Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Report: Barclays Center traffic impact not as bad as feared, delaying a few intersections but not crippling system; previous study examined full Phase 1, locals say Fifth Avenue not studied, Nets games not worst scenario

The impact of Barclays Center operations on traffic is not nearly as bad as feared, a consultant reported Monday, causing significant delays at only a handful of already congested intersections, slowing traffic on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues but hardly crippling the system.

And the consultant recommended some minor changes in road striping and signal timing to chip away at those problems.

The Post-Opening Traffic Study (below), which a city Department of Transportation (DOT) official introduced with enthusiasm, came with more than a few caveats, however.

The Atlantic Yards traffic nightmare some feared was based on the cumulative impact not just of the arena but the towers around it, which remain yet unbuilt. And the study mostly ignored Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, despite significant congestion there.

An attendee at the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting pointed out that Nets games, which were studied in 2006 as the “reasonable worst case scenario” for traffic, are actually fairly manageable, given that fans rely significantly on public transit. Rather, certain concerts and family shows draw a lot more cars.

The study was not released before the meeting, and there was no handout for attendees, so it was impossible for any local resident or the press to analyze the document.

Study background

As part of DOT's approval process for the original environmental review, the agency asked Forest City to study the impacts of the project. So the developer’s consultant, Sam Schwartz Engineering, conducted an analysis of 56 intersections before the arena opened, then returned on a weekday and weekend after it was operating.

“I think what you'll see is consistent what I believe is the general consensus,” said the DOT’s Chris Hrones. “Yes, there may have been specific impacts at intersections, but it hasn't been what some would call a traffic nightmare.”

He acknowledged that they couldn’t directly compare the findings with the EIS, but noted that the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  projected unmitigable impacts on 25 intersections, far more than currently.

Dan Schack of Sam Schwartz Engineering noted that some conditions represent changes that were not predicted, such as the plan, not implemented, to widen Sixth Avenue. Also, the FEIS studied a wider range of intersections.

He noted that, as in a report issued by his firm last year, the traffic patterns are less intense than predicted, since fewer people drive, more walk, and arrivals are more spread out than was predicated in the FEIS.

In the study, staffers counted vehicle movements, assessed pedestrian crossing volumes and bicycle volume, installed automatic traffic recorders, and measured the time it took for vehicles to traverse specific legs of Flatbush, Atlantic, Third, and Fourth avenues. The focused on the hours before and after events.

Study results

There are no Saturday afternoon games—the predicted worst case in the FEIS—so they studied a game on a Saturday night, 4/6/13, when the Nets drew 15,585 against the Bobcats. They also studied Tuesday, 4/9/13, when the Nets drew 15,000 against the 76ers.

(Note that the arena is smaller than studied. The FEIS considered 18,000 patrons--see page 12-31--while noting that even a sellout means 90% attendance. Indeed, some Nets games now are sellouts, with tickets for all 17,732 seats distributed. At 90% attendance, that means 15,959 people. With reported attendance of 15,000, as in one of the games studied, 90% means 13,500 attendees.)

In the weekday, pre-event peak hour, 11 of 56 intersections had lane groups with impacts--meaning delays from three to five seconds compounding existing congestion at Levels of Service (LOS) D, E, and F. (The worst were at Dean and Fifth, Flatbush and Hanson, and Flatbush and Nevins, indicated in red, above, where the LOS of F--more than 80 seconds to get through an intersection--was delayed by at least three seconds.)

By contrast, the FEIS had projected impacts at 23 of those intersections in this time period, he said.

In the post-event peak hour, they found impacts at only three intersections, while the EIS predicted impacts at 8 intersections.

From CEQR Technical Manual, Appendix
In the Saturday pre-event peak hour, they found impacts at 12 intersection, while the EIS predicted impacts at 23 intersections (on a weekend afternoon). In the post-event peak hour, they found impacts at only 5 intersections, while the EIS predicted impacts at 29 of those intersections after an afternoon game.

A LOS of D at a signalized intersection means it takes 35 to 55 seconds to get through the signal. A significant impact means an additional delay of 5 or more seconds.

A LOS of E at a signalized intersection means it takes 55-80 seconds to get through the signal. A significant impact is a delay of 5 or more seconds.

