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Atlantic Yards’ Transportation Perception Management Plan

Plenty of smoke and fire hides what's missing from the plan to reduce arena traffic.

In Chicago, the City Council passed a “Neighborhood Protection Plan” ordinance that governs on-site and remote parking for Wrigley Field, shuttle bus service, and residential parking permits for neighborhoods near the stadium. The New Jersey State Legislature enacted a “Special Event Parking Surcharge” to discourage patrons of Newark’s Prudential Center from driving to events.

In Brooklyn, we get Forest City Ratner’s Transportation Demand Management Plan (known as the TDM), by the developer’s traffic consultant “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz.

Mr. Schwartz is one of the most respected traffic engineers in the country. He was the NYC Commissioner of Transportation in the Koch administration. But at his presentation to the community last night, Mr. Schwartz seemed a little like the Wizard of Oz.

His TDM presentation emphasized two strategies. The first is a . The logic is that less parking will lead to fewer cars coming to the arena. While the theory is sound, it’s more than a stretch for Mr. Schwartz to present it as part of his demand management plan. Why? The original Atlantic Yards plan envisioned arena patrons parking in multiple locations at the site, but a modification to the plan hurried through in September 2009 attempted to consolidate all parking on one single block bounded by Vanderbilt Avenue, Carlton Avenue, Dean Street and Pacific Street, apparently without considering the feasibility of such a move. As reported by Atlantic Yards Report, FCR and the Empire State Development Corporation realized in October of 2011 that the only way 1,100 cars could fit onto one block was to use stackers, and the required would have led to enormous queues of arena patrons waiting to get in and out of the lot. The on-site parking reduction was therefore necessary to correct an oversight in the 2009 plan. Mr. Schwartz is simply taking lemons and making lemonade. (In July of 2011, a State Supreme Court found Atlantic Yards’ 2009 modification was approved illegally. ESDC and FCR have continued to fight a court order to perform additional environmental analysis and amend the project plan.)

The second thrust of Mr. Schwartz’ presentation was a marketing plan intended to promote the availability of mass transit near Barclays Center, which is of course plentiful. Again, there is nothing wrong with the theory that providing more information about subway, bus and rail options to arena patrons might influence behavior, but Mr. Schwartz is a traffic engineer, not an advertising executive. After a six-month delay in the promised release of the TDM, it was strange to hear him talk about the Barclays Center website and use of social media, instead of the tactical and policy initiatives the community was led to expect.

Mr. Schwartz’ efforts to sell both the unavoidable reduction in parking and a common-sense marketing campaign as cornerstones of the plan inevitably shifted focus away from what is not in the TDM. Missing are several measures described in the 2009 Memorandum of Environmental Commitments agreed between FCR and ESDC, including plans to provide free round trip subway fare with a Nets ticket, and free charter buses from park-and-ride facilities on Staten Island. Also missing is any funding from Forest City Ratner to support the additional MTA and LIRR capacity planned to handle post-event crowds. Mr. Schwartz suggested that the service enhancements would be funded through increased ridership by arena patrons, not remembering that he and his client had justified dropping the free subway fare by claiming prospective patrons surveyed already owned unlimited ride Metrocards. Since he can't have it both ways, it appears the public may be on the hook for additional transit expenses necessary to support the arena.

But what’s really lacking from Atlantic Yards’ TDM is any meaningful involvement by City and State government in the plan’s execution. The results of the TDM are to be reviewed only once, six months after its implementation, and there are no remedies if its goals are not achieved.

Effective, government-mandated disincentives like residential parking permits and parking surcharges require executive sponsorship and legislative action. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo have continued to express strong support for Atlantic Yards, even in light of the project’s quickly evaporating public benefits. With permit parking legislation bottlenecked in Albany, it would be more than appropriate for each of them to push hard for the types of demand management techniques that have worked in cities like Chicago and Newark.

Until that happens, it looks like New Yorkers will have to settle for more impressive presentations from FCR’s consultants and marketers to keep us entertained while we wait for the traffic to show up in September.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

R. Kosik May 29, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Let's hope the MTA will be coming up with a creative/motivational advertising plan to inspire New Yorkers to take the subway/LIRR to the arena for events. I'm in bayridge & can get to the arena inside of 20 minutes. Would never even THINK of taking my car to the area.

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