn't measure when the concert was playing.”

“I can check into that, but my staff told me they heard music,” Kelpin said.

Jim Vogel, a resident of Pacific Street east of Fourth Avenue, said, “I live a block away... my windows were throbbing.” He went on to question whether the arena was sufficiently soundproofed.

“Thank you, Geri,” Hankin concluded. “I’m confident that the work they’ve done was sufficient to date."

Noise: Modell’s

“We had many many complaints about Modell's, our tenant, very loud music” on the initial arena opening, Cotton said. “We asked them to stop.”

Kelpin said, “I know you think they're doing what they’re supposed to do,” but Modell’s continued to violate the law. The DEP issued warnings after the initial request to stop. “I don’t get it... three times now,” she said. “If you could remind them, it's really against the law.“

"That very first night was totally insane," observed Levin.

"We agree," said Cotton.

Noise: on the plaza

Veconi said, around the Jay-Z and Barbara Streisand concerts, speakers were playing amplified music out into the plaza. “My understanding is, in general, you need a permit from mayor's office, police department.”

Cotton said they’d have to look into the rules.

The DEP’s Kelpin was more emphatic: “use of speakers for advertising purposes is not legal. if you do want to.... broadcast out, you would need a sound permit.”

Lights: flashing oculus ads

Cotton noted that, while the “oculus sleep hours are 1-5 am... we have had a number of technology problems,” which meant the oculus was left on too late or all night. According to the East Pacific Street Block Association, it was left on all night for three nights.

One resident called the lighting like a strobe and asked if it could flash.

“It's heavily designed, curated, sponsored... designed to be effective marketing,” Cotton responded.

“It’s annoying,” the resident added.

Cotton said they couldn’t commit to changing it, but will look at it.

“It has to be 1-5 am, because Forest City decided it needs the advertising dollars?” asked Urban.

“Those are the hours for now,” Cotton responded.

Urban asked if the start time could be extended to 8 am or 9 am

“Are there contractual obligations related to the oculus?” asked James.

“Probably,” responded Cotton.

One Pacific Street resident, who said she works in the ad industry, said the big issue was “really loud, flashing ads. I found the Barbra ads and Nets ads are very pleasing, very calm.” However, the flashing ads are “like lightning in your building.” The flashing has caused sleep issues with neighbors and affects probably 15 young children on the block.

James added that she’s heard complaints from the north side of Atlantic Avenue, such as from One Hanson Place.

“Thanks, Forest City, for agreeing to look into it,” Hankin said.

Sanitation

A Department of Sanitation official said there had been “zero issues since Day 1, we're there nonstop.”

Others were more worried, citing waste being dumped in the Brooklyn Bear’s Garden from patrons of nearby food carts. Is there a way to move the carts? The answer was no, but Levin said he would try to get vendors to move.

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