Wednesday, November 14, 2012

After Bieber-related chaos, cops say they'll have a better plan for crowds; frustration remains over black cars plaguing neighborhood streets; enforcement vs. free parking?

The chaos around the Justin Bieber concert two nights ago--fans gathering outside the Barclays Center in the afternoon and chasing a bus down Dean Street in the evening--was an "anomaly," declared the commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, who promised that police would have a better plan in place to tamp down on boisterous fans.

(Video by Peter Krashes, via Atlantic Yards Watch)

However, Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri (recently promoted from Captain) acknowledged that there's still no solution to the problem of black cars and limos, which plague streets around the arena when there are special events (less so for Nets games).

While an "experiment" is planned to give them a place, the problem derives from an inherent tension in the Transportation Demand Management plan prepared by arena consultant Sam Schwartz and accepted by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the arena.

That plan states that the solution is "enforcement," but they apparently didn't consult with the NYPD, which is reluctant to devote resources to that effort and thinks education is the solution.

“Make them go to the parking lots or give them huge fines,” one resident suggested at the meeting last night of the 78th Precinct Community Council, in what might be seen as a common-sense solution but one not promoted either by the police or arena management.

Meanwhile, neither the police nor an arena spokesman responded clearly to a question asking for a comparison between the numbers of personnel devoted to arena events when it opened and the numbers now.

Loading dock progress

Barclays Center Community Relations Manager Terence Kelly reported progress on issues raised at the 10/16/12 Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting.

Regarding the loading dock on Dean Street, “we’ve been working with our internal security and arena operations... to educate a lot of security to make sure a lot of protocols that have been are acted on every single day for every single delivery,” he said.

Aiming to coordinate with the staging area at Navy Yard so trucks are not idling on Dean Street, he said, “we've been rather successful, I’ve got to say, in terms of slowly getting better,” though he acknowledged “there's certainly room for improvement.”

Or not

Kelly got an immediate response from Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, who pointed out that, on the previous night after the Justin Bieber concert, two trucks had queued outside the arena on residential Dean Street, with one idling for half an hour, “so problems continue.”

“Unfortunately, there was a lapse in communications,” Kelly responded, adding that “I'd object to a half-hour” characterization. “It was something we certainly want to improve on.”

Indeed, after the meeting, I walked over to Dean Street with Krashes and we saw a delivery truck idling for about ten minutes, first on the curb, then outside the loading dock, sticking out over the sidewalk.

Also, parked in a “No Standing” zone was a bus, which, before the Brooklyn Nets game ended, turned on its engine and, a minute or two later, accommodated a dozen well-dressed people, who had to walk out into the street to enter the bus from the right side.

Kelly noted that the arena has hired a new director of security after the previous one left, which should help improve protocols.

Limo parking problems

One resident asked if drivers are being aware of parking availability, given that some drivers on residential streets apparently don’t know of the options.

Kelly said the operator of the surface lot has placed larger signs on Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues, and “there's been more active use of the parking lot.” (Indeed, it was nearly full for the Bieber concert.) Still, he noted, the arena is stressing public transportation.

Regarding black car parking, he said, “if anyone wants to pay for parking on the site itself, they're more than welcome to... We're working with Inspector Ameri and DOT [Department of Transportation] and TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission]. We're in talks about offering whatever we can to educate drivers about staying off side streets and residential streets.”

Precinct Council President Pauline Blake said she saw such cars parked “all over” Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Flatbush avenues. “Tthe issue still exists,” she said, “as far as these cars not adhering to any rules or regulations.”

NYPD perspective

“Black cars are a problem,” Ameri acknowledged, saying it’s a bigger issue for one-time events, such as the Barbra Streisand and Bieber shows, less so for Nets games. “Those are the events we really have to work on go get a place to stage these black cars,” he said, adding “we're looking to stage the black cars offsite.”

One resident asked a natural question: why can’t the limos simply go to the surface parking lot.

“Black cars aren't going to pay for parking,” Ameri responded. (Wouldn’t they do so if the alternative were paying a fine?)

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council raised an issue already floated on Atlantic Yards Watch: “we've been told by Empire State Development Corporation and from DOT [Department of Transportation], via our local City Council person, that there's a plan being implemented to have black cars stage between Sixth and Vanderbilt.”

Ameri acknowledged “we are experimenting” with doing that.

Veconi asked about the role of arena traffic consultant Sam Schwartz. “We hear that you're not encouraging people to drive,” he said. “I do not understanding how giving over public space on Atlantic Avenue is a discouragement for people to drive. I'd like to see Sam Schwartz explain... because it's clearly a miss in the TDM.”

Kelly said Schwartz is “certainly in these conversations, yes.”

How, asked Veconi, would the parked cars pick up passengers.

“The goal is just to leave them on Atlantic,” Ameri said, and have patrons walk to the cars. Or they could make a U-turn on Atlantic Avenue at Vanderbilt.

A simple solution?

One resident asked why the black car issue wasn't anticipated and why the arena can’t provide parking space for black cars.

Kelly said that, with only two months on the job, he couldn’t speak to why it wasn't addressed, but said he’d “do everything in my power” to find common-sense solutions.

