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Barclays Center has managed to cut driving, but "numbers just don't reconcile to what we're living through," says neighbor; of arena-goers who drive, most seek free parking on local streets

See update with an analysis of the presentation and backing documents.

Fewer people are driving to the Barclays Center than anticipated, according to a study released yesterday by arena developer Forest City Ratner, and a beaming Sam Schwartz, the developer's transit consultant, described the percentage as an unprecedented result.

Forest City's Jane Marshall (c); ESD's Arana Hankin (r.);
consultant Sam Schwartz; photo and set by Tracy Collins
While the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) set a goal of 28.3% for weekday auto share for Nets games, the actual statistic was 25.7%. For weekend games, the FEIS goal was 32%, and the actual figure 31.9%.

Schwartz (at 38:10 of the video below) attributed the success to a number of factors, including the arena's location at a transit hub; direct access to the subway; enhanced service (extra subway trains, though extra buses not needed); marketing of transit; ongoing coordination by government agencies; reduction of parking spaces; lowered lowered expectations for drivers; and area traffic and pedestrian management. Also, a surprising number of attendees walk.

That constituted a slam dunk in Schwartz's eyes, and was translated dutifully into articles for the New York Times and Daily News. (The presentation was to be posted here, but as of Saturday morning, June 15, that hasn't happened.)

For the arena's nearest neighbors, the reduced amount of driving still translates to a burden on their blocks, given perhaps 1,000 private cars seeking free on-street parking and limo/black car drivers--far more than anticipated--illegally idling and parking.

"These numbers just don't reconcile to what we're living through, every day," one resident stated at the meeting, organized by Empire State Development and held at the Brooklyn Hospital Center.

This video by Tracy Collins; others by Norman Oder

The discontinuity apparently derives from the fact that of those driving to the arena, few pay for parking either at the arena's expensive ($25-$35) 541-space lot or the associated lots where spaces can be pre-paid via average pre-sales for Nets games, 129 for concerts--though there are discounts for remote parking and high-occupancy vehicles.

In other words, arena operations rely on the fact that nearby neighborhoods offer free, on-street parking. And for the purposes of this study, no one examined the impact on local blocks, namely drivers seeking free parking. So the question of whether Prospect Heights, Park Slope, and nearby blocks need residential permit parking (RPP), as many residents believe, was left hanging.

As Prospect Heights resident Gib Veconi wrote yesterday on Patch:
Mr. Schwartz proudly explains to the Times that even on the arena's busiest nights, only half of the lot's 540 spaces are used. Is that the whole picture? Mr. Schwartz' analysis shows a quarter of the 15,000 fans at a Nets game arrive by car. That's 3750 people. Ask residents of the blocks near the arena where those folks are parking, and you'll understand why they're still clamoring for residential parking permits.
The meeting drew perhaps 20 residents, along with various official types. Does that mean most people are unconcerned? Hard to say, because other reasons for the turnout could have been weather (heavy rain); resignation (after years of frustration); other commitments (several people told me they couldn't make it, and there were Community Board meetings); and the fact that press exclusives already broke the news.

The Q&A

One of the early questions in the Q&A video below concerned why the study didn't analyze the cumulative impact of private autos and taxis/black cars.

Schwartz responded obliquely, suggesting that it was easier to reduce the number of private automobiles, because they circulate looking for parking, while taxis and limits "go to a destination, and usually don't circulate."

At 2:23 of the video above, Dean Street resident Elba Vasquez responded evenly: "I'm trying to reconcile what you presented to us. I live a block away from the arena. These numbers don't match what we're living through. The traffic flow, the amount of autos, have exponentially multipled, on my block and in my neighborhood. These numbers just don't reconcile to what we're living through, every day."

"Well, there certainly is more traffic," Schwartz acknowledged, citing 800 more cars during the peak hour. "Were the numbers within what the Final Environmental Impact Statement forecast for the area...? The answer is yes."

Will there be a further study of traffic impact from fans of the New York Islanders, a hockey team moving from Long Island (by 2015, possibly earlier) and likely to attract more drivers.

"I'm not certain," Hankin said, "but it's something we're still reviewing."

Where do drivers actually park?

 Chris Hrones, with Forest City staffers in front and FCR's
  Michael Rapfogel in back; photo and set by Tracy Collins
Schwartz handed the question off to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Chris Hrones, who said the agency did a study of on-street parking before the arena opened--it led to the conclusion that RPP was not needed-- and will do a follow-up study based on data collected in the spring. He said he didn't have a date for when it would be publicly presented.

He later explained that DOT is doing its own study on parking, while another study by Schwartz will evaluate the efforts regarding traffic mitigation.

Q&A Second part

Are the on-site parking spaces, located on the southeast corner of the site (the block bounded by Dean and Pacific streets, and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues), really necessary? Given that space not used could be repurposed for a public use, how much of that block is Forest City Ratner planning to repurpose for a park?

"At this point, we're not allowed to do any of that," said Forest City's Jane Marshall, noting that they're required to provide 541 spaces. That would require a decision by Empire State Development.

Would ESD have a problem with that, asked Veconi.

"It's a process that we're certainly open to exploring," replied ESD's Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project. "It's not something that we've discussed yet."

Can the number of traffic enforcement agents be increased?

Local NYPD has no authority to do so, said Hankin. "It's really a mayor's question," added Hankin, who urged residents to contact the mayor's office, because ESD had done so "multiple times, with no success.... But we do believe that NYPD is doing a great job with enforcing illegal parking, already."

