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Times exclusive on arena transportation results says driving is down, but key is less subway than walking/limos; where do people park?; number of NJ fans has declined

See follow-up based on public presentation and neighbors' critiques.

Before the meeting tonight (pending questions) on the Barclays Center Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, I asked if the report or any of the backing data would be made public beforehand.

I didn't even get an answer.

But the reason is clear. Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/enabling Atlantic Yards, is  happy to let Forest City Ratner leak/place the study with cooperative media outlets.

So, the news is that fewer people drive to the arena, but--contrary to a New York Times exclusive--that's not simply because Forest City Ratner reduced on-site parking and promoted public transportation.

The study also indicates that more people walk and take taxis/car services. (Unmentioned, apparently, is the persistent problem of idling and illegally parking black cars/limos.)

And there's no explanation regarding a lingering issue: if few people use the on-site parking garage, how many park free in the neighborhood, and what are the impacts?

The study does, in a backhanded way, undermine one of the selling points for state subsidies for the arnea: the arena would lure spenders across the arena from New Jersey.

Fewer cars than expected, but why?

Today New York Times transportation reporter Matt Flegenheimer has an exclusive, headlined online At Barclays Center Events, Fewer Cars Than Expected.

Note that the print headline was the much more misleading "Barclays Center Parking Lot Rarely Fills Up."

Also, the photo/caption was rather dopey, given that it pictured not the usually empty bike parking lot at the southeast corner of the arena block but the CitiBike station northwest of the arena.

The key paragraphs:
At a typical Brooklyn Nets weekday game, a quarter of the fans arrive by private car; more than half take the subway. The third most popular mode of travel is walking (6.9 percent), which outpaces the Long Island Rail Road (6 percent), taxis or car services (5.7 percent) and city buses (1.1 percent).
More than a year after Samuel I. Schwartz, a traffic engineering expert, recommended cutting the number of proposed parking spaces from 1,100 to about 540 — to discourage driving — the figures suggest that car use has been even lower than had been projected.
In fact, Mr. Schwartz said that so far, only eight events, including concerts by Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber and Andrea Bocelli, had filled even half of the on-site parking spaces.
“Nobody had ever achieved the numbers that we were projecting,” Mr. Schwartz said in an interview on Wednesday. “Not even Madison Square Garden.”
The goal was to reduce car share to 28.3% on weeknights, and it appears they met it.

What changed? Walking and taxis

The arena is in the section at right;
the first number is inbound, the second outbound
It seems that subway usage is not up hugely, but rather that more people take taxis and walk.

According to Chapter 12, Traffic and Parking, of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, there were supposed to be 14,894 (1,529 + 13,365) people arriving inbound to the arena between 5-6 pm and 7-8 pm. (Note that 6-7 pm was not analyzed.)

Of those inbound visitors, 5,183 were expected to arrive by car. The number now is closer to 3,750, or 25% of 15,000.

Of the 14,894, 7,402, or nearly half, were expected to take the subway. So that percentage is close to the 50+% figure in the recent results (without analyzing the 6-7 pm hour).

So where's the big discrepancy? In 2006, the projection was that 1,147 people, or 7.7% of the total, would take the LIRR. That number is now 6%, a modest change.

However, initially only 447 people, or 3%, were expected to arrive by taxi. Now that number is 5.7%.

And only 402 people, or 2.7%, were expected to walk. Now the number is 6.9%. So Brooklynites have boosted the arena.

Where does parking go?

What goes unexamined in the article, however, is whether there's a direct connection between reducing the sole on-site parking lot by 560 spaces--where parking costs $25-$35--and less driving.

After all, if 25% of 15,000 people take the car, that's 3,750 people, or 1500 cars at 2.5 people/car. They have to park somewhere.

And Barclays Center ticketholders are offered the use of numerous other facilities in the arena, including remote ones, that cost less. (See graphic at right.)

How much are those facilities used? Or do they just get free parking on the street, as many frustrated area residents observe? (That's why many residents want residential permit parking.)

