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Overestimated sidewalk widths may spell trouble for arena patrons and residents alike

Unlike nearly every other arena and stadium in the country, Barclays Center is fit tightly inside residential neighborhoods.  It is largely surrounded by one way local streets and residential-width sidewalks, not the highways and commercial-width sidewalks that serve most other facilities of its kind.

Changes to the project have resulted in less capacity for travel lanes, lay by-lanes and sidewalks than was originally analyzed in the project's environmental impact statement.  Now, a survey by AYW confirms the sidewalks in the vicinity of Atlantic Yards also have less capacity for pedestrians than the project's environmental analysis anticipates. The study finds that a critical measurement used in the formula to assess sidewalk capacity by the State was regularly used incorrectly in the FEIS.  As a result, the capacity of more than 86% of the sidewalks in the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) are overstated, often by significant margins.

This is a concern because sidewalks created to accomodate local residents and patrons of small scale retail businesses will now have to handle the surging crowds of an 18,000-seat arena. Narrower effective widths mean a higher risk of vehicle/pedestrian accidents on the streets surrounding the project exists than the FEIS identifies.  And the sidewalks will simply be less desirable to use.

 

Where the sidewalks come up short: almost everywhere

We surveyed the expected condition of the sidewalks at the time Barclays Center opens in September 2012, but in cases where enough information is available, our results also include some permanent sidewalk effective widths.  Among the sidewalks AYW found to have less capacity than disclosed in the FEIS are those near the Dean Street arena entrance (the biggest doorway into Barclays Center), those leading to transit, and those leading to arena patron parking.  Many sidewalks do not even meet NYC DOT's standard for a commercial sidewalk—an unobstructed clear path of eight (8) feet.  

For example, the width of the sidewalk adjacent to B2—the first residential building scheduled to be built—may now have a permanent effective width of 3.5 feet, hardly substantial enough for a busy sidewalk supporting a large arena entrance, a loading dock and a lay-by lane.  

But the sidewalk in front of B2 is far from the only cause of concern.  As first highlighted by Atlantic Yards Report, the sidewalk on Dean Street that will be used by arena patrons to walk from the arena parking lot to the arena has an effective width of 3.2 feet instead of the 11.5 feet disclosed in the FEIS.  Patrons can choose instead to walk from the lot to the arena along Pacific Street, but the sidewalks there are also narrower, with an effective width on the north side of 1.3 feet instead of the anticipated 6.5 feet.  Or they can walk on Atlantic Avenue, where the disclosed (and narrow) 3.5 foot effective width is really only 1.5 feet.

Below are AYW's results compared to those in the FEIS.  They do not include likely additional narrowings and closures due to construction. They show the effective width of the sidewalks at the time of  the arena opening in September with those incorrectly assessed and overstated highlighted in red. 

 

 

The map below identifies the sidewalks that were surveyed first by the FEIS and then again by AYW.  Lines in red highlight sidewalk segments that were incorrect and overstated in the FEIS.  All but one of those in red will have less capacity at the time of the arena opening than the State disclosed in the FEIS.   Black shows sidewalk segments that were understated at the closest comparable state in the FEIS to the arena opening.  Purple shows sidewalks with effective widths we could not identify with the information available.

 

 

Although the sidewalks of 6th Avenue between Dean and Pacific Streets are anticipated to have effective widths greater than disclosed in the FEIS,  there is a possibility that the east sidewalk of 6th Avenue from Pacific Street to Dean Street will still have the illegally parked City employee cars currently there, and that the activity associated with the adjacent "satellite uplink parking lot" may infringe on pedestrians in that sidewalk segment.  The street corners of the sidewalk on the eastern side of Fourth Avenue are tight for the capacity they are likely to have to accomodate.  In fact, the routes from transit and arena parking all have less capacity than disclosed.  Note also that many sidewalk segments certain to be traveled by arena patrons such as some on the arena block and those to the Bergen Street 2/3 and Lafayette Avenue C subway stations were not analyzed in the FEIS.  We took a look at those sidewalks, too, and while they are not on the map above, most are narrow sidewalks that do not meet NYC DOT's commercial sidewalk standard.  

 

Planning for circulation and crowd control is now a key concern

We are not advocating for the removal of the things that lessen sidewalk effective widths like attractive window displays or obstructions, many of which are tree pits and light posts that benefit both the community and arena patrons. However, operational plans must take into account the conditions that will actually exist at the time of its opening.  AYW's goal with this initiative is to highlight the need for a thorough and professional analysis of sidewalk conditions now to guide plans that ensure pedestrian routes are safe for arena patrons, while keeping the residential community and local retail vital.  What's required is genuine environmental analysis used to shape prudent plans rather than expedient work not calibrated to identify problems.  

 

Video, photo and illustrations:  D.P.

 

 

Photos:

A pinch point only a few feet from Barclays Center on Pacific Street between 6th Avenue and Carlton Avenue.  This sidewalk is one of a few leading from Barclays Center to its arena patron surface parking lot.

 

 

A simulated crowd scene at a pinch point on Dean Street between 6th Avenue and Carlton Avenue.  Like Pacific Street this sidewalk is one of a few leading from Barclays Center to its arena patron surface parking lot.

 

 

6th Avenue near Flatbush Avenue.

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sidewalks

I am 1000% percent on your side, but I wish you didn't label the tree bed an obstruction. Trees are a crucial part of our landscape, and the trees around the arena are at huge risk from crowds when the thing opens. I hope that the neighborhood, working with the Parks department, will find ways to protect the trees against the expected crowds.

 
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obstructions

We followed the guidelines for assessing obstructions set by ESDC's environmental monitor HDR.  The guidelines are here.  Street trees, street lights and attractive window displays (all of which reduce the "effective" width of sidewalks) are obviously indispensible.  There should be more trees, not less.  They should be protected, not eliminated.
 
The short-term goal is to get planners to acknowledge there is a problem with the capacity for pedestrians in the area so that crowd control is shaped intelligiently while leaving room for the existing community.  The core of the problem is that the arena was placed in the middle of a residential area and residential sidewalks are narrower than commercial ones.
 

 
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I understand

Thanks for clarifying.