Monday, December 12, 2005


Overburdened transit and "suicidal" pedestrian issues raise concerns, but where's the MTA?

The meeting earlier today at Brooklyn's Borough Hall on the transit and pedestrian impact of the proposed Atlantic Yards plan didn't exhibit the same level of tension as the 12/5/05 hearing on traffic, but the issues are also quite significant--and without easy resolution.

As Jerry Armer, chairperson of Community Board 6 put it, the project poses hazards not just for vehicular but also pedestrian traffic. The intersection of Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth Avenues--the western border of the proposed site, "is not chaotic, it's not dangerous, it's sort of suicidal" for pedestrians. Armer argued that the state process for developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)--overseen by the state Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)--must consider effects outside the the proposed quarter-mile and half-mile boundaries. He noted that pedestrians have trouble crossing Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope near Eighth Avenue--and that the Grand Army Plaza further down Flatbush is "a pretty interesting intersection." Indeed.

"Raise this to the state and the city," urged Ruby Siegel, director of planning for Systra, a rail consultancy, who works with the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA). "I think there's guidance in SEQRA [the state law governing the process] that says you need to look at the total impact."

But where was the MTA? Neither the state agency nor the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) sent representatives to the meeting. The reason: the Borough Hall meetings are unofficial and informational, outside the scope of the ESDC process. "They said it wasn't an ESDC project," reported an aide to Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Added Markowitz, "I think we should revisit it. It's purely informational." Indeed, the meeting again highlighted the awkward fit between the state process evaluating this project and the broader needs of Brooklyn and the city. Tom Schulze of New Jersey Transit, former executive director of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, noted that some issues being raised represent a "gray area outside the statutory requirements." The reluctance by the developer to extend beyond the physical and temporal scope of the EIS, he said, is because "the developer would be responsible for fixing the problems."

The MTA did send a written response to two questions. Asked how the services and schedules are adjusted for subways and buses when sporting or other events are held at other facilities in New York City, the MTA described extra service at the baseball stadiums, but said the regular schedule--albeit with monitoring of station entries and exits--is sufficient for Madison Square Garden.

Are any of the facilities models for the proposed Brooklyn Arena? The MTA replied that "Madison Square Garden is the better model, because it is about the same size and situated on multiple lines." However, participants noted, as they did on 12/4/05, that Manhattan and Brooklyn pose different challenges.

One possible solution, mentioned briefly but covered in today's New York Post (Nets Train Hard), involves efforts to devise either a swipeable game ticket or a game-day MetroCard to encourage use of public transit rather than cars. While Markowitz and Assembly Member Joan Millman seemed encouraged by the concept, it's a tougher sell in Brooklyn than at the more remote NASCAR track planned in Staten Island, as the Post reported:
But Gameday officials told The Post that controlling how fans get to the Brooklyn arena — planned for the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues — might not be feasible since, unlike the Staten Island raceway, it would be built in the heart of a mass transit hub.

Commented transportation consultant Carolyn Konheim of Community Consulting Services, a discount of one dollar for a MetroCard is "in the wrong place." To encourage use of public transit, "you discount the [game] ticket by ten dollars."

Millman said one solution might be to use dedicated shuttle buses from offsite parking lots, as far away as another borough. This would not involve existing bus routes.

Konheim, who often represents community and civic groups, spoke after a first panel that included more mainstream consultants. The three consultants addressing the assembled local officials and representatives of community boards mainly focused on nuts and bolts: the importance of good simulation models to estimate the real burden on public transit. They also addressed the possibility of light rail (years off) and bus rapid transit (soon to be demonstrated), which would involve dedicated bus lanes.

While the MTA response stated, "Buses are not a key component of any service plan for these [current] facilities," participants pointed out that buses are far more important to Brooklyn. "Buses carry a relatively small amount of ridership," observed David Sampson of Urbitran. "But given the number of buses downtown, there is a potential for more people to use buses." Still, Konheim suggested that the bus map needs work: "Buses don't go where people want to go." She cited the B61 from Red Hook to Long Island City, saying it represented three distinct trips.

Konheim asserted that it was inadequate to look only at the transporation impacts as of 2016--the current scheduled date for the completion of Atlantic Yards. The planning process should go to 2025, she said, citing the potential of the extension of the putative Second Avenue subway to the borough.

As for the MTA, she said the agency does have a model to expand service, "but they have no cars." While the agency plans to put 907 new subway cars in service in 2007-08, "they're going to junk 907 existing cars." She said that at least 200 of the cars could be rehabilitated. "But the MTA says, we can't take them, because there's no storage space."

Near the end of the hearing, Shirley McRae, chairperson of Community Board 2, said, "We need to stop making assumptions" about the MTA and urged the state assembly members--Millman and Roger Green--to pressure the agency to attend.

"I feel we're talking to each other," Konheim followed up. "Where is ESDC? Where is MTA?" At that point, however, several attendees had already left, including the Borough President. Markowitz apologized, but said he had to preside over a Christmas reception downstairs in Borough Hall.

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