Monday, September 30, 2013

DOT: street parking availability falls during Barclays Center events, but still spaces available; neighbors raise doubts about study

So, what's the impact of the Barclays Center on on-street parking? A presentation unveiled 9/26/13 at the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) indicated that, while arena events do correlate with to more parking on streets in blocks near the arena, there's still some free parking available among the 9,000 spaces with about a half-mile of the arena.

The study, which followed up a July 2012 study predicting (based on the not so parallel Yankee Stadium experience) that there would be parking available, supports the city's unwillingness to push for residential parking permits, which many neighbors support but requires a change in the state legislature.

However, several neighbors said the DOT's findings departed from their experience, which can require them to circle for hours and find parking. They also questioned the choice of blocks and times sampled--for example, one block closest to the arena, which received a relatively small increase in parking on event nights, is not representative, since it's typically crowded with government vehicles.

They also criticized the failure to examine related issues, such as idling limos and the number of local residents who spend hours looking for parking, or have decided to pay a monthly fee.

The summary, and the policy response

According to a summary in the Barclays Center On-Street Parking Impact Study (also below):
• Parking occupancy increased on event days; however, most sampled blocks still had available spaces.
• Occupancy was highest closer to the arena and diminished away from the arena, both on event and non event days
• Data indicates that parking impact of arena events was more significant on metered blocks.
– Metered spaces become free at 7 pm, near the start of most arena events.
– These blocks typically have overnight street cleaning regulations that discourage overnight parking.
– Adjusting meter turn off time to later in the evening may shift event parkers to non metered spaces
The issue of meter turn-off time seems the DOT's only public policy response, though it got little discussion last week. If event parkers are shifted to non-metered spaces, that means they'd compete even more for locals seeking free overnight parking.

Note that 4/16 was in fact an arena event, though not as big a draw as a Nets game
Presentation

The study, with data gathered in the second week of April, was presented by William Carry, the DOT's Director, Community Initiatives, and Manzell Blakeley.

The boundaries were DeKalb Avenue to the north, Baltic Street and Union Street to the south, Underhill and Washington avenues to the East, and Fourth Avenue and Bond Street to the west.

The total area has about 9000 on-street spots. The DOT used time-lapse data cameras at 17 locations--4 in the "Close Zone," 5 in the "Intermediate Zone,"and 8 in the "Far Zone"--to measure parking occupancy every five minutes between 6 am-midnight most days, and also measured turnover.

They used License Plate Readers during game days and overnight to determine where vehicles were registered.

Increase in occupancy


As the graphic at right shows, on a weekday evening with no event, there was 73% occupancy in the closest zone, 56% farther away, and 50% in the farthest zone.

"On weekdays, during events, there was about a 15% increase between a Monday and a Wednesday," he said. "We saw a similar pattern on weekends."

Note that the "15%" seems to be a raw number--going from nearly 60% to about 75%--rather than an actual percentage increase, which is closer to 25%.

As noted in the slide above right, in the Close Zone, occupancy went up from 73% to 87%, as noted in the slide below right, while the increase in the Intermediate Zone went from 56% to 75%, and in the Far Zone 50% from to 68%.


Blakely got some pushback, however, when he showed a photo of Bergen Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues, an unmetered block already full on a non-game day.

"The increase in parking is felt mostly in the area where there's metered parking in day, and generally overnight street cleaning," he said, generating comments that Bergen Street, which includes a New York Police Department Precinct and a NYC Housing and Preservation Department office, already has numerous government related parking.

Only about 40% of the 17 blocks studied were full, which " means most blocks still do have a few spots during events."

Given that most people coming to an event would look in the Close Zone, why were only four locations studied?

"We wanted to determine if the impact was very tight, or spread out," Blakely said.

No huge influx

Also, surveying registration locales of vehicles observed, the DOT found very little difference between event days and non-event days.

In the three adjacent zip codes, the proportion was 44% on game days and 45% on non-game days. (It's likely that Barclays Center concerts, which draw more varied audiences, would produce different results..)

In the Close Zone

The DOT suggested that the high occupancy closest to the arena may result from the proximity of the neighborhood to the Atlantic Terminal transit hub and two nearby malls.

Those are plausible factors, but, as neighbors noted, the choice to sample Bergen Street means that high occupancy can also be generated by government-related vehicles.

Discussion

Steve Ettlinger, a resident of North Park Slope, commented, "Like many people here, I've had to try to park during an event night, which is an experience that's somewhat at odds with what you found... on event nights, it was literally impossible to park." Then, at the end of events, spaces tend to open up.

DOT said that data was collected between 7-8 pm, and Ettlinger and others said it should have extended later in the evening.

"I have to disagree with the study," commented Pauline Blake, president of the 78th Precinct Community Council. "I know for a fact, on any event night, starting at 4 [pm], we have traffic jams on St. Marks [Avenue] starting from 4... it will continue til 9 or 9:30.. that means there are people who are circling and circling and circling... We have become overwhelmed by this extreme traffic pattern

Carry said that this study looked at parking, and other studies involve traffic, "so we weren't necessarily looking at traffic congestion."

DOT, in response to a question from Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, said it didn't have a count of the new cars coming in, since it only sampled certain blocks. (I estimated that 1,000+ cars sought free parking, though some might give up and pay for a lot.)

"If you're just studying between 7-8 [pm], you're not capturing the experience of the arena," said Dean Street Block Association President Peter Krashes. "You are missing the black limos." He added that it also would be useful to study at different hours to analyze the impact of arena employees driving to the arena.

Discouraging driving

"For all of us, there's an incentive to have policy which discourages people from driving to the arena," observed Veconi.

Ashley Cotton of arena developer Forest City Ratner nodded in assent.

"Because on-street parking is completely out of the scope of the Forest City Ratner Transportation Demand Management [TDM] plan" for the arena, Veconi said, "it's very important to understand how much parking in absolute numbers is used on event days, and build some policies to discourage it."

The TDM plan focuses on promoting transit use, and did exceed the goal of reducing driving, but there are still many drivers seeking free parking.

"We agree with the notion we want to discourage people from driving to the arena," Carry responded. "Again, the data shows that there's no much parking in the immediate vicinity."

"Did you do any analysis to indicate what proportion of the traffic is people circling and looking for parking?" Veconi asked. "That could lead to a lot of traffic on residential streets during event days."

Carry said that "would be very handy to have, but would be very difficult to collect," since it's tough to verify why drivers are circling.

The DOT's Chris Hrones said there's a separate study looking at traffic volumes during game events and their impact on individual intersections.

Nor, said DOT officials, was the agency able to measure illegal parking at hydrants, since the scope of the study was measuring occupancy.

New policy?

"If we were able to reduce availability of parking," Veconi asked, planting a sly question, "we could reduce traffic, would you agree?"

"The question is how you do that," Hrones responded. "It's a very difficult policy question."

"I can give you one suggestion," stated Dean Street resident Elba Vasquez. "If people know there are residential permits, I don't think they'd drive."

"I was waiting for that," Hrones said.

Residential parking permits are opposed by some key members of the state legislator, notably Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden.

Scope of study

After the presentation, Tom Boast of the Carlton Avenue Association, told me he'd asked DOT to add to the scope of its study an analysis of the monthly contracts written in local garages, comparing the zip codes of patrons before and after the arena opening. He suggested it would provide evidence that residents have given up on street parking, and thus the arena "imposed a $5000 tax."

The DOT, he said, never showed locals the scope of the study, nor did it recognize his request.

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