Team Ratner Unveils Brooklyn’s Most Exhaust-Filled Public Space

Image: SHoP Architects
The incredibly traffic-free bird's-eye rendering of the Barclays Center plaza. Image: SHoP Architects

Yesterday Forest City Ratner released images of the temporary public plaza slated for the triangle between Flatbush and Atlantic, and you’ve gotta appreciate the spin coming from the developer and his design team. Wedged between two epic traffic sewers, without much noticeable provision for shade or shelter, it will become, in the words of Bruce Ratner, “one of Brooklyn’s great public spaces.” (Until an office tower gets built in its place.)

Not convinced that the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic is conducive to any sort of public activity? Here’s Greg Pasquarelli of design firm SHoP, courtesy of the Brooklyn Paper:

Pasquarelli insisted that “the plaza [will] become a meeting place, and the focus of the neighborhood.”

When asked, Pasquarelli admitted that there would be considerable noise from the traffic on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, but no more than in other urban plazas.

“There’s a lot of traffic around Union Square, with Broadway,” he said. “This plaza will feel safe and open.”

As of this month, there’s only one lane of moving traffic on two sides of Union Square. Ratner’s plaza will be enveloped by traffic, and unless you approach from Prospect Heights, you won’t be able to walk to it without crossing some of the deadliest streets in the city:

Map of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities: ##

Here’s what that looks like on a typical day, captured in time lapse video from Tracy Collins:

All that traffic is only going to get worse. As Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn noted in his response to Ratner’s announcement, Brooklyn could be stuck with the “interim” plans for the Atlantic Yards site for a very long time. Which means, for the foreseeable future, huge surface parking lots on the east side of the arena generating lots and lots of car trips. Those parking lots don’t appear in Forest City Ratner’s renderings. But this does:

Image: SHoP architects
The bustling crowd, including kids on bikes and dog walkers, who will brave Brooklyn's most dangerous streets to get to Ratner's plaza. Image: SHoP architects
  • Larry Littlefield

    “As of this month, there’s only lane of moving traffic on two sides of Union Square. Ratner’s plaza will be enveloped by traffic, and unless you approach from Prospect Heights, you won’t be able to walk to it without crossing some of the deadliest streets in the city.”

    What’s that structure in the middle of the plaza? Will those arriving by subway and LIRR have to cross Atlantic or Flatbush at grade, or will they be able to step up into plaza from an underground passageway?

    Big difference, particularly as those arriving for a PM game weekday game meet the end of rush hour traffic.

    As for the massive increase in vehicular traffic caused by the arena, I don’t believe it will be as great as opponents claim, except on local streets if there isn’t a resident-only parking deal and closed streets.

    As reported, these streets are already traffic sewers, and I expect transit use to the arena to be high, limiting the percentage increase. I expect that many suburbanites will be unwilling to drive to Brooklyn, and the Nets chief suburban market will come via the LIRR. If the Nets are counting on parking, they might end up with the same situation as the Yankees, East River Plaza and Gateway Center — higher transit use than expected, not enough cars to fill the lots.

    The only possible vehicular traffic issue will be before weekday PM games. As for those arriving by transit, if they have to cross one of the subway sewers it will be bad, but if they don’t it could be good.

    Any report of bike parking for me?

  • J. Mork

    Larry, from the Curbed article:

    The roof of the transit entrance, along with two-semi rings of planters that wrap around the entrance, will be planted with Sedum, a large genus of flowering plants that are known as stonecrops. The plants, which are indigenous to the northern hemisphere, will create a living, wave like ambiance and provide seasonal colors. The planters closest to the transit entrance will also include curved, Ipe seat benches.

    This is actually the best thing about the arena development — people will no longer have to cross Flatbush or Atlantic to get into the subway/LIRR from Prospect Heights. (I’m not sure how much of it will be under fare control, but I have an unlimited MetroCard anyway.)

    As ever, the key to improving traffic in this intersection is to toll (or congestion price) the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, which will move some traffic to the Battery Tunnel.

  • J. Mork

    (BTW, Ipe is apparently a kind of tree )

  • MRN

    These features look suspiciously similar to the ones ANA used for their (now dead) Journal Square project

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I’m not sure how much of it will be under fare control, but I have an unlimited MetroCard anyway.)

    That’s an important distinction for those arriving by bus, or pedestrians wanting to just walk across that intersection to go shopping.

    If it isn’t outside fare control, those using the LIRR would have to pay a subway fare to avoid crossing at grade.

    People who are opposed to the arena need to answer three questions:

    1) Isn’t the existing condition most of the problem?

    2) If 18,000 people want to gather for some purpose in Brooklyn, what is the better location?

    3) Is the answer to number 2 “nowhere — cities aren’t places where lots of people should gather together because there is too much density and traffic already?”

    Having an arena at that site is to me the least objectionable part of the whole thing.

  • Pasquarelli: “the plaza [will] become a meeting place, and the focus of the neighborhood.”

    LOL. 1. his own rendering suggests you can barely GET THERE from “the neighborhood,” or to “the neignborhood” from it. Yeah, I’m gonna cross 7 lanes of traffic just so I can then walk 200 more feet, to sit in an expanse of nothing but concrete–because of all the great stuff that’s always going on there! 2. There’s not much “neighborhood” around there to begin with for this to be a focus of. 3. Even if there was a lot of neighborhood life around it, I don’t see anything in it that would attract people from the neighborhood.

    Sure, number 2 isn’t Pasquarelli’s firm’s fault, but it’s what makes Ben’s assessment accurate: it’s spin.

