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ESDC's flawed analysis of sidewalk widths highlights risk in privatizing arena planning and oversight

(Based on research by Peter Krashes and Danae Oratowski)

In response to an AYW story showing the effective sidewalk widths on the arena block are going to be narrower than ESDC's 2006 environmental analysis has assessed, the agency's environmental monitor HDR submitted a Technical Memorandum to the Department of Transportation revising effective sidewalk widths and reassessing the sidewalks' level of service.  

HDR's Technical Memorandum about the arena block's sidewalks is flawed.  It incorrectly applies its own formula for assessing effective sidewalk widths.  As a result of that mistake the Technical Memorandum overstates the effective widths of numerous sidewalks on the arena block by several feet. And HDR uses outdated pedestrian numbers from the 2006 FEIS even though the sidewalk conditions being analyzed should be based on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.  

As a result, the level of service calculations (which relate the number of pedestrians anticipated to use a sidewalk in a period of peak use to the sidewalk's capacity) are invalid and should not be accepted.

The newly narrow arena block sidewalks were disclosed to the public for the first time in the summer when FCRC submitted plans to NYCDOT for security bollards.  Besides the bollards, the narrowing is caused by changes to the construction plan of the arena block which separates and delays the construction of the non-arena buildings, and the failure to rebuild and widen the 6th Avenue Bridge which was originally part of the project plan, among other factors. There is no announced construction plan for the non-arena buildings, so the Technical Memo does not assess the impact of sidewalk and lane closures that may occur during building construction.

The mistakes in the Technical Memorandum are the most recent in a series of errors related to the review of the bollard plan. Initially, the plans were only sent to Community Board 8 for review even though the arena block is exclusively within Community Boards 2 and 6. Then it was discovered that the plans had not highlighted in red a security fence as was required because it was new.  That fence is located in the area with the narrowest effective width on the arena block and further narrows the sidewalk.

 

The Technical Memo

The Technical Memo is structured to compare its own analysis with ours.  And it  agrees with our conclusion that the effective widths on many sidewalks on the arena block will be substantially narrower than analyzed in the 2006 environmental analysis.  

It argues, however, that the level of service for pedestrians will stay the same on the sidewalks, a position undermined by mistakes and exclusions in the analysis.  This has real-world ramifications because the level of service (LOS) is the single method the Technical Memo uses to measure the degree of risk community members and arena patrons face from the more crowded sidewalks in the arena plan as revised in 2009.  For example, the Technical Memo does not adhere to guidelines in the NYCDOT Street Design Manual which state commercial sidewalks in NYC must, "beyond the ADA minimum, provide an unobstructed clear path of 8 feet or one-half the sidewalk width (whichever is greater)" (NYCDOT Street Design Manual, p. 62).  

The formula to achieve LOS is the number of pedestrians (divided by) the effective width (divided by) 15 (minutes).  LOS level "A" is good; LOS level "F" fails.  The Technical Memo finds all arena block sidewalks have a level of service "A."

 

Effective sidewalk width

It is easiest to understand the problems in the analysis in the Technical Memo by examining one sidewalk as an example. The narrowest sidewalk on the arena block at the time of the arena opening is the sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue from 6th Avenue to Fort Greene Place.

In our original story, we used a U.S. Department of Transportation formula that subtracted a shy distance of 2 feet from each the outside curb and the interior of the sidewalk.  In articles since (like our article on the fewer travel lanes and narrower sidewalks on 6th Avenue) we have used a formula that subtracts for obstructions and their "shy distances" (the comfortable passing distance for a pedestrian).   The Technical Memo also outlines it uses an effective width formula that removes obstructions plus a "shy distance" of 1.5 feet.  Here is the formula as described in the Memo:

In our original story (using a formula that does not subtract for obstructions) we pointed out that the east end of the sidewalk on the south side of Atlantic Avenue between Fort Greene Place and Sixth Avenue appeared to have an effective width of 5.5 feet versus an analyzed effective width of 13.5 feet in the FEIS. HDR did its own calculations for the Tech Memo, and came up with an effective width of 5.2 feet, slightly lower than what we calculated.

