Friday, May 25, 2012

Gridlock Sam goes rogue: "Don't even think of driving" to arena, but Barclays Center website offers driving directions (though parsimonious parking info), and Ticketmaster didn't get the message

Thanks to some uncurious and ahistorical reporting, mainly from the New York Times (and those who relied on it), Forest City Ratner's belatedly-released Transportation Demand Management plan for the Barclays Center was treated as a wise solution rather than an expected tactic with enduring question marks.

And paid consultant "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz was treated as an "expert" rather than an "expert" "consultant" delivering for a client.

Yes, we've known for years that they would emphasize public transit, and provide some increased subway (and train) service. And we've known since the beginning of this month that the number of spaces in the surface parking lot would be halved, a concession more to reality--surface capacity--than to public policy. (In other words, they aimed to build 1,100 spaces, but the oft-discussed use of stackers would have caused delays, as Schwartz's firm had warned.)

But the six-month delay in releasing a plan with little new--and even less than promised, given the loss of the free MetroCard--was obscured by some headlines that treated the smaller parking lot as a solution in itself.

And while promoting public transit as "the fastest, most convenient way to travel" on the arena website (above) is a clear message, it's not at all the same as saying, in Schwartz's sound-bite, " Don’t even think of driving to the Barclays arena."

Will it work?

So, besides marketing the heck out of the public transit option, and offering pre-paid parking, as planned, will cutting half the on-site spaces keep people away?

Well, it buttresses the public transit message, but that's hardly a foolproof solution, especially when partners like Ticketmaster--see screenshot at right (click to enlarge), supplied by a community member who filed comments with Empire State Development-- are stressing driving over transit..

There still should be a significant chunk--some 2500, they say--of spaces available for pre-paid parking, at $30 and up, except for the remote lots at half the market price.

But drivers may still seek free, on-street parking--and that's a big unknown, and a risk, given the lack of residential permit parking. After all, other residential communities with sports facilities, such as Wrigleyville in Chicago, have residential permit parking.

There are no penalties built in for failure to meet the goal to reduce driving. And, as pointed out by BrooklynSpeaks, it's clear that the 2009 revisions to the Atlantic Yards plan left the project sponsors unable to included the 1,100 spaces described in previous project documents--an argument for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement ordered by two courts.

And Schwartz knows that more could be done. As Tom Boast of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council commented on Patch:
"Interesting to note that staff at Sam Schwartz Engineering described TDM in a March 2009 professional paper: "TDM measures frequently include encouraging a modal shift away from the single occupancy vehicle by improving the convenience and availability of other modal options such as public or private transit, bicycling, walking, and carpooling. Other common TDM measures include congestion or parking pricing programs, or preferred parking for carpools and transit users." Concerned citizens should call on the State and the City (i.e., the Governor and the Mayor) to authorize and implement the other half of TDM plans excluded from the FCR plan presented by Schwartz: congestion and parking pricing programs (i.e., removing "free" parking on residential streets with a RPP program) and preferred parking for carpools."

In other words, Schwartz was working for a client that didn't--or couldn't--quite give him free reign.

Overpromoting Schwartz

The 5/23/12 New York Times, Traffic Plan for a Brooklyn Arena Cuts Parking Slots by Half, written by a reporter who's covered Atlantic Yards for a bare few months, turned the story into convenient drama:
The conundrum that Samuel I. Schwartz, the traffic engineering expert, faced was this: How could the already jam-packed streets in the heart of Brooklyn accommodate thousands of extra cars filled with fans traveling to a basketball arena and desperately searching for parking?

His answer, revealed on Tuesday to a panel of Brooklyn officials with all the flourish and detail of a general planning to storm the beaches of Normandy, was to discourage driving entirely, by cutting the number of parking spaces at the Barclays Center in half.

“We will scare drivers away from the arena,” Mr. Schwartz said in an interview. “My message to New Yorkers is, Don’t even think of driving to the Barclays arena.”
(Emphases added)

Well, Schwartz was either exaggerating for soundbite purposes or going rogue, because the Barclays Center has a page with Driving Directions, with no reminder to use public transit.

In other words, Gridlock Sam may discourage driving, but arena operators know that some people will arrive by vehicle, as Schwartz himself acknowledged.

Presumably some will be dropped off by taxis or other drivers, while others will seek parking.


The parking peekaboo

The Barclays Center web site, as of now, does significantly discourage parking, but it doesn't go nearly as far as Schwartz does. As noted at left, it declares that "Parking at Barclays Center is very limited. We strongly recommend using public transportation."

Suiteholders, at least, will get access to parking, as noted below right, but that's only about 150 spaces.

But will the Barclays Center pass on Schwartz's "don't even think of driving" message?

Not really, and that's an enduring tension.

Navigating the unresolved tension & getting brushed off  

After the morning meeting May 22 of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, Schwartz took questions from reporters.

I tried to ask about the tension between promoting transit yet providing a parking option. "You talk about, on the web site... trying to obscure information about parking," I noted, "but at the same give people the opportunity to pre-reserve, so it's kind of doing one thing and the other. How does that that work?

