Wednesday, April 01, 2015

After event buses inundated Flatbush Avenue and residential streets, top cop says it won't happen again; residents urge protocols, penalties for arena

It won't happen again.

That's what Barclays Center and New York Police Department officials said last night after facing neighborhood criticism from a March 17 event in which buses delivering Orthodox Jewish young women (and teachers/parents) to a memorial service at the Barclays Center double parked on Flatbush Avenue and neighborhood streets.

That apology from the Barclays Center Community Affairs Manager Terence Kelly, delivered along with the context that the event was an anomaly for an arena that has relied significantly on public transit and thus has delivered fewer impacts than feared.

But it was not enough for some residents and business representatives, who saw the arena--as one put it--"getting off scot-free" and urged better protocols for the future. After all, the arena's tight siting--thanks to the override of zoning--leaves very little margin for error.

Kelly spent considerable time after the meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council in Prospect Heights talking to people about just how things might work better.

An unusual event, and unusual tactics

Kelly stressed that the arena had successfully managed most events to have limited vehicles and disruption, excepting special events like the NBA All-Star Weekend and the MTV Video Music Awards. Nearly everyone coming to this 10 am weekday event, however, came by vehicle.

When it became evident that the event would stress the neighborhood, Kelly said, Barclays Center officials met with Captain Frank DiGiacomo, the commanding officer of the 78th Precinct.

Though in most cases they send buses off-site, to return at the end of the event, in this case, Kelly said, "the safest most efficient way was to have the buses stage on Flatbush."

That was required by the tight time frame--the school buses were supposed to go back to regular duties at 1 pm. So in the interest of safety--including the return of the passengers to the buses--they stayed.

"At the end of the day, we safely shepherded 14,000 students," said Kelly, acknowledging this was "an outlier event."

Unexplained glitches, fuzzy numbers

That didn't explain why buses had to double-park on Flatbush and on residential streets and left open the question as to whether Flatbush Avenue could have accommodated the buses. (And it didn't explain why Kelly's pre-event message indicated no-parking on Flatbush Avenue but not that the buses would be staged there.)

Kelly and DiGiacomo both said the event involved 200 buses, which seems like a rounding-down.

After all, organizers expected 15,000 people (see graphic above) and a report from an Orthodox Jewish news source put it at over 13,000 people and 270 buses. Given that school buses and the few charter buses max at 60 seats and likely were not absolutely full, the 270 figure seems more plausible.

What next?

How can this be avoided in the future, one resident asked.

"It's not something anyone wants to replicate," Kelly said. "The burden should not rest on the residents to absorb. We're taking this as a one-shot."

Could Barclays envision an event that would be too disruptive and thus be rejected?

Kelly said that there have been events in which 135 buses have been accommodated, and wasn't willing to make a blanket statement. (He doesn't make policy, after all.)

But he did say the arena will always try to make vehicles park off-site in Red Hook.

The precinct's top cop was more emphatic. If the arena again tried to bring 200 buses to Flatbush, "we would say No way," DiGiacomo affirmed.

More questions

Still, some wondered why this went forward. Noting the event was supposed to end by 12:30 pm, and the school buses being detailed to this event were supposed to be back in service by 1 pm, "we only had a very small window," added Aaron Klein, the Precinct's Executive Officer.

(If the event ended at 12:30, it seems to me that it would have been impossible to get the students back to Borough Park and then have the buses back in service by 1 pm. Also note that, unlike with school buses bringing compliant young children tethered to chaperones, many of the young women after this event understandably wanted to socialize a bit, which slowed the reloading of the buses.)

"Our major concern was safety--get those girls home," DiGiacomo said.

That still left people skeptical. Patti Hagan, who documented eight buses on her St. Marks Avenue block alone (see Atlantic Yards Watch), said she was told drivers had been directed to double-park on residential streets, but couldn't learn who gave that direction. Kelly couldn't answer either.

Also, she said there were "a couple of dozen" buses on residential streets and, unlike in Kelly's telling, drivers did not stay with the buses. Kelly said that was an overestimate. Hagan said she'd counted. (I saw about a dozen on my brief but incomplete walk.)

"We did the best we could under exigent circumstances," Kelly said.

Later, Deputy Chief Chuck Scholl backed DiGiacamo as having "made the right decision" but acknowledged "we could have been better prepared." Scholl, who was visiting the precinct in his new capacity for Brooklyn South, put it succinctly: "They overran us."

Protocols and penalties

Robert Puca of the Dean Street Block Association said there should be written protocols for such events. "There have to be consequences," he said. "It's great kids got home safely," he said but the buses hemmed in customers for Flatbush Avenue businesses.

"Those business should be compensated," Puca said. "That should come out of [developer Forest City] Ratner's pocket, out of Barclays' pocket."

Matt Pintchik, whose family owns Pintchik Hardware on Flatbush Avenue and is the largest landlord in the area, spoke in measured but frustrated tones. "It's not the fault of the community there's inadequate parking" for the arena, said Pintchik, noting that "people have been very supportive of the arena."

"People are being very heavily impacted" by arena events, said Pintchik, also an officer in the Community Council. "You have to distribute it. You have to make it a commitment not to happen again." (There's also a frustration among some merchants that the arena has not done enough to cross-market and send business their way.)

Puca followed up: "What was the consequence to Barclays? There was no consequence. You guys, OK, it won't happen again. That's not a satisfactory answer."

Afterward, Pintchik and Kelly spent a long time conferring. "I think the message got through," Pintchik reported.

The next public discussion of this issue likely will occur at the April 22 Community Update meeting, formerly known as the Quality of Life meeting.

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