Although I haven’t written much about it over the past few years, I have a personal interest in the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project. I can walk to the new arean in around 10-15 minutes from my apartment, and the project’s potential impact looms large over my current corner of New York City. From the subway crowds evening events will bring to the folks trawling the neighborhood looking for that elusive free parking spot, this project has the ability to disrupt life in Brownstone Brooklyn if it’s not handled correctly.
Last night, the major stakeholders in the project gathered in Brooklyn to discuss the infrastructure impact the project will have. Led by Sam Schwartz, the traffic and transportation consultant for the project, Forest City Ratner officials and local politicians led a meeting and discussion on transportation demand. While transit use remains the focus for arena-bound patrons, it’s unclear if the plan goes far enough to avoid an influx of congestion in the area, and a call for a residential parking permit program has stalled in Albany.
The simple truth about the Barclays Center arena is that it is not a car-friendly spot. Unlike Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, the Meadowlands, the abomination in Nassau County or even MSG, the Nets’ future home isn’t neighboring a highway (or, in the case of MGS, the Lincoln Tunnel). The BQE is a distance away down an oft-congested Flatbush Ave., and the nearest river crossings feed from local streets. Instead, it is atop one of the system’s great subway and LIRR focal points with the IND Crosstown and Fulton St. lines nearby. Transit use should be encouraged.
During last night’s presentation, that’s exactly how the project engineers framed it. For starters, the Barclays Center on its website and promotional materials will not discuss parking. It instead urges everyone to take transit, and people are responding. According to Schwartz’s presentation, mode share is now expected to be weighted toward transit trips with 40 percent of attendees across all events opting for the subway. But around 30 percent are still expected to drive — at least at first and until they see how inconvenient it will be to drive there.
To compensate for post-game crowds, the MTA will add extra Q and 4 trains into Manhattan. The authority runs a similar service along the 7 for Mets games and D and 4 for Yankee games. Extra buses will service the area, and the LIRR will add post-event trains as well. Pre-game peak hour crowds heading to the arena will cause crowding, but with a great number of lines passing through the area, the MTA seems to expect a diffuse impact.
What to do with the cars though remains an issue. Schwartz said the number of spaces near the arena has been chopped from 1100 to 541, and those who will drive are being encouraged to park in remote lots. Free shuttle buses will ferry patrons from those lots to the arena as unloading areas around the arena on Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues will be extremely limited. Still, though, parking rates will not be raised to discourage driving, and more importantly, a residential parking plan has stalled in Albany.
The latter point, as Council Member Letitia James noted, is a problem. Even if the bill were to move forward tomorrow, it would likely be another year — and a full basketball season — until the parking passes become a reality, and residents will have to contend with game-bound drivers seeking out a free space. Even with a public outreach effort discouraging drivers, enough temporary arena visitors will cruise Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Fort Greene to cause problems. “I just don’t think there’s enough disincentives,” James said. “I believe cars will flood our residential streets.”
Finally, pedestrian safety is a problem too. While the new subway entrances will siphon arena patrons to the building’s front plaza, crossing Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in that area isn’t fun on a good day. The city hasn’t been willing to institute many traffic-calming measures around the arena during construction, and there are none on the table for after. It remains, according to Schwartz, a work in progress that will be reassessed periodically.
So I am left wondering how flexible these plans will be. We do not know who will foot the bill for added post-event transit service, and a plan floated in 2009 that would have provided free MetroCards to Barclays Center guests has died a death due to unknown causes. Has Forest City Ratner done enough to discourage parking? Will the conditions on the street disincentivize driving after a few weeks? The Barclays Center arena is one of the most accessible around, and it’s in a neighborhood will little room for additional parking. Transit will be a part of the equation, and how patrons embrace that element will impact how residents come to view the return of professional sports to Brooklyn.