“It was included,” piped up Newswalk resident Wayne Bailey. “It was enforcement.” Indeed, it was; apparently the police were not consulted.

The plan to offer space on Atlantic, suggested Veconi, is just giving limo drivers free parking.

Bieber-related tumult on Dean Street

It was funny, but not so funny. Dean Street resident Tracy Collins pointed out that, after the Justin Bieber concert, the “tour bus came down Dean Street, followed by hundreds of screaming teen girls.”

Ameri raised his eyebrows; several people laughed. “It was funny, but kind of dangerous,” Collins observed.

“Live and learn,” Ameri said, acknowledging that, while the police had handled other high-profile events at the arena smoothly, this was different.

In hindsight, he said, the police could’ve planned differently, either having the bus go a different route, or have pens set up to limit fan activity. “I had teenagers running in front of a large tour bus,” he said. “Thank God nobody got hurt. I apologize for the quality of life that it impacted on Dean Street. So next time Justin Bieber comes into town, I'll have a better plan. I was confident in my Jay-Z plan.”

Fewer police and security personnel?

Krashes suggested the problem was related to “a significant reduction in numbers of police and Barclays security.” For example, on the previous night, a T-shirt seller was planted on Dean Street.

Regarding the reduction of police and security personnel, he asked for a comparison between the numbers for the Justin Bieber concert and the Jay-Z concert.

Ameri didn’t quite answer: “Well, I had plenty of officers there last night... it was just the way we handled it, when it came to the crowd. I didn't expect all those teenagers at the Dean Street end of it at 2 o'clock in the afternoon... or thousands of them, hanging around afterward... Last night was an anomaly.”

Kelly responded, “Regardless of the contract with Securitas [the former security company], there’s been no reduction in numbers.” He said the arena would try to better anticipate “situations like this.”

ESD take

Derek Lynch, ESD's Community Relations Manager, said "we take these issues very seriously," including limo parking, vibrations from concerts, and flashing lights from the oculus.

"We haven't solved all your problems, but we're definitely moving in the right direction," he said.

And while we "appreciate their service," he said of Atlantic Yards Watch, he encouraged people to reach out directly to ESD.

Tailgating

Bailey said residents of his building wanted clarification on whether tailgating is allowed, as several noticed people attending the last college basketball event to be tailgating at Dean Street and Carlton Avenue.

"There's no policy, there's zero tolerance," Ameri said. One officer said six or seven summonses were issued for drinking in public."

Changes on Carlton

Several residents pointed to an impact from the opening of the arena, the reopening of the Carlton Avenue Bridge, and congestion on Flatbush Avenue: Carlton Avenue has become a shortcut, including for dollar vans, and many drivers ignore both speed limits and stop signs at St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place.

“I'm going to dedicate some resources to that location,” Ameri responded.

Related is gridlock at St. Marks and Flatbush during rush hours, making it difficult to cross the street using the crosswalks.

The proliferation of bars

Noting the proliferation of bars in the area, Blake observed, "We will accept the bars we have on Fifth Avenue compared to the bars we had 20 years ago."

Still, she suggested that the State Liquor Authority has enabled a "serious problem," given the proliferation of liquor licenses along Flatbush, Fifth, Seventh, and St. Marks Avenues.

"We have to realize that it is here," she said of the arena and its spillover effects. "We have to fight hard to make sure they maintain quality of life that we can live with."

Urination near arena

Referring to reports that arena-goers had been urinating nearby on the street, notably on Pacific Street between Flatbush and Fourth avenues, Kelly said an arena security guard and a police officer had been patrolling one hour before events through one hour after events. 

Also, Modell's has been asked to do more washing of its site; the store is planning to install more lights, a project that was delayed because of the storm.

Who pays?

As the meeting closed down, one resident asked an innocent question: "Are we paying for these [increased] police, or is the Barclays Center paying extra money?"

She didn't get an official answer, but the mutters from the better-informed crowd were clear: "We pay." (Another resident muttered that ESD's Lynch should answer.)

Indeed, the issue came up last June, as I reported. Community Board 2 Chair John Dew asked, “In this particular instance, is there an opportunity to bill back to Forest City Ratner?”

“The answer is no,” replied FCR’s Ashley Cotton at the time. Just as with new housing being built on Flatbush Avenue, said Cotton, a former city official, “the city has to adjust... The arena is not alone in adding new work to the city.”

Overall crime down

Overall crime in the precinct is down, Ameri said last night, though there’s have been “some issues” in the last month with robberies and grand larcenies. The increase is not related to the arena, given that most reports are toward the southwest portion of the precinct in the South Slope.

He acknowledged, however, that the precinct “inherited” some non-violent crime from the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls, now within the boundaries.

Next meeting

While representatives of several city agencies were expected to attend the Precinct Council meeting as scheduled for Oct. 30, the Sandy-related delay meant they couldn’t return last night.

Because the October meeting was delayed, there will be no Precinct Council meeting in November. The December meeting is typically skipped, so the next meeting will be 1/29/12, the last Tuesday of the month.

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