"You're showcasing public transportation," Schwartz responded, not quite answering the question. "Then if somebody is insisting on driving--and remember, this is based on focus groups that we had, and the surveys that we had... we had people who didn't know, from Queens and LI... that the Long Island Rail road went right across the street... so those are the effective strategies. We're banking on effective strategies."

However, it's clear that the parking option has to emerge, so I tried to follow up: "At some point they have to find--"

"It's not a debate," interrupted Forest City Ratner p.r. man Joe DePlasco, and Schwartz moved on to another questioner.

OK, not a debate, but it's an unresolved question, one to keep watch on as the web site evolves.

Where's the event-goer input?

And, as the community member pointed out:
The Barclays Center, Brooklyn Nets, and Forest City Ratner web sites make no mention of and have no links to the ESDC request for comment on the transit plan, nor have the Brooklyn Nets or Barclays Center twitter accounts made mention of it at all. The implication is clear: the owners and managers of the venues are not promoting the feedback or awareness of the transit options to the population that will most directly be affected, namely the customers. It behooves them to reverse course and actively promote the plan to the public with sufficient time to comment.
What Schwartz said on the evening of May 22



"The mission is clear: It is to reduce the number of cars coming to the arena," Schwartz said at the evening forum May 22. "That's our mantra. And we will be discouraging the number of cars. I was asked today by a reporter, 'What is the message?' My message is: 'Don't even think about driving to the arena.'"

As noted above, that's not really the Barclays Center's message.

"Because we're not providing any additional parking--half the spaces have been cut back. We're going to encourage sustainable--we're going to maximize transit," Schwartz continued. "We're encouraging transportation such as walking and bike riding, as well, to the arena. The goal is to minimize the effect of those who do drive. on the community. So there will those be that drive, no matter what, we recognize that, so what we're trying to do is reduce the impact of those people who drive on the community, and we'll show you the measures."

There are measures, and the question remains: are they enough?

What Schwartz said about promotion

"Every single piece of advertising will contain that [transit] information," Schwartz continued. "You've probably seen some of this already... But what you will not see is how to drive to the arena. What you will not see is where to park. Were not incentivizing, we're disincentivizing people from driving. We're using positive reinforcement for people to use public transportation."



"When you get a ticket., and turn over that ticket, it will show you, 11 trains, 1 destination...," he said. "Every single ticket will have transit, and none of the tickets will have driving, to the arena."

"The web site--the web site focuses on mass transit, and discourages driving," Schwartz continued. "You will get information on all of the services, the subway, the bus, the LIRR," he said. "Now what's so terrific about this location is, when you look at the extent of those 11 subway lines, more than half the people coming by transit will have a one-seat ride."

An empty train, he noted, can handle 1000 people each.

So all of that bodes well for encouraging use of public transit.

The parking strategy

But there will, in fact, be parking. "Our parking strategy goals are to discourage driving, and we will be repeating that throughout,"Schwartz said. "We are cutting on-site parking in half."



"We are keeping parking absent from the marketing materials, and we are lowering expectations to drivers to find parking," he continued, limiting the definition of "marketing materials."

"Now, short of flogging people, we still expect some people to drive," Schwartz said. "So nonetheless, the disincentives vs. the incentives of transit... which is going to be convenient, the cost of parking, which is going to be much higher than the cost of subway, we still know that some people will drive."

"And so our job, for those people, is to intercept drives before they approach the arena," he said. The first solution is remote parking off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, which will connect to the arena via shuttle buses.

"We're going to try to get as many of the drivers to commit... to a parking facility that is convenient for them," he said. "So, to the extent possible if we can do that.... we'll have a reservation system for parking. And we'll have as much pre-sale of spaces and we'll provide the driving directions, which will be away from residential streets, and the walking directions, as well. So to the extent that we can keep people on the major arterials, we will do so."

The question remains: how many people will be seeking free, on-street parking?

Parking management

"We've engaged with a firm... Click and Park, an online parking management system," he continued. "The software will be seamless with the Barclays Center software. So when you've gone through all the discouragements of driving, and you elect to drive, you will then go to the Click and Park site... we will try to entice you with low-cost parking at the remote parking facility. That low-cost parking will be pegged at at least 50% off the market rate at the arena."

"If not, we will connect with some of the off-site parking facilities--again, a reservation system so you can directly to that parking facility without doing circulation. One of the worst problems that could come up is circulation. If we can get people directly into parking facilities where they've already reserved, we will reduce circulation."

"And also we will have HOV [high occupancy vehicles] spaces... to have three or more people in their cars," he said. "That way you can also reduce the number of cars to the arena." Unmentioned: the number of HOV spaces on-site has been cut.

"The on-site parking has been cut in half. It was 1100 parking spaces," he added. "It's now 565, but in effect, it's really 541, because 24 of the spaces will be dedicated for the NYPD. So, 541 vs. 1,100 that appeared in the Environmental Impact Statement."

"Again, for those people who still decide to try to drive to the arena, we're going to spread them out... in some 20 locations that are within a half mile or less, walking distance, to the arena. Click and Park is in the process of meeting with these parking operators, to get them to sign up to the parking reservation system.... Money doesn't change hands. Everything is done electronically."

The first few months, at least, will be an experiment. If the BrooklynSpeaks objections are not addressed, in part or in full, the experiment is far less likely to work.

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