Can Brooklyn Build a Pedestrian-Friendly Arena at the Atlantic Yards Site?

Ready or not, come September 28, 2012, Brooklyn will once again be home to a major professional sports venue. The Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards is scheduled to open by next fall, while progress on the rest of Forest City Ratner’s mega-development is lagging far behind. In the words of local City Council Member Letitia James, “All we’re getting is an arena and a large parking lot.”

Forest City Ratner, the Empire State Development Corporation and the City of New York can do better than paving acres of surface parking next to the new Brooklyn arena for an indefinite time to come. Photosimulation: ##http://www.phndc.org/content/phndc-hosts-forum-atlantic-yards-traffic-concerns##Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council/Jonathan Barkey##

James’s conclusion is perhaps a bit premature, as Norman Oder has noted at the Atlantic Yards Report, but the basic premise is right: The arena is moving ahead while the rest of the project languishes, and for a while the arena may stand all alone. The primary transportation planning challenge facing the area is how best to move the tens of thousands of people who will want to watch a basketball game or concert to and from the site in a way that is safe, sustainable and appropriate to an urban environment.

The fundamentals for a smart solution are there: The Atlantic/Pacific hub makes the area better-served by transit than almost anywhere else in the United States. Right now, though, the picture is more mixed. The state recently released its transportation plan for the arena, a plan largely in line with past promises from both the Empire State Development Corporation and the developer Forest City Ratner, which is intended to mitigate the increased traffic that the crowds heading to an arena event will bring to the surrounding neighborhoods. Many of the features, like free subway fares for certain Nets ticket holders and 400 secure bike parking spaces, will help make the Barclays Center more transit-oriented and bike and pedestrian-friendly.

But the developer is planning to build an 1,100-space surface parking lot, killing street life and inducing driving. And with some of the borough’s deadliest streets left in place as enormous traffic arteries, walking and cycling will remain overly dangerous, potentially keeping features like a temporary plaza from being much more than a hard-to-reach traffic island.

Between developer Forest City Ratner, the Empire State Development Corporation and the city government, the capacity exists to make the Barclays Center a standard-setting example for urban arenas around the country, if only they have the will. At a public meeting tonight sponsored by several electeds and neighborhood groups, leading local architects and planners will lead a workshop to envision alternatives to the surface parking lots currently planned for the site.

What are the options? Streetsblog is going to explore how the transportation mix serving the new arena can emphasize transit, biking, and walking, creating the conditions for a quality pedestrian environment. First, we’re taking a look at what some other urban stadiums are doing to promote sustainable transportation, and then in a later post we’ll see what top planners think needs to happen to make this arena work for Brooklyn.

***

Getting sports fans to come to games without driving is an uphill task. Madison Square Garden is perhaps the ultimate urban stadium. It sits on top of Penn Station, the busiest transit station in the United States, and according to the New York Times, does not have its own dedicated parking lot. Even so, only 52 percent of people headed to Knicks or Rangers games in 2003 arrived by transit or on foot. Everyone else drove.

There are a number of reasons so many people drive to even the most urban stadiums. Ticket holders tend to have larger disposable incomes, for example. And the transportation decisions of someone who might only come into the city a few evenings a year are always going to look different from those of a daily rush-hour commuter.

As a result, stadiums have long tried to accommodate drivers. Most famously, the Dodgers left Brooklyn a half-century ago in part because Walter O’Malley decided that having only 700 parking spaces at Ebbets Field made it too hard to attract fans — or the right fans. The historical irony now, of course, is that O’Malley wanted to build his new stadium and new parking next to the Atlantic Yards site; stymied then by Robert Moses, both the stadium and the parking are being built now.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make stadiums that fit snugly into an urban context. “The Verizon Center is a very good example,” said Cheryl Cort of Washington D.C.’s Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Ovechkin jerseys are everywhere after Capitols fans crowd the Metro platform after a game at the Verizon Center. Most fans ride transit to the games. Photo: Clydeorama ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/clydeorama/3982313462/##via Flickr.##

The Verizon Center, home to the Washington Wizards and Capitals, was built in a somewhat run-down section of downtown Washington and has played a part in revitalizing the neighborhood. “It’s a venue with a broad variety of activity, so it really is feeding the businesses a sustainable diet,” said Cort.

Sitting on top of a major transfer station, “the vast majority of people arrive by Metro,” said Cort. The Verizon Center itself estimates that around 60 percent of visitors get there on transit.