 

The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t appear to take into account the obstructions and shy distances evident on the bollard plans. As an example, looking at the area called S6a in the top chart (Atlantic Avenue between Fort Greene Place and 6th Avenue) the plans show from left to right bollards, a fire hydrant, a light post, and a signal light post.  The areas pedestrians are presumed to pass near the obstructions are highlighted with red arrows on the bollard plans below.

 

 

Looking at S6a in the top chart, the Tech Memo appears to identify either one obstruction of 1.5 feet and a shy distance of 3 feet, or the other way around. This does not appear consistent with the methodology outlined it says it applies, that the sum of obstructions and shy distances will be removed from the total walkway width. In the example of a lightpost which typically can be 3 1/2 feet in width from the curb in NYC, the 3 1/2 foot width should be added to a shy distance of 1 1/2 feet AND a shy distance from the interior fence of 1 1/2 feet. The effective sidewalk is the "actual" width of 9 feet 8 inches subtracted by 6 1/2 feet, or  3 feet 2 inches.  Note the bollards reduce the sidewalk to a passage of 4 feet and an effective width that is marginal at best.

HDR's own formula produces an effective width of 3 feet 2 inches, not 5 feet 2 inches as the analysis in its Tech Memo erroneously discloses.  

 

The number of pedestrians on the sidewalks

HDR's analysis of sidewalks uses pedestrian numbers from the 2006 FEIS even though the sidewalk conditions being analyzed are based on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan. The 2009 MGPP outlined changes to the project that affect pedestrian movement around the arena site. Among the changes, the 2009 MGPP relocated the VIP entrance from Dean Street to Atlantic Avenue, and also relocated 100 parking spots from the arena block to block 1129.

The 2009 Tech Memo that analyzes changes to the 2009 project plan provides little analysis of how moving the VIP entrance would impact sidewalk conditions on Atlantic Avenue. So HDR was forced to rely on an outdated number of pedestrians for its LOS calculation in its analysis. As an example, according to the 2006 FEIS, 500 parking spaces on block 1129 are reserved for VIP parking with a vehicle occupancy rate of 2.35 persons during weekdays. 1,175 VIP arena patrons will make their way from block 1129 to the VIP entrance now relocated to Atlantic Avenue, passing the constricted sidewalk on Atlantic between Fort Greene Place and 6th Avenue (S6a in the charts above). HDR's analysis of the bollard plan doesn't include these additional 1,175 pedestrians on the constricted sidewalk. And 1,175 is not the upper limit of the number of pedestrians using the VIP entrance. The Nets have announced that they plan to sell up to 4,400 All Access ticket packages, which include use of the VIP entrance.

Nor does HDR's analysis include the impact of the Demand Management program on pedestrian concentrations on arena sidewalks. The location of shuttle buses to remote parking locations that are part of the Demand Management program will add to crowding along sidewalks around the arena.

Without additional quantitative information about sidewalks conditions created by the 2009 MGPP and the Demand Management program, there is no rational foundation for assessing sidewalk conditions in the bollard plan. 

 

Problems of process

In arguing for the approval of FCRC's plans for bollards on the arena block at the DOT hearing October 5th, Assistant Vice President Sonya Covington stated that the plans followed two years of coordination with government agencies and that the Technical Memorandum had been produced to address changes to sidewalk widths from what was originally anticipated in 2006.

The reality is the opposite.  At a critical time in which the operational, demand management and security plans for Barclays Center are being developed behind closed doors, the bollard plans provide a small window into how and who is shaping the plans. 

Plan development has been done almost entirely by for-profit FCRC and its hired consultants.  The 2009 MGPP was not reviewed by NYCDOT prior to its adoption by the ESDC board. ESDC has never implemented either the monthly meetings of an interagency working group to review plans or the transportation working group promised in 2007.

The plans being implemented are from the 2009 MGPP, but the analysis, data and mitigations substantiating them are cherry-picked from the 2006 FEIS.  The scope of work of FCRC’s private consultant Sam Schwartz excludes at least pedestrians and sidewalks, even though the FEIS does not anticipate the degree or duration of impediments due to construction, new information about errors in the FEIS analysis, or changes in pedestrian routes due to alterations in arena entrances and parking.  In short, there does not seem to be anyone in oversight with the scope of work, or incentive, to locate problems that may exist in the gap between the 2009 and 2006 plans.  Many, but not all, of those problems pertain to pedestrians.