Friday, December 07, 2012

At second Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting, signs of progress (oculus, lighting, DEP crackdown), but dispute over providing free parking to limos and black cars rather than pursuing enforcement

Compared to the first meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, in mid-October, the second meeting, held last night, was lower key, with no tabloid-ready headlines about rampant public urination.

Actually, there was no public discussion of public urination, but Pacific Street residents told me afterward that it’s still a problem, though in places diminished, and pre-gaming arena-goers still toss cans and bottles into the Bear’s Garden at Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue.

Also, there was incremental progress to report; for example, after complaints were aired at the previous meeting, Barclays Center managers increased the “dark hours” of the digital signage at the oculus from the original 1-5 am to midnight-6 am. (One person afterward wondered if that had been the plan all along and one resident said that the brightness, though diminished, is still jarring, and too busy.)

Developer Forest City Ratner has gotten its tenant, Modell’s, to install lighting on its Pacific Street back end to deter loitering and public urination. (Residents told me that such measures should be added to P.C. Richard next door, as well.)

Neighbors agreed that 311 complaints are being handled better.

Also, several residents who’ve long relied on neighborhood parking said that, without parking permits, they’ve been shut out of spaces and must go far afield to find parking. Such concerns were shunted aside, given the plan to conduct a post-opening traffic and parking study.

Fundamental flashpoint

Both police and the Department of Environmental Protection have this week begun to crack down on idling and illegally parked limos, with the help of maps compiled by contributors to the Atlantic Yards Watch initiative.

Still, a fundamental flashpoint remained: does the ad hoc effort to adjust to the influx of limos and black cars by providing free parking on Atlantic Avenue represent an accommodation by the public (and contradiction of the Transportation Demand Management plan), as several frustrated residents contended, or a necessary compromise to protect the neighborhood, as officials somewhat defensively explained?

"The staging area for limos was created before enforcement in a comprehensive way was tried," pointed out Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association. (The parking was assumed by many to extend only from Sixth to Carlton avenues, but a Taxi & Limousine Commission statement today indicated that it extends east to Vanderbilt Avenue.)

Essentially, there seems to be a flaw in the Transportation Demand Management plan prepared by arena consultant Sam Schwartz; it presumed that enforcement would be the solution to idling black cars and limos, but nobody confirmed that with the police, who don't seem to have the personnel or inclination to devote resources to that work.

By "doing a great deal to accommodate black cars and limos," said Pacific Street resident Jim Vogel, "this is economic discrimination against the neighborhood."

The meeting was held at the 78th Precinct in a somewhat cramped condition--there wasn’t enough room to accommodate committee members at one table--because Borough Hall was booked. It attracted about 50 people.

Little crime, some disorder

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri said there’s been no uptick in crime created by the arena. “The biggest quality of life concern is a traffic/parking condition,” he said.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association brought up the issue of crowd management with the Justin Bieber concert, when pre-teen and teen girls collected on the Dean Street sidewalk at Sixth Avenue beginning in the morning, and lasting until midnight.

Krashes noted that filmmakers encouraged the “Beliebers” to sing along and otherwise mug for the camera. He asked about protocol for the future.

Kelly said that the new Director of Security, Martin Hagans, had just started at the time, and “adjustments will be made to ensure a safe environment... It is something he witnessed himself and wants to make adjustments.”

Ameri said that barriers would be set up to pen in boisterous fans. “We have a learning curve for everyone in the arena.”

Crowd management

Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, noted that NYPD has been using bullhorns to corral people to use crosswalks on Atlantic Avenue.

Ameri said that, while Atlantic Avenue was shut down during the Jay-Z concerts, they don’t have to do that right.

Pacific Street resident Terry Urban asked for signage at the Pacific Street subway exit directing people to the arena via Atlantic Avenue, not a residential street. The Department of Transportation’s Chris Hrones said they’d consider it.

Pauline Blake, president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, said that “those of us coming home during rush hour... were overwhelmed by screaming teenagers” in the subway entrance. She asked for more cops to maintain order, and they said they’d take a look.

Krashes noted that post-event, some turnstiles in the new subway entrance are closed to slow people from coming down the stairs and keep platforms from getting too crowded.

Ameri said transit officials want cops to control the flow of pedestrians, but noted that a staircase remains dedicated to allowing people to exit from the stairs.

New staging area

Hankin announced that the NYPD has been working with DOT and Barclays to establish a staging area on Atlantic Avenue between Sixth and Carlton Avenues--about 27 spaces, Hrones later said. TLC has begun to inform all the fleets.

