The 2006 Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) assumed 6th Avenue would be widened between Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in order to "facilitate traffic circulation at the project site and provide an alternative route for traffic diverted as a result of the closure of 5th Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues." (FEIS, 12-65)
However, it has emerged this summer that 6th Avenue from Flatbush to Atlantic will not be widened at the time of the arena opening as described in the FEIS. Instead, not only will there be fewer north-south travel lanes at the time of the arena opening than analyzed in the FEIS, there will actually be fewer north/south travel lanes through the project footprint than existed before the street closures that created it in 2010.
The change will surely affect traffic circulation around the arena block, and congestion in the vicinity of the arena may be increased, because one fewer northbound and one fewer southbound travel lane east of the arena from Pacific Street to Flatbush Avenue will exist than was originally anticipated in the traffic analysis for the project. The 6th Avenue Bridge will also have one less southbound lane. The diagram on the left above shows the four lane version of 6th Avenue in the FEIS (Figure 12-5a). To the right above is the two to three lane 6th Avenue as it is shown in the plans currently before NYC DOT.
It is unclear if the change is temporary or permanent. The response to questions from the June 14 public meeting on the Sam Schwartz mitigations posted on the ESD website states,
At this time, FCRC is implementing most of the FEIS traffic mitigation for Phase I of the Project, while postponing implementation of certain traffic measures (such as the widening of 6th Avenue between Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue and the construction of additional lay-by lanes on 6th Avenue on the Arena block) at the direction of NYCDOT until after the Arena opens and data can be gathered as to how best to implement or improve upon the FEIS-required traffic measures. ESD has not approved changes to the FEIS traffic measures at this time.
Sam Schwartz's 2011 mitigation plans were derived from the first phase mitigations outlined in the FEIS. The change in the role of 6th Avenue apparently did not trigger an adjustment of the mitigations. Any adjustments must apparently now be made after a post-arena opening follow-up study provides data suggesting next steps. It is not known at the time of this writing if a Technical Memo (such as has apparently been written for the unanticipated narrowing of the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk) has been written for changes to the plans for 6th Avenue as well.
The widening of 6th Avenue to four lanes compensated for the loss of travel lane capacity created with the closing of 5th Avenue. That step is included in the first, or Project Descriptions Chapter (FEIS 1-24) describing the elements which define the project. It was apparently assumed to be in place at the time of the arena opening. In order to create room for the additional lanes 6th Avenue was to be widened 6 feet by removing sidewalk width. One impact of this change is that the southbound lanes on 5th and 6th Avenues that existed prior to the project's street closures are now doubled up into one travel lane. Of course now a traffic-generating arena will be added to the mix. To the right is a recent photo of a detour sign for southbound drivers on 6th Avenue.
There are two changes to the assumptions in the FEIS about 6th Avenue that may have affected the decision of FCRC, ESDC, NYC DOT and Sam Schwartz not to widen the avenue at least at this point in the project's construction.
First, the 6th Avenue Bridge is no longer to be demolished and rebuilt to have a roadbed 40 feet wide, meaning that its current width of approximately 37 feet will remain as is permanently unless the construction of building #4 somehow enables its widening. The 6th Avenue Bridge is currently one travel lane and one left turning lane northbound, and one travel lane southbound.
Second, the effective widths of the sidewalks on 6th Avenue, especially those south of Dean Street, were significantly overstated in the FEIS, meaning that if narrowed as originally anticipated they would have had marginal effective widths. The photo to the right is a Google Map Street View of the western 6th Avenue sidewalk looking up from Dean Street south toward Bergen Street.
FEIS Table 13-30 details effective widths of 4.5 feet for the east sidewalk and 6.5 feet for the west sidewalk on 6th between Bergen and Dean. The effective width is the width of the sidewalk that is actually used by pedestrians once a buffer zone on either side of the sidewalk is taken into account. Using a standard of 2 feet removed from the building side and 2 feet from the curbside (or the depth of any obstruction like a street light plus 1 1/2 feet) from the actual width of the sidewalks, Atlantic Yards Watch assesses the state of the same sidewalks as 5.5 feet for the east sidewalk and 3.5 feet for the west.
These measurements are without reducing the sidewalks by six feet in order to widen the street to create additional travel lanes as the FEIS assumed. Because 6th Avenue between Dean and Bergen Streets is a likely route for pedestrians traveling between the arena, Flatbush Avenue and the Bergen Street 2/3 subway station, they are likely to experience a high level of use.
At a joint meeting of the Carlton Avenue and Dean Street Block Associations June 14th, Rachel Shatz, Director of Planning and Environmental Review at ESD stated that the FEIS did not use actual measurements of streets and sidewalks to assess roadway and sidewalk widths. Instead, the data in the FEIS is derived from maps. Shatz stated that actual measurements would be made when surveys were executed in preparation for construction drawings. And in the period leading up to the announcement of Sam Schwartz's plans, surveyors were seen several times by community members assessing the width of 6th Avenue between Dean and Bergen Streets, presumably as a step in developing plans for the street.
The widening of 6th Avenue has been controversial since the plans for the project were included in the project's DEIS. Community members familiar with the sidewalks have long wondered how they could safely be reduced beyond their existing condition, especially given their proximity to the arena, local retail and transit.