Just as important as making it easy to get to a game or concert on transit is not making it too easy to drive there. Cort said that the Verizon Center built a small amount of off-street parking along with the stadium, but hardly enough to serve the bulk of the fans. What’s more, “the city came in and has done quite a bit of very aggressive management of on-street parking,” she said. “You’re not going to find a free parking space near the Verizon Center.” Rather than cut out at 6:30, the parking meters in the area stay in effect until 10 p.m. and charge a premium rate.

Cort also praised the transportation plans at the new Nationals Park, located just blocks from the US DOT headquarters. “It’s worked well,” she said. There’s special routing for both trains and buses on game days and bike valet parking at the stadium, for example. There was also a heavy public education campaign to make people aware that parking in the area was limited. The message, said Cort, was, “If you don’t know you have a parking space, don’t come and look for one.”

Nationals Park is also at the center of two of D.C.’s big new transportation initiatives. Nationals Park was one of two pilot locations for D.C.’s performance parking program, which instituted variable, demand-based pricing for on-street spaces. Eventually, plans call for Nationals Park to be served by D.C.’s new streetcar system, making it that much more transit-accessible.

In Boston, America’s greatest ballpark has taken great strides away from being overly car-oriented. In 1996, 68 percent of the visitors to Fenway Park drove, according to David Nelson, a transit planner who presented his research on transit access to Fenway Park to the American Public Transportation Association last year. Fenway was doing better than most other American parks, but given its location in a relatively dense urban neighborhood, not better enough. Since then, however, steady progress has been made toward improving non-automobile access to the park.

“Transit ridership is up due to several factors,” said Nelson. Most importantly, attendance is significantly up compared to the 1990s, while the parking supply has been static or declining. The Red Sox have sold out every game since May 2003, but those extra visitors haven’t had any extra room for their cars. In fact, a wave of new development in the area, spurred in part by the Red Sox finally deciding against building a new stadium, has replaced former parking lots.

At the same time, significant improvements in transit accessibility have benefited Fenway. According to Nelson, the nearest T station has been renovated to improve its capacity, the cars on the Green Line are larger, and more commuter rail trains run to the adjacent Yawkey station every day.

Wally the Green Monster celebrates the opening of a new subway station near Fenway park, one of many factors that have boosted transit ridership at Fenway Park. Photo: MassDOT ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/massdot/4545237165/##via Flickr.##

Other changes are coming down the pipeline, too. A new Yawkey station will more than double the number of commuter rail trains that can use the station each day. And the neighboring town of Brookline — the border is only a few blocks from Fenway — just made a big move on parking policy. On game nights, parking meters in the areas nearest the park will charge a normal rate for the first two hours of parking but jump up to a full $10 per hour after that. The idea is that those parking to go to dinner would pay the normal rate, but those trying to go to the game pay roughly the same as the market price at nearby lots.

Fenway could still do better, of course. Jackie Douglas, the director of Boston’s LivableStreets Alliance, suggested that high-quality bike parking, perhaps along the model of the bike cages the MBTA is installing at transit stations, would help people ride to the game. She also hoped to see the Red Sox use their massive popularity to actively promote riding transit, walking, or biking to the game.

In Nelson’s presentation, he suggested that bundling transit passes with game tickets, giving priority street access to buses in the area, and providing shuttles from non-adjacent transit lines could also help boost transit ridership higher on game nights.

Still, the progress at Fenway has been very real. Said Douglas, “The T is definitely packed.”

Tonight’s public forum on the Atlantic Yards project gets underway at 7 p.m. at Atlantic Common, 388 Atlantic Avenue, between Hoyt and Bond. Stay tuned for more ideas on how the site can be as transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly as possible.

  • Danny G

    Hopefully the zoning laws that mandate parking minimums will be repealed between now and the day when that parking lot becomes hi-rise luxury condominiums.

  • BK Bro

    I live, literally, in the shadow of the Barclay center, not more than 200 yards from the site. I don’t park on the street (or drive) and I believe that there *should* be extra parking built to service this site. The fact is there a significant amount of traffic that will not or cannot use transit and I’d rather they have somewhere to park rather than endlessly circling my Fort Greene neighborhood. My block is already a convenient cut-through from Atlantic and Flatbush to Fulton and Lafayette, I’d rather it not be any worse.

    As it is, I’ll have a steady stream of people walking down Portland Ave from the C & G trains that will carry thousands of fans to/from the stadium. I’m sure they’ll be good for business on my corner. There may be new/more bars in the area to go to, etc.

