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Arena traffic: study of pre-opening conditions coming; aim is to set baseline for potential changes; residents still worry about street closures and surface parking lot

City officials and Forest City Ratner are taking steps to assess traffic in the area around the Barclays Center arena, and plans for both a pre-opening study, as well as a post-opening study, have drawn both constructive criticism and civic wariness.

The plans, which are aimed to spur helpful changes, were discussed last night at a meeting of a Transportation Focus Group, involving representatives of community groups and block associations in the arena's orbit, held at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

The 2006 environmental review for the project identified 25 intersections where there’d be significant adverse impacts, but the long delay since that time period necessitated a new baseline study, to be conducted over the next month or two.

That's necessary for comparison with the post-opening study of traffic and pedestrian conditions, to be conducted in the winter/spring of 2013, that was requested of the developer by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT).

Recent changes

The DOT's Chris Hrones noted that DOT already implemented a “major round of mitigations” last summer, including barring left turns onto Flatbush Avenue from northbound Fourth Avenue. “Every time you make changes, there are going to be some adjustments,” he said. “We hope the benefits outweigh the impacts.”

In response to neighbors’ concerns, he said, DOT has adjusted signal timing on Third Avenue north of Atlantic Avenue and also at the intersection of Lafayette and Flatbush Avenues.

At the key intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush, Hrones announced a change he described as a “win-win.” As of now, pedestrians have a grace period of 15 seconds to cross Flatbush before traffic can move. Hrones said that traffic going straight will not be stopped, but a right-turn arrow will be red, thus protecting pedestrians from turning traffic.

New study coming

Dan Schack of Sam Schwartz Engineering summarized the three-stage plan. The study locations were selected based on assessment of routes where arena-generated vehicles would likely travel. They include locations near the arena, larger parking facilities, and regional access routes.

The first element, as noted in the graphic, include counts of vehicles turning, pedestrians, and bicycles.

Given that most arena events will occur in the evening, data will be collected on weekdays (Tuesday-Thursday) and Saturdays, during the pre-event period of 6-8:30 pm and the post-event period of 9:30-11:30 pm.

The goal is to avoid congestion, defined as a wait more than 45 seconds. LOS (Level of Service) is described as in a range of A-F; LOS D is 35-55 seconds, so 45 seconds is within that range.

And after the arena opens, additional delays could prompt changes regarding the phasing of lights, restriping of lanes, or revision of parking regulations.

Assessing regional traffic

Also, automatic traffic recorders (ATRs), long black tube laid across the road, will be placed at a proposed 44 locations, somewhat farther away, such as at the western end of Atlantic Avenue, aiming to get a sense of regional traffic.

The counts will be conducted over a nine-day period, to encompass two weekends.

Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors (and No Land Grab) reminded the group that, in 2007, DOT proposed converting Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Park Slope to one-way service, raising alarm that the changes were aimed easing arena-bound traffic. That plan, which drew major pushback, was shelved.

Given the potential traffic from southern parts of Brooklyn, and the inevitable hunt for off-site parking, McClure suggested the ATRs be placed beyond Union Street, to Ninth Street.

Hrones said they'd consider it.

One resident suggested that the study address the Classon Avenue entrance to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and was seconded by Community Board 2 District Manager Rob Perris, who suggested more focus on Park Avenue entrances to the BQE.

Testing travel time

Finally, several travel time runs will be conducted on designated routes, notably Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Fourth Avenue, and Third Avenue.

Some skepticism

Sandy Balboza of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, expressed skepticism: once analysis is conducted, she warned, “it sounds to me like you're going to make it more of a highway.”

“I don't think there's an adequate plan for getting people not to drive,” she said, alluding to the much-delayed Transportation Demand Management study, which is due in May after being promised for December. “I think we're in big trouble.”

“We're cognizant of the needs and desires of all users,” Hrones responded, noting, for example, that “we did a road diet” on Vanderbilt Avenue that diminished capacity for vehicles but improved the street
for pedestrians.

Security questions

Jim Vogel, a Pacific Street resident and representative of state Senator Velamanette Montgomery, asked if there’s been any thought of an alternative study to accommodate a scenario in which adjacent streets are closed, as with the Prudential Center in Newark, just weeks before opening in 2007.

Hrones said, “I don’t think we’re expecting that to happen,” but that the study of intersections was necessary, regardless of “how traffic might get redirected at the micro level.”

Others in the audience expressed worry that, as with major events like the West Indian Day Parade, streets would be locked down.

Need for better information

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association warned that, in the environmental review, a lot of information was incorrect regarding such things as sidewalk widths, and “it would be good to get it fixed.”

Changes in surface parking lot?

In the final part of the 90-minute meeting, Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council presented slides of the planned surface parking lot on Block 1129, the southeast block of the project site, and called for changes, as previously described on Atlantic Yards Watch.

The lot is authorized to accommodate 1100 cars, according to state documents, though no final capacity has been announced. Nothing may be built for ten years, and arena parking may continue for 25 years.

“Our view is 1100 cars on a single block in Brooklyn is a blight,” declared Veconi, warning of queueing by cars, storm water runoff, the "heat island effect," air quality problems, and noise. “And 800-900 [cars] isn't much better.”

Fixing the lot

How could the lot be improved? Veconi pointed to standards for parking lots adopted by the city of New York in 2007, which require features to mitigate impacts, such as landscaping, storm water runoff, and planted medians.

Below at left, one projected view of an 1100-space lot, with stackers (which at this point are not expected to be used. At right, a smaller capacity lot with landscaping.

Base photo and arena illustration from Atlantic Yards Watch:  Jonathan Barkey and Tracy Collins
Were city standards applied, this lot could only accommodate 500 spaces. Beyond that, Veconi recommended that entrances to the lot be put on privatized Pacific Street, so as to avoid traffic buildup on residential Dean Street.

That, however, conflicts with current plans to put entrances elsewhere, as well as to maintain Pacific Street for construction staging and other private uses. The state overrode city zoning for the project, and Forest City Ratner--apparently concerned about maintaining capacity at the lot and managing costs--has expressed no interest in such changes.

At a community meeting in January, Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall interrupted a question about parking by reminding the audience that "zoning is overridden for the project plan, including parking.”

The parking lot will include setbacks, landscaping, and screening, but will not see meet city standards. “Remember, it’s a temporary condition,” Marshall said of the lot. “It it were a perfect world, and we could plant trees, it would be great, but A, it's temporary, and B, I don't know if we could ever do that.”

“It's a shared goal to use our research and our studies that we provide DOT and ESDC and Transit and LIRR so all of us can get to a point where we can provide fewer than 1100 spaces,” Marshall continued. “We just can't say today what that number is going to be. We all share the same goals: it’s just what's practical and what we can do when the arena opens.”

Changes "a long shot"?

Last night, when one audience member called the plan “a long shot,” Veconi pointed out that money (from Forest City) has been appropriated to Empire State Development for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), after a judge’s order to study the impacts of the project’s Phase 2. (That decision is under appeal, but the study was set in motion anyway.)

“This is absolutely the type of impact that should be studied," Veconi said, pointing to the role of the SEIS is assessing ways to mitigate untoward impacts. "This is an alternative and a set of techniques that could address that.”

“We'll definitely take it under serious consideration,” responded Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, placatingly. Then again, the agency’s record for making community-requested changes after “serious consideration” is not very extensive.