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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

North-South walkway width cut from 16 feet to 12 feet; explanation--to allow more green space--provokes skepticism

The is the fifth of multiple articles about the 7/16/19 Quality of Life meeting, which focused on proposed modifications to the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), none of which were said to trigger further official review. The first article concerned plans for a 100,000 square-foot below-grade fitness facility. The second concerned a cut in parking. The third concerned a cut in bike parking. The fourth concerned modifications to the B5 tower design. The seventh concerned a swap in square footage and a change in the design guidelines. The eighth concerned updates on infrastructure work and the fate of Site 5.

So, what might "Reduction of the Open Space North-South Walkway Width" mean, I asked before the meeting, wondering if it would enable bigger buildings? Not that, apparently.

Just a not-insignificant 25% narrowing, from 16 feet to 12 feet. And a not terribly convincing explanation that it would add green space, rather than, as many suspected, to help a developer.

Nor was there any mention--and nor did I remember--that in 2015, Empire State Development (ESD) already diminished the walking area: "acreage consumed by walkways will decline from 4.62 acres to 3.65 acres, allowing maximum planted areas to grow to 3.5 acres from 2.6 acres." This new change seemingly adds to that, though no totals were provided.

Explaining the change

"We are reducing the requirements from 16 feet to 12 feet," said Tobi Jaiyesimi, Atlantic Yards project director for Empire State Development, which oversee/shepherds the project. That still allows "the walkway to be in compliance with state and city park trails requirements. The reduction allows for additional planting and lawn space."
From 2015 presentation by Thomas Balsley, with 16-foot north-south walkways

"It creates a walkway that feels less like vehicular traffic, and more like pedestrian walkway," Jaiyesimi. Well, it's hard to say the previously described walkways (see above) look like vehicular traffic.

She noted that this would not impact Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, nor the promised east-west walkway, what might be considered the heart of the open space.

Audience skepticism

"Why do we need less walkway, we need more walkway," asked Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon. "We’re going to end up with a lot of people here. So why are we making less place for people to walk?"

"We're allowing for there to be a four feet reduction. That will allow more planted area and recreational use space," Jaiyesimi said, sticking to talking points. "And a 12-foot walkway is well within city and state regulations for pedestrian walkways and trails in state parks and city parks." See slide below from presentation.

From Quality of Life Meeting presentation. The center image in top row
is a 12' sidewalk. The green section of the bottom right is 12'8".

Simon and others continued to express skepticism.

Any analogue offered?

I noted that, in a 2015 presentation, landscape architect Thomas Balsley made a presentation that used the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and also the High Line as comparisons. So, I asked what examples of 12-foot walkways should we consider.

Jaiyesimi said she didn't recall if he was referring to the north-south, or east-west walkways. Indeed, as shown in the screenshot below, he meant the larger east-west walkway.
From 2015 presentation by Thomas Balsley
What's an example?

I asked again for a real-life example of a 12-foot walkway.

From the back, Dean Street property owner Jimmy Greenfield noted that the floor tiles in the room were a foot wide. "Twelve feet is just enough room for four people to walk... two in one direction, two in another… but if you have more than that, or somebody's on a wheelchair," that overloads the walkway.

Then, said Jaiyesimi, you have the planted area.

This is 12' sidewalk not buffered by green space
From Urban Street Design Guide, NACTO
Note: I couldn't find New York City standards, but this 2006 federal booklet says that, "For any two people to walk together, 1.5 m (5.0 ft) of space is the bare minimum."

At right is a 12-foot sidewalk in Philadelphia, albeit with light figures interrupting the path and a wall, rather than a planted area, offering a buffer at the right border.

Another attendee noted that walkways would be used by kids with bikes and people pushing carriages, further cutting into the path.

Asked again who does it benefit, Jaiyesimi stuck to her talking points.

Given the history of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, it's hard not to think there's another motivation afoot, whether to accommodate a tweak in a building design and to save money--and the state is doing the bidding of the developer.


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