    But we cannot pretend that demand for parking is always equal to the supply of parking. As it is now, we have parked-up neighborhoods and people still are circling endlessly to park. When we encourage a development to not build any parking, you’re simply foisting that parking demand (which might be smaller, but nonetheless still existant) onto neighbors like me that, one way or another, have already paid for/subsidized that parking. It’s not fair to the people that already built parking (perhaps in another time when ideas about parking were different) to have to support the additional demand while the new developments avoid that cost.

  • BK Bro

    Additionally, I’d be very impressed if anyone could “kill street life” along Atlantic avenue, considering that the current street life is stone-cold zero.

  • BK Bro

    Additionally, I’d be very impressed if anyone could “kill street life” along Atlantic avenue, considering that the current street life is stone-cold zero.

  • Shemp

    The Brooklyn site should be much more transit-oriented than MSG.   Despite Penn Station, MSG has pretty good highway access with the West Side and Lincoln Tunnel, as well as the resulting cottage industry of Garden Parking west of 8th Ave.   The Ratner site probably has about the worst highway access in NYC.   

  • Shemp

    Unfortunately the ESDC jurisdiction exempts the Ratner site from city zoning, so even if parking/zoning policy gets better, it won’t affect this project.  

  • Snuffelufagus

    BK, you’re right that parking demand is going to outstrip supply and lead to some block-circling, but that’ll be true whether or not they add another 1,000 on-street spaces.  We’re talking about a stadium with a capacity of 18,000.  Add 1,000 parking spaces and you’ll get 1,000 more cars, some of which will still wind up circling the block looking for spaces.

  • Snuffelufagus

    BK, you’re right that parking demand is going to outstrip supply and lead to some block-circling, but that’ll be true whether or not they add another 1,000 on-street spaces.  We’re talking about a stadium with a capacity of 18,000.  Add 1,000 parking spaces and you’ll get 1,000 more cars, some of which will still wind up circling the block looking for spaces.

  • car free nation

    I disagree, and I live in the shadow of the arena as well. The problem with 1,100 spots is that drivers might want to play the lottery to get a spot, and most nights more than 1,100 cars will arrive. If it’s known that there are no spots, then fewer people will try.

    Also, are they going to charge for the spots? If they are, you’re still going to have people circling our neighborhood looking for free parking. As much as I’d support some kind of fee for parking on the residential streets in my neighborhood, it’s really unlikely that we’ll see that soon.

  • car free nation

    I disagree, and I live in the shadow of the arena as well. The problem with 1,100 spots is that drivers might want to play the lottery to get a spot, and most nights more than 1,100 cars will arrive. If it’s known that there are no spots, then fewer people will try.

    Also, are they going to charge for the spots? If they are, you’re still going to have people circling our neighborhood looking for free parking. As much as I’d support some kind of fee for parking on the residential streets in my neighborhood, it’s really unlikely that we’ll see that soon.

  • Anonymous

    While the Barclay site has no highway access, it is relatively accessable from the rest of Brooklyn and Queens via Atlantic, Flatbush, and 4th Aves.  If anything, this will mean more people trying to drive from these closer-in areas, maybe just replacing those from the suburbs who might be “forced” to take transit because of the location.

  • Transpo Guy

    I want a light rail line running down the middle of Atlantic Avenue from Pier 6 to the arena. Rather than arriving in a fleet of black cars, the Wall Street bozos with the court side seats, can hop on a ferry from Lower Manhattan and take the light rail to the game. Maybe they can even jump off at Smith Street along the way and hit a bar or restaurant. I envision the ferry and light rail being a kind of status symbol form of transport.

  • Brownstoned

    BK Bro,

    You have correctly identified a problem and completely, totally mis-identified the solution.

    You want to prevent people from trolling for parking in the neighborhoods around the arena? Then advocate for RESIDENTIAL PARKING PERMITS for the neighborhoods around the arena.

    You want to encourage lots of people to drive to games, clog up streets and create massive amounts of traffic congestion in and around your neighborhood? Then keep talking about building more parking to satisfy “additional demand.”

    Please get yourself and your neighbors educated on this asap.

  • Steve Nuozzo

    I wonder what this will mean for the goal of a car-free Prospect Park?  The pols will want to do anything to alleviate the congestion caused by this behemoth. 

  • carma

    thats an awesome idea.. now only if we can get rattner to flip the bill on that instead of burdening the citizens of ny for tax money.

    after all.  he built the stadium..

