When in August 2011 plans for the installation of security bollards around Barclays Center submitted by FCRC to NYCDOT were made available to the public, AYW noted that the sidewalks as shown in the plans were in some cases significantly narrower than had been disclosed in the 2006 environmental analysis under which the Atlantic Yards project was approved. The photos above and below show the existing street corner as well as the sidewalk that extends from it along Atlantic Avenue, but the sidewalk will actually be two feet narrower at the time Barclays Center opens than it is in its existing condition.
Although the plans submitted by FCRC in August showed both temporary and permanent departures from conditions analyzed in the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement, ESDC apparently did not ask its environmental consultant HDR to review the plans until after AYW's initial analysis was published.
What followed is a quintessential Atlantic Yards story. The deadline for public comment, initially scheduled for mid-August when Community Boards do not meet and residents are often away, was extended when it was discovered the incorrect Community Board had been provided the plans for review and approval. The deadline was extended a second time when it was discovered a security wall (the same wall producing the narrowest sidewalk on the arena block) had not been colored red (as new) in the plans. A Technical Memo written by HDR was released to the public less than 24 hours before the revocable consent hearing on October 5th, which acknowledged narrower widths but maintained that the level of service (LOS) of the sidewalks would remain within an acceptable range. Our review of the Technical Memo pointed out shortcomings in its analysis, stating the analysis did not take into account in full the obstructions and shy distances evident in the bollard plans, or changes to pedestrian walking routes on sidewalks.
DOT has now advised us that it has approved the bollard plans. In order to counter unacceptable LOS at the intersection of 6th and Atlantic Avenues, FCRC has agreed to leave a "bulb-out" of the sidewalk to the south of the street corner on 6th Avenue.
A second Technical Memo
A letter from DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Joseph Palmieri to the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and additional documents provided by DOT to PHNDC give insight into DOT's approval based on a second Technical Memorandum prepared by HDR.
According to Commissioner Palmieri, following PHNDC's comments at the revocable consent hearing in October, HDR was asked to revisit its analysis with a second Technical Memo focused on the Atlantic/6th Avenue street corner and the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk. In this analysis, HDR discovered an unacceptable level of service at the street corner. HDR also revised its effective width estimates for the sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue from 5 feet 2 inches to 3 feet 8 inches, a few inches greater than PHNDC's estimate at the revocable consent hearing. HDR had initially used a lightpost to curb width of 1.5 feet, which is not typical in New York City. After receiving a drawing from the sidewalk's engineer for their second analysis, HDR understood the post's distance to be 3 feet, reducing the effective width on this sidewalk adjacent to an arena to less than the effective width of many residential streets. And the lightpost also reduces the clear path of the sidewalk to 6 feet 8 inches, less than the 8 foot clear path detailed in DOT's own Street Design Manual guidelines for a commercial street. (DOT Street Design Manual, p. 62).
The analysis in HDR's second Technical Memo also acknowledged the bollards along Atlantic Avenue may at peak pedestrian activity times "cause an inconvenience to certain segments of the population such as persons in wheelchairs or pedestrians pushing strollers." This is because the implementation of the bollards (spaced at 4 foot intervals circling the arena) within the narrower sidewalk make it impossible for more than a single wheelchair or stroller to pass that segment of sidewalk at a time, and difficult for either to pass with other pedestrians at their side or walking in the opposite direction.
The drawing below is a modification of the bollard plans submitted by FCRC to DOT. The red line lining the sidewalk is a new security fence that will reduce the existing sidewalk by 2 feet to an actual width of 9 feet 8 inches. From left to right the red circles highlight the bollards creating a 2 foot effective width, a lightpost creating a 3 foot 8 inch effective width, and the street corner which HDR says (with the change in the plans to include the bulb-out on 6th Avenue) will have an acceptable level of service "C" at some peak times.
HDR's calculation is based on projections from the 2006 FEIS and the optimistic assumption that the number of pedestrians relocated to the VIP entrance will be insignificant because VIPs will use more than one entrance. HDR also states the number of pedestrians on the sidewalk would be further reduced by the absence of non-arena buildings in the project's first phase. However, until a plan detailing the routes pedestrians will take in the vicinity of the arena is disclosed, it is simply not possible to know how safe each of the sidewalks will be.
A question of oversight
The issues related to sidewalk LOS that prompted two Technical Memos to be issued by ESDC's environmental consultant HDR are not trivial. They relate directly to the safety and experience of pedestrians circulating around the arena block, particularly on Atlantic Avenue, which has been identified as the most dangerous road in Brooklyn for pedestrians and cyclists.
The narrow sidewalks and street corner that have resulted from changes to the Atlantic Yards project plans could have—and arguably should have—been caught by ESDC's planners, engineers and consultants before the bollard plans were submitted to DOT. Instead, community organizations discovered the problems through their own analyses, and HDR then needed two tries to respond with even a marginally credible assessment of its own. Its first analysis was calibrated by HDR to the details contained in the comments DOT received, rather than by applying its expertise directly to the plans. From its second Memo:
"The original email correspondence from the PHNDC to NYCDOT dated August 18, 2011 and August 20, 2011 expresses concern for narrow sidewalks at the Arena Block that reflect a mid-block sidewalk analysis; however, no mention of any concern regarding sidewalk corners at the Arena Block is made. As such, analysis of the southwest corner of Atlantic Avenue and 6th Avenue was not included as part of HDR's original effective sidewalk width analysis."
But the plans showed a problem. Why didn't HDR find it on its own? And keep in mind that, unlike most plans related to Atlantic Yards, the bollard design was released for public comment based on the requirement for revocable consent from DOT. It is likely many other issues related to the capacity of streets and sidewalks in the vicinity of the project have not received much, if any analysis at all. That means there is a real risk the demand management and operational plans being developed behind closed doors by FCRC anticipate greater capacity on streets, sidewalks and lay-by lanes in the vicinity of the arena than actually exist.
Skepticism of ESDC's interest in scrutinizing changes to both the project and its context is reasonable. In September of 2009 ESDC agreed to extend the construction duration for Atlantic Yards from 10 to 25 years, but declined to make a full study of the impacts of such extended construction on the surrounding communities. Civic organizations from those communities successfully sued ESDC and FCRC, winning a court order for a supplemental environmental impact statement.
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