The solution allows for staging of vehicles during events with a minimal impact on the community, Hrones said, since it's not directly adjacent to residences. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Hankin said, on the previous night issued summons for idling to three limos, on a first-ever enforcement.

Geraldine Kelpin of the DEP said officials would be out tomorrow night for the Rolling Stones concert.

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council pointed out that the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan was supposed to reduce driving to the arena.

In a remark that had officials from the state and the developer looking sour, he asked, “I would look to the state and Forest City to explain how free parking for limos is consistent with the goal of reducing driving to the arena... To me, that sounds like we've produced an incentive....I'd like to hear that this is not in fact a permanent solution.”

Hankin said it was a response to community complaints, and that other solutions are possible after an analysis. and that “we have to be flexible. We’re not going to stick to a plan just because it's on paper.”

Who's being helped?

Veconi asked, “Is it your position that a car that’s hired for the evening to drive to the event is different” from a car that a driver takes to the arena?

“Yes,” responded Hankin, “Totally. Completely. Because someone who drives to the arena is not going to be sitting in a car during the event.”

“So the public has more of an interest in providing a concession to that later driver because he’s doing something objectionable?” Veconi asked.

“I wouldn't put it that way at all,” Hankin said. “I would say we're responding to an issue we were not expecting, because of community complaints.

One solution suggested by St. Marks Avenue resident Steve Ettlinger (who praised the 78th for doing better) was to provide lots for black cars, as at the Meadowlands, and charge them.

Krashes said that, in one night, he spotted 83 violations, 64 for illegal parking, and 19 for idling. (Idling must be for three minutes before it can be fined.)
He said the Barclays Center could finance a monitoring system.

Taxpayers vs. developer

“As we go forward, there can't be any indication that money talks and everyone walks,” Vogel said.

“I'd like to see this problem put forward onto the developer... rather than continuing to put it on the taxpayers,” Urban said. “Atlantic Avenue is our avenue. Gib is absolutely right. It shouldn't be free parking for someone who comes to the arena. Everybody knew there’d be black cars.”

“Not in the way” it’s occurred, Hankin responded.

“Did you really think the wealthy patrons who took the boxes were going to fly in by helicopter,” Urban responded, with sarcasm. “I’d like to see the developer put money toward this, instead of the taxpayers.”

“I don't feel as though it’s necessary right now,” Hankin said. “We have a solution we’ve only just implemented.”

“This is a taxpayer solution,” responded Urban.

“Well, the building of the arena contemplated the use of taxpayer dollars for a number of sources around the arena,” Hankin responded.

Drop-off lanes

Krashes noted that the north side of Atlantic Avenue, between Fort Green Place and South Portland Avenue, was supposed to serve as a drop-off lane for cars. Instead, it harbors parked cars, and the second lane becomes the drop-off lane.

“I think the arena should be having people there managing those areas,” he said.
Kelly said, “ I believe the pedestrian traffic managers doing a very good job,” citing more smooth traffic on a concert night than last night.

"Then why are cars pulling up in the travel lane?” Krashes asked.

Loading dock

Arena community affairs manager Terence Kelly noted that, at the last meeting, arena operators acknowledged problems with idling trucks on Dean Street outside the loading dock. “We’re happy to report operations have vastly improved.”

"Just the night before (the 5th) the 'pad' had three or four trucks and at least one idled," Krashes commented this morning. "The pad is a supplement to the arena's below-grade operations, but it is at grade across from homes. DSBA asked for the pad to be included on the agenda, but it was not included."

Arena noise and bass 

The DEP has tried to measure the sound and bass emanating from the arena, after complaints.

Kelpin said the agency could provide a copy of its report.

“We're aware of the reports on Atlantic Yards Watch, and we're investigating them,” Kelly said.

The impacts of B2 construction

Given a five-foot wide pedestrian passage on Dean Street outside the construction site for B2, Forest City Senior VP Jane Marshall said there would be additional security and arena operations officials, plus pedestrian managers, to direct traffic.

Also, inside the arena, they will try to direct people to use other exits, especially the main arena plaza.

Regina Cahill of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District suggested better signage inside the arena to direct people to the subway, and more vocal ushers.


Kelly said wayfinding would be improved, and staffers encouraged to direct people.

The Newswalk lot

Lolita Jackson of the Mayor’s office said both the Department of Buildings and the Department of Consumer Affairs have been looking into operations of the parking lot at the Newswalk, the apartment building on Pacific Street just east of the arena.

DOB is looking at issues of overcapacity and will return. DCA gave a $250 summons because the lot was posting different prices.

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