  • carma

    brownstoned.  what you need is a balance.  you cant expect no cars to travel to the stadium..  and if you dont build any parking.  you got a serious problem on the side streets.  w/ that said.  you also cant have an overabundance of parking.

    its all about balance.

  • You’re asking the wrong question. Of course Brooklyn can build a pedestrian-friendly arena; the question is, given the current political structure, whether it will.

  • Rob Durchola

    It is extremely difficult and very expensive for a transit property to add service at odd times on an irregular basis to handle crowds coming out of a large event all at once.  This is worse for a baseball game where the ending is very indefinite than for a hockey or basketball game that has a somewhat predictable ending time (unless there is overtime).  But bringing on extra crews for extra trains (subway or suburban railroad) is just plain costly.  In the case of suburban railroads where weekend service may only be hourly to begin with, you definitely need the extra trains to handle a large crowd.

  • Pete

    One of the big issues is going to be LIRR service – as it stands now, the LIRR to Atlantic Terminal stops running after 11pm.  If you live on Long Island and want to see a Nets game, you’re going to be forced to drive.

  • “like free subway fares for certain Nets ticket holders…”
    Did I read that right? Not only is the MTA barely hanging on by a thread, now it’s supposed to give free rides to millionaires instead of gaining some extra dollars from a potential rise in customers? Was the sweetheart deal for the site not enough? 

    The Yankees must be kicking themselves for not being the first to think up this citizen-raping idea.

  • Not gonna happen – I’m sure Ratner is bound by “the community” to deliver on whatever parking promises he made, and whatever variance or zoning approval that he got is probably only good for what was planned. Furthermore, it takes years to repeal parking minimums – very likely much longer than this development will take.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “There are a number of reasons so many people drive to even the most urban stadiums. Ticket holders tend to have larger disposable incomes, for example. And the transportation decisions of someone who might only come into the city a few evenings a year are always going to look different from those of a daily rush-hour commuter.”

    There is another factor, and its generational.  Younger generations are more transit- and pedestrian oriented than those who came of age when the public environment, including the transit system, was at its most transit and garbage-filled.

    So marketing will play a role in who comes, which will play a role in how they get there.  Demonizing AY among the young and transit-oriented is not helpful in that regard.

    Free subway fares for certain Net ticketholders is something I suggested back in the day.  Basically, off peak riders are less expensive to the MTA than peak hour riders.  To promote off peak ridership to the arena, the MTA could allow the Barclay’s center to add a round trip subway fare to its tickets for a discount on the pay per ride fare.

    Complete streets or not, every city needs major arterials, Brooklyn has almost none, and Atlantic and Flatbush, I’m afraid, are it.  Many major streets come into Grand Army Plaza from the South and West, but only Flatbush exits to the Northeast.  Atlantic/Third Avenue is the major truck alternative to the BQE/LIE.

    So my question is, what about that pedestrian underpass from the Atlantic/Flatbush transit complex?  Is it large enough to take half or more of the people ariving?   Is it outside fare control so those getting off the LIRR, and C and G, can use it also?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Ah, I meant to say when transit and sidewalks were crime and garbage filled.  Many of those who were here back in those days drive almost everywhere, except perhaps the subway to work in Manhattan at rush hours.  There was a notable generational shift in the data among the non-poor last time riders were surveyed.

  • car free nation

    How about you have to pay for parking when you purchase your ticket, before you drive to the game? (Ticket with parking $150) (Ticket without $100). And once parking is sold out for a particular game, no more spots can be sold.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right: I really don’t get the rationale of cars in the parks other than as a political issue.  I don’t think that many people really need to get from GAP to Ft. Hamilton, or from Ocean Avenue to GAP, and it’s just not the fastest way to do it, stadium or no stadium.  I’m fairly certain the number of cars going though the park has no measurable impact on street traffic, but is enough to be dangerous and unpleasant for people in the park.  I know from my bike computer most of the cars honking me on the downhill are waaay over 30mph in there.  Also, what’s the harm in trying it since no one is suggesting tearing out the road? The risk is that it will be fine, everyone will like it, and then putting cars back in the park will be difficult.

  • Anonymous

    You cannot compare Fenway Park to Barklays Arena – Fenway has almost 100% larger capacity than the arena will. 
    I am opposed to building parking but if you have to – it should be priced based on capacity….the more people in your car, the less you pay.  A single driver should pay an exorbitant fee while a family of four a much more modest one.  The lot should also offer very cheap or even free parking for buses coming in from the suburbs.