Other factors

The Times notes that other factors have reduced driving: Nets attendance, rather than the once-projected 18,000, is actually closer to 15,000, thanks to no-shows, and only 56%, rather than the once-projected 75%, arrived one hour before the game.

Fewer New Jersey fans = less NYS tax revenues

The article unwittingly undermines one of the key calculations regarding Forest City Ratner consultant Andrew Zimbalist's estimates of new city and especially state tax revenue from the arena, arguments that led Forest City and government partners to argue for the arena.

Zimbalist in 2005 estimated that 67.9% of Nets season-ticketholders lived in new Jersey, and that 51% of the rest of attendees were from New Jersey. So that makes a blended total of 55-57%.

Zimbalist then assumed that 30% of then-Nets fans would go to Brooklyn. (Such figures also influenced other analyses, such as that of the New York City Independent Budget Office.)

However, the Times reported:
Only about 8 percent of fans came from New Jersey, the Nets’ former home, which came as a relief to Mr. Schwartz.
“One of our concerns was if they really had very loyal fans,” he said, “we would have had a lot of people who could have come from car-oriented communities,” he said. “That didn’t occur.”
No one at the Times Metro Desk remembers Zimbalist, I'm sure, and Flegenheimer was still in high school in 2005.

Presumably many of those New Jersey fans also took public transit.

Impact on retail

Forest City placed another story based on this report, with the Wall Street Journal, Barclays Arena Gives some Assist to Retailers: But Impact Is Often Limited and Depends on the Event; Concert-Goers Spend More:
According to the results of fan surveys commissioned by arena developer Forest City Ratner Cos., an average of 2,675 arena-goers are spending money at local businesses before or after weekday Nets games. For weekend games, that number rises to 3,470.
"I can tell you both personally and professionally I have seen a great impact on the local businesses," says Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. "You go into any restaurant or bar before or after a game or concert and they're packed."
Still, area businesses say that doesn't always translate into an increase in sales. "Even if there's no activity going on at Barclays, I tend to maintain my same numbers," says Andre Jordan, one of the owners of Die Koelner Bierhalle, a German beer hall that opened in August on St. Marks Place. Mr. Jordan says that the bar's core clientele is residents in surrounding neighborhoods like Park Slope and Boerum Hill.
On event nights, "my customers who would normally have come in will look and say, 'It's too busy in there, let's find some other place,'" Mr. Jordan says.
Others see a greater effect. At El Viejo Yayo on Fifth Avenue, manager Geronimo Diaz says that Barclays has helped boost business at the Latin restaurant to prerecession levels. On an event night, roughly 15% of its customers are Barclays-goers.
One commenter on Brownstoner stated:
The impact is super, super local. Over on Vanderbilt Ave, two restaurants hoping to profit from the arena are already out of business. People won't walk that far -- or aren't familiar enough with the area to even know where Vanderbilt is: "
Neil deMause's deadpan take in Field of Schemes, Brooklyn arena helps local businesses, also doesn’t help local businesses:
The basic problem here is the but-for factor: When you build a sports arena in an already-booming neighborhood — and Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights was about as booming as you could get, complete with an artisanal mayonnaise store — it’s hard to tell whether all the foot traffic came for the arena, or was there anyway. Or whether the arena traffic displaced the usual traffic, as Jordan told the WSJ: “My customers who would normally have come in will look and say, ‘It’s too busy in there, let’s find some other place.’”


  1. Anonymous8:07 PM

    I went to the Paul McCartney concert the other night and was amazed how none of the MTA escalators were not working. Major train entrances during a sold out show roped off by MTA. This lead to pedesterian gridlock and annoyance that a major hub during a sold out show couldn't have their major train hub working correctly

    1. I'm assuming you mean none of the escalators were operating. But it *may* not have been a mechanical failure. They sometimes rope off part of the stairs, at least, to narrow the number of people entering the platforms.


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