A LOS of F at a signalized intersection means it takes more than 80 seconds to get through the signal. A significant impact is an increase of 3 or more seconds.

Measuring the impact on vehicle travel time, they found minor delays—and in some cases no delay—on several routes, while a few, notably Atlantic Avenue going east and Flatbush going south before a weekday event delayed for 2.5 and 2.8 minutes. There was a similar increase after the game.

From the FEIS

Chapter 12 of the 2006 FEIS, Traffic and Parking, listed adverse impacts after Phase 1 in 2010, as then projected, and full buildout in 2016:
Of the 93 intersections analyzed, a total of 58 intersections (all signalized) would have significant adverse impacts in one or more peak hours with the development of Phase I of the proposed project in 2010. With completion of the proposed project in 2016, a total of 68 intersections would be significantly adversely impacted. A total of 46 intersections would have significant adverse impacts in the weekday AM peak hour in 2016, 27 in the midday, 44 in the PM, 39 in the 7-8 PM pre-game peak hour, and 17 in the 10-11 PM post-game peak hour. On Saturdays, 41 intersections would have significant impacts in the 1-2 PM pre-game peak hour and 49 in the 4-5 PM post-game peak hour in 2016. The relatively high number of impacts during the Saturday peak hours would be due, in part, to the fact that curbside parking regulations are less restrictive on weekends, and therefore fewer travel lanes are typically available than during the weekday peak hours. With implementation of the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan, unmitigated impacts would remain in one or more peak hours at a total of 35 intersections in 2016.
What next

After discussions with DOT, Schack’s firm recommended several improvement measures. For example, on Nevins Street at Atlantic Avenue, the street is striped as one lane for southbound traffic, but it functions as two lanes. So DOT will is tripe a left-turn lane and install a a no-standing regulation.

On Flatbush at Fourth Avenue, only one southbound Flatbush is striped for turning, and that’s caused some delays. Soon the center lane will be striped so right-turns can be made. (That’s what already happens in practice, according to Hrones.)

Other changes will be made at Flatbush and Pacific Street, where parking will be restored on the north side of Pacific, and Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, where curbside parking will be restored on Dean, because so few drivers are turning left to use the arena surface parking lot.

There will also be small signal timing changes on Dean Street at Carlton Avenue and at Vanderbilt Avenue, giving eastbound traffic on Dean a little more time.

Hrones noted that they didn’t recommend changing signal timing on major corridors like Atlantic and Flatbush, because it could have significant repercussions.

Pending problems

Hrones acknowledged that the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Dean Street, where there were delays in all four hours studied, remains “very complicated,” because it essentially includes Flatbush, as well “We want to see if signal timing adjustments could help.”

Residents in the audience had some questions. “Why did you not look at Fifth Avenue corridor,” observed Erika Clark, noting “exceptionally heavy traffic on event nights” from Sterling Place down to Union Street.

“If we can resolve that sort of triangle” at Fifth, Dean, and Flatbush, Hrones said, “it could have positive repercussions all the way down.”

Another resident said, “I don’t consider a Bobcats game a high impact event.” Rather, high impact events include the circus, big concert and other events when arena staffers arrive in the early afternoon. “From 2 to 4 pm, the traffic is crazy,” she said. “You can't move on Fifth and Dean.”

Hrones said Nets games were studied in the EIS, and Schack said Nets games are the most predictable high volume events.

Hrones said DOT will look more broadly in the future. However, when asked if DOT would conduct a study at an intermediate point, after Phase 1 is complete, he said no.

“I think we'd probably be asking for a study when the project's actually complete,” Hrones responded.

“25 years from now,” commented resident Peter Krashes, citing the outside date for construction. (Forest City’s new Chinese partner says it would go much faster.)

From the audience, Assemblyman Walter Mosley was heard to mutter, “You can't do that.”

Hrones said they’d asked “to monitor the impacts of Phase 1 and Phase 2. It didn't require Forest City every two years to do a study.” (Actually, this study does not cover the impacts of Phase 1.

Mosley suggested closer attention. Hrones agreed DOT would continue to look at the arena. As for Forest City and its consultants, they used significant resources to gather data, he said, “but I don't think we're going to come to them every couple of years to replicate this study.”

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