  • Anonymous

    It really seems like the residential parking permit thing is the only solution that can work.  Personally I’d love to see that here in Park Slope where the medical and school commuters account for a significant percentage of the cars on the street, and I’m sure a lot of the game traffic will land here as well. 

    I used to live in Berkeley where they have residential permits, and while it wasn’t a panacea, it made the system workable where it otherwise would not have been with a giant university, stadium, etc. in the middle of a small, residential city.  (The joke was the easiest way to get a parking place was to win a Nobel Prize because the school has reserved spots for the laureates.)

  • mohawk

    This is a great question, but the headline is misleading.  Brooklyn did not build this arena –  it was rammed down our throats by an unimaginative developer with great political connections.  The community tried hard to add productive input to questions like this during the entire proposal/design process but we were treated as an annoyance rather than as partners.  So now we get a huge parking lot and circling cars, as predicted.

  • D Oratowski

    The demand management program will offer free subway tickets, but it won’t offer LIRR tickets.   But, will a free ticket be enough to induce people to get out of the comfort of their cars?  Public transit is known to have a low elasticity – demand is not as responsive to price reductions as auto use.

    The 1100 car parking lot will be reserved for HOV (3+) occupants and premium ticket holders, who will know in advance that they have a spot in the lot.  What should also be added to the mix is the 450 car parking lot at Atlantic Center, which is owned by Forest City Ratner and is being marketed as part of the arena to ticket buyers.

    Without zoning changes, there is the potential for the growth of a parking industry in the M1-1 zone to the east of the project in Prospect/Crown Heights, where parking lots can be built as of right.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I predict transit use will by higher than many here expect, particularly for basketball, if the arena is marketed properly.

    In addition to those residing in Brooklyn, Queens and Lower Manhattan, one possible market is those who work in Manhattan and live on Long Island, taking the train between the two locations. 

    They would already be holding monthlys, so the cost of taking the LIRR to the game for them would be zero.  And they could be marketed to directly, via a brochure sent with their monthly ticket if the Nets purchase that right from the MTA.

  • Stu

    For a great example of integrating an arena and its parking into a great urban district without damaging the pedestrian experience, check out Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio and the corresponding Arena District. The parking garages are entirely shielded with human-scaled mixed-use buildings. Similarly, it was a large, multi-block redevelopment site oriented around the arena. The district could stand alone as a destination without the arena itself.

    Luckily, it just missed the real estate crash, although the final phases of development have been delayed somewhat. The fact is, with one developer these large-scale redevelopment projects have a long build-out horizon. Hopefully the ESDC is open to bringing in additional developers to diversify the character and speed up the build-out.

  • Frankf

    unfortunately none of NY City’s zoning rules and parking rules apply. When the state’s ESDC took this over they swept away any of NY City’s zoning requirements.They weren’t required to go through NY City zoning process. The state waived its magic wond and zap Ratner got whatever he wanted with no public review-just a sham hearing before the ESDC.

  • If the fare is free, the MTA doesn’t get anything out of this off-peak ridership. The reason off-peak ridership is so important is that the riders still pay a fare, even though the marginal cost of providing the service is low. Making off-peak ridership free beats the entire purpose.

  • Shemp

    Actually, the traffic plan chops off 4th Avenue at its northern end, to simplify the big intersection at Atlantic and Flatbush.  It’s one of the bright spots of the plan.

  • Eric McClure

    Walter, the idea is for the Nets to pay for the ride (certainly discounted), but given Ratner’s track record, you can count on him trying to pin the tab on the taxpayers.

  • Steve

    Nationals Park here in Washington is surrounded by surface parking.  There is probably more than will exist at Atlantic Yards.  Eventually, as the Ballpark/Waterfront develops some of this parking will become office buildings or residential apartment buildings, but right now, if you choose to drive to a ball game there is plenty of parking available.  Yes, you will pay, but it is there.  I suspect the parking garages in nearby office buildings have game-day parking, too but do not know this for sure.  Subway service is convenient with a station entrance about 1.5 blocks from the Stadium entrance.  It is a single line service but as in NYC, WMATA runs extra trains after well-attended games.

  • Racosta23

    eapeople who use the mta should get a food voucher (4.50) at the door when they present their ticket and receipt for mta  

  • Racosta23

    eapeople who use the mta should get a food voucher (4.50) at the door when they present their ticket and receipt for mta  

  • Racosta23

    eapeople who use the mta should get a food voucher (4.50) at the door when they present their ticket and receipt for mta  

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