That's not what many neighbors believe, given that it's not NYPD's priority.

Can you please tell limo drivers to park in the parking lot, perhaps at a discount, read one question.

Arana Hankin; photo and set by Tracy Collins
Hankin cited a parking area on Atlantic Avenue east of the arena. "We've attempted to direct them into parking lots. but we've found they 're not going to pay for parking spaces, when they can just circle the block. So we would prefer them to stand in a designated area... so, in our experience, the issue... has improved."

Why does Forest City insist on taking public-owned street parking for black limo cars instead of providing parking for them?

"This was a proposal we worked on closely with NYPD and DOT," Hankin responded. "The parking restrictions do not allow residents to park overnight on many days in this area, and we find it to be successful. We have not received nearly as many complaints with black cards idling or circling, since this proposal."

Q&A third part

Why are large trucks continuing to use Dean Street from Sixth to Vanderbilt after leaving the arena loading dock?

Hankin said it didn't relate to the meeting at hand, and has been addressed at the bi-monthly Quality of Life Committee meetings.

Will Forest City use its influence with the governor and state legislature to get RPP enacted?

Forest City's Ashley Cotton responded, "We are not opposed to residential parking permits, and we will be happy if the legislature takes them on." She didn't address whether the developer would tangle with its ally, South Brooklyn Sen. Martin Golden, who firmly opposes RPP.

How many patrons come to events in black cars?

Schwartz said there was no statistic for black cars alone, but they combined taxis, car services, and other for-hire vehicles. The share is about 6%.

When Schwartz associate Dan Schack said (at about 6:15) "in terms of what you guys are calling black cars... luxury vehicles... for an average Nets game on a weekday, there were about 20."

Dan Schack and Hankin; photo and set by Tracy Collins
"20?" responded North Slope resident Steve Ettlinger incredulously. "There are about 20 on my block."

But there are many more for concerts, Veconi pointed out.

"We can get back to you with that," said Hankin.

"You can't average," Marshall responded. "It's meaningless."

Q&A fourth part

What about the Traffic Enforcement Agents (TEAs) and pedestrian managers, who are key to ensuring traffic flows and pedestrians don't get killed--for how long, and at what level will they continue?

Forest City's Marshall was oblique: "The TEAs are deployed by the Police Department and coordinated with Barclays Center traffic managment. They will continue to be deployed to service events. The ped managers are also a very important tool... They are also expected to be continued to be deployed."

Later, in the sixth video, she was asked about numbers. "The decision about where they're deployed is made by the NYPD and coordinated with NYPD, and the staffing of an event--all of those decisions... that's all coordinated event by event."

Q&A fifth part

Why was there no survey of illegal parking?

"This presentation specifically relates to the effectiveness of the Transportation  Management plan," Hankin responded, adding that future studies would address that.

Q&A sixth part

Where are the wayfinding signs? Hrones said he couldn't give the exact locations, but the agency didn't aim for excessive signage. "What we did want to do was focus on signage to the Barclays arena from major arterials," he said.

Why aren't there signs to the on-site parking lot? Marshall responded, "One of the key underlying concepts in the Transportation Demand Management plan was not to encourage driving. Therefore, there is no marketing of parking, there is no free parking, you do not want to encourage people to come to the parking lot."

She meant there is no "free parking" in the on-site lot, but there sure is free parking in the neighborhood.

Will the TDM plan continue? Many of the things are permanent, noted Cotton. "Everything's in place."

What about cross-marketing?

Where specifically on the Barclays Center website is information about cross-marketing with area businesses?

According the December 2009 Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, the arena operator is supposed to "cross-market with area businesses to encourage ticketholders to patronize local restaurants and stores before and after games."

Ashley Cotton & Hankin; photo and set by Tracy Collins
"So cross-marketing is baked throughout many of our platforms," Cotton responded. "So BCTV is the in-house--many of you have been to the arena... running all the time, talking about the Nets, the upcoming shows, the local neighborhoods, the Transit Museum, the Brooklyn Botanical gardens, Vanderbilt Avenue merchants, all the great things you can get there... I think it's"

"Our website also includes a map of the area, it's actually the same map that's at the front of the arena plaza," she added. "Our app, if you are an app user... you'll see a connection to Yelp and a guide showing area businesses."

This gets to a tension between the goals of the TDM plan--getting people to the arena area early to diminish traffic jams--and the Barclays Center's business interests.

Schwartz said the arena opens early to accommodate people--and surely to reap their spending on food and drink. As it happens, the section of BCTV called Series Brooklyn focuses mainly on cool things about Brooklyn, but not places to spend money.

The app surely does point people--especially regular arena-goers--to area businesses.

But the map Cotton mentioned, as shown above, focuses on cultural and civic destinations, not places to eat and drink.

Perhaps that's why a visitor from Long Island to the recent Paul McCartney show, told the Wall Street Journal, "I would have thought there would be more in this area." Actually, there's a lot. But the arena surely was happy that he spent some of his money inside.

Q&A seventh part

Marshall explained that Schwartz did a presentation based on data compiled by a firm called Clarion Research.

Later, and not in the video, Hankin was asked if, when there are future presentations, community members would get a chance to study the data before a public meeting. Hankin said that would be considered. Of course, that would obviate the opportunity for Forest City to feed the report to a cooperative reporter for an exclusive.