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The PHNDC's forum on traffic: discussion of Atlantic Yards impact, residential permit parking, and warning about turning over planning to FCR (update)


The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council's forum last night on traffic, held at P.S. 9 on Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights, featured some critical comments on the Empire State Development Corporation's Atlantic Yards oversight from Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, and significant dismay from neighborhood residents regarding current impacts on traffic and yet-to-be-implemented solutions.

Notably, there was both enthusiasm for and resistance to residential parking permits (RPP) for game days at the Atlantic Yards arena. While they would preserve local car owners' options to park, such RPP were seen as an increased cost for residents, and a couple of attendees suggested the cost should be paid by developer Forest City Ratner, since the impact comes from the arena.

Beyond the arena issue, a free RPP presumes that the current access to street parking is a right rather than a subsidy of sorts--the subject of potential significant debate about RPP in general.

Also, a planner from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign warned about the conflict of interest involved in having developer Forest City Ratner and its paid consultant be in effective charge of transportation planning.

Coverage in the Brooklyn Paper whimsically focused on an off-the-cuff proposal regarding an incentive for public transit, while Patch provided a more general overview.

Below, some photos, from a set by Tracy Collins, and video by Jonathan Barkey. Click on graphics to enlarge.

The traffic deluge

With an arena seating 18,000 for basketball (41 games) and a predicted 225 events, some of which will accommodate crowds up to 19,000, “it's going to be a deluge of traffic, and much of it is going to flow through Prospect Heights,” said Danae Oratowski of the PHNDC, kicking off the session.

PHNDC members led the audience through a slide presentation. The current impacts are multiple, as Peter Krashes explained. Parts of Pacific Street and Fifth Avenue are permanently closed, while the temporary closure of the Carlton Avenue Bridge beginning in 2008, once supposed to last two years, now looks to last 4.5 years.

Various lane closures and sidewalk closures, he noted, “will continue throughout the timeline of the project.” At this point, most of the east-west sidewalks are closed around the arena block.

Krashes reported briefly on a study by Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE), Forest City Ratner’s contractor, of the impacts of street closures. (That study has not been publicly released, but PHNDC has gotten some summary details.)

The study, Krashes said, was limited in scope, but after community input was expanded to include Dean and Bergen streets.

Congested conditions at multiple intersections have led to traffic backup--four minutes for the B65 bus to move along Dean from Carlton to Vanderbilt, Krashes said--horn honking, and “we believe” delays in emergency response.

SSE recommended such things as turning lanes at Dean and Vanderbilt and removing six parking spaces at Bergen Street and Flatbush Avenue, Krashes said. That presumably requires review and approval by the city Department of Transportation.

(The graphic is slightly incomplete, Krashes told me later.)

According to the state’s environmental review, when the arena opens, Sixth Avenue can be widened from 32 to 40 feet, while sidewalks may be narrowed to accommodate the widening of the street.

The parking lot

Gib Veconi noted that the 1100-space parking lot planned for the southeast block of the site would be the second largest surface parking lot in Brooklyn, after the 1400-space lot at Ikea.

“Although described as interim,” he said, “this could be in place for 25 years, in some configuration. It's a huge blight in this part of the neighborhood.”

Unlike with the IKEA lot, which is subject to city zoning, Forest City Ratner claims they're not required to landscape the parking lot, Veconi said. (The state overrides city zoning.)

He noted that the Atlantic Yards environmental impact statement estimates that another 2911 on-street spaces could be used by arena patrons. Beyond that, there are underutilized lots, especially east of the site, vulnerable to conversion to parking.

Strategies he noted included continuing the current legal challenge to the extension of the Atlantic Yards construction schedule; working with elected officials, the Department of City Planning, and community boards to implement zoning to encourage residential and manufacturing uses preferable to parking; and implementing an RPP.

Residential permit parking

Tom Boast described the arguments for RPP, as described in the slide at left, notably a way to deter people from using neighborhood streets for parking.

He also showed a slide of RPP programs in other cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, DC.

Chicago has a stadium parking permit layered on top of RPP. It allows residents or guests to park on residential streets in a stadium area on a game day.

Boast noted, as in the slide at right, that many issues must be considered, including the applicable area, time period, local business employee parking, annual fee, vehicles per household, visitor parking, enforcement and penalties.

To set up an RPP program, NYC DOT should hold workshops to involve the community.

Who's in charge?

Ryan Lynch, senior planner at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said a comprehensive Land Use and Transportation plan--involving parking management, traffic calming, mass transit investment, and demand management--was needed.

The current plan is directed by Sam Schwartz and Forest City Ratner. "There's a lot of conflict of interest having a private entity paid by a developer to come up with a plan," he said.

Rather, it should be the work of government agencies, working with local officials and community boards.

What next?

He observed that, given that the ESDC has the power to revisit zoning, there's no reason why it couldn't set up maximums rather than minimum for parking. (That, of course, didn't happen.)

Pointing out that Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue, not specifically the area around the area site, are among the most dangerous in Brooklyn for pedestrians, the increase in cars, along with widening roads and narrowing sidewalks, would create a more dangerous environment.

"We'd like to see Forest City Ratner pony up and pay for traffic calming," he said, citing neckdowns and traffic islands.

Lynch's recommendation for demand management--discouraging automobile through-traffic via tolling or congestion pricing--generated some pushback from the audience. He then cited very low percentages (under 3%) in the area regarding Manhattan-bound commuters--statistics scoffed at by some in the crowd.

The discussion

Jeffries expressed tempered support for RPP, as did James. Jeffries noted that several state legislators from Brooklyn are involved in crafting the legislation needed to authorize the city to do RPP.

"One issue we have to work through is how much discretion we want to leave to the city, particularly this mayor," he said, expressing wariness over Mayor Mike Bloomberg using it to raise revenue.


Audience member Joe Gonzalez asked about the possibility of a footbridge over Atlantic or Flatbush avenues to protect pedestrians, to be paid for by "Mr. Moneybags," i.e., Forest City Ratner.

Lynch was cautious: "I think every instance is unique.... In general, we think pedestrians should be part of urban fabric, we shouldn't separate them just to create a faster way for cars."

James had expressed support for remote parking at "the piers," perhaps unaware that plans for remote parking are already part of the traffic mitigation strategy.

Oratowski noted that there would be shuttle buses from Staten Island and LICH Hospital, but said "independent transportation planners have felt those efforts will not be as successful as FCR portrays them to be."

Jeffries noted there would be additional Long Island Rail Road service and the possibility of ferry service.

Six months after arena opens, FCR is required by ESDC to do a demand management study, Oratowski said. "PHDNC believes our elected officials and community need to be involved."

Prospect Heights resident and AY opponent Alan Rosner said he was against RPP, given that the cost and benefit was never analyzed. "In light of that, maybe the developer should be paying for RPP," he said.

He also warned that the 1100-space parking lot could be used commercially 24/7, thus potentially adding numerous more users than 1100 a day.

One resident asked about speed bumps at St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place, which don't have street lights but have experience increased traffic, with "a lot of trucks, a lot of horns."

James said she'd take a look.

Who'll pay for traffic agents on event night?

"I think the answer is Forest City Ratner pays," said Krashes.

James said the developer would pay, but "the question you asked is an excellent quesiton: how far out and how many?"

A view of the presentation


Tom Boast discusses residential permit parking


Ryan Lynch of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign


Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries


Council Member Letitia (Tish) James


Jeffries, with Danae Oratowski of the PHNDC


Alan Rosner


Jeffries on video

All video shot by Jonathan Barkey.

James on video

Part of the Q&A