  • Ray

    From the 11/27/06 FEIS. I have included a link to the proposed improvement below the text.
    Looks like all connections are inside fare control. The big take way here is that all LIRR customers would still have to cross Atlantic:

    “The new subway connections would be designed to facilitate circulation through the subway
    station (see Figures 1-15a through 1-15c). The specific subway connection improvements would
    include the following:
    1. A plaza and the proposed Urban Room would be built at the southeast corner of the
    intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. The Urban Room would serve as the
    main subway entrance from the arena and would include escalators, stairways and
    passageways leading to the subway; an elevator would also be included to comply with
    ADA guidelines.
    2. A new ramp from the new control area beneath the Urban Room would connect to an
    existing but unused passage under the IRT subway to provide access to the IRT subway
    trains (2, 3, 4, and 5) located along Flatbush Avenue.
    3. Access to the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) subway trains (B and Q) from the new
    control area would be via a rehabilitated and unused escalator shaft at the south of the
    original BMT station that then connects to the existing platform via a new stairway.
    Additionally, the proposed project would also include the renovation and re-opening of an
    existing, but currently closed, emergency transit egress stairs located on the sidewalk in front of
    Site 5.”

    To Larry’s question re: Bike Parking –

    As I was searching for this I came across this tidbit in the Mitgation section.

    Any ticket-holding fan arriving at a Nets game at the arena on a bicycle would be provided with
    free indoor bicycle storage at a facility controlled by the project sponsors. As discussed in
    Chapter 12, the proposed Atlantic Yards bicycle station would be a secured, manned facility
    providing storage for 400 bicycles. It is anticipated that this facility would be located on the
    arena block in ground-floor space along the 6th Avenue corridor. At this location it would be
    conveniently situated next to the arena and easily accessible from the bicycle lanes on Dean and
    Bergen Streets. As currently contemplated, in addition to dedicated bicycle storage space, the
    facility would include amenities such as lockers, restrooms and a security desk. As with other
    demand management programs, this incentive would be advertised to Nets fans purchasing
    tickets on-line.

  • Larry Littlefield

    OK, so I’ll show up by bike, but it’s bad news about fare control.

    I had also argued that the Dey Street passageway in Lower Manhattan should be outside fare control, so people arriving via Path or Ferry or just walking to a meeting across Downtown could use it.

    As for this “grand public space,” that’s just real estate PR. The goal of that space will be to look good to those driving by, and to be a decent place to walk a few steps from the subway to the arena. I wouldn’t expect more if it does that job.

    Hopefully a hotel or office building will go up in its place within a decade.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One more point of fare control. Imagine someone coming in from Long Island for an evening in Brooklyn, with a restaurant meal on Fifth Avenue and an event at Barclay Center.

    To walk to Fifth Avenue, after that passageway is inside fare control, they would have to cross Atlantic AND Flatbush at grade.

    Then they would have to cross Flatbush at grade to get back to the arena, and Atlantic at grade to get back to the LIRR.

    My suggestion that every ticket to the arena also be a two-ride Metrocard, which the event promoter would purchase from NYCT, looks better all the time.

  • ryan

    they should take design cues for the plaza from the lovely space in front of the LIRR terminal

  • J. Mork

    Thanks for the info, Ray. That’s disappointing.

    I agree with what you say, Larry. It’s a city; it’s supposed to be dense and crowded.

  • ryan

    pretty cool re: the bike parking

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Can’t wait to have a picnic in the public area! 🙂

  • Streetsman

    There’s a pretty darn large plaza directly across the street and, even being adjacent to a huge transit hub and 24/7 retail, it is little used. It is hard to believe that this iceberg in a sea of traffic will fair better with less shade, less buffer from traffic, and fewer adjacent uses.

    I bet at some point in the process, a designer said in a presentation “if you build it, they will come” – pretty much the opposite of what happens to most public spaces this poorly conceived.

  • ryan

    i say they should erect a large statue of Michael Ray Richardson

  • Car Free Nation

    I guess they’re afraid of putting street trees in, because they’ll have to rip them out when they do construction of the tower, but I thought one facet of planNYC was new requirements for street trees for any new construction — something like one every 20 feet.

    I’m sure they either have a variance, or are excluded in some way, but it would be way nicer if they put them in.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Streetsman – what do you mean? It looks like such a lovely, desolate space for a picnic.

  • yolo

    This intersection met its maker as a “meeting place” when Chuck E. Cheese and Pathmark opened. Why would yet another bland space salvage the destruction already done? Ratner, stop trying to impress people with over-designed stuff and start focusing on how you’re actually going to mitigate traffic for the rest of us.

  • Bolwerk

    Has Forest City Ratner ever proposed anything, uh, nice?

  • Wow, I’m counting at least 6 lanes of moving traffic on each side of the plaza, and then there are the parking lanes. This just seems completely inappropriate in a downtown urban environment–who permitted this kind of development to happen? Talk about the road to misery!

  • The building is horrific. The space around it is essentially an insult to life.
    I can’t believe how many people were scammed by this creep.

  • This isn’t development, this is destruction!

  • Bolwerk

    The building is horrific. The space around it is essentially an insult to life.

    On the other hand, we all know where we will be able to go when we have a craving for a rock of crack. Thanks again, Mr. Ratner!

  • Maybe the focus should be on reclaiming space from traffic instead of worrying about keeping dank underground passages outside of fare control so people can scurry around the area like rats.

  • Steve F

    I can support this project under one condition: It be named The RAT CENTER Brought to you By Bruce Ratner.
    The whole corner, including those ghetto malls on the north side, should be called The Rat Center.

    Bait and Switch – the city and state all ate the rat bait.

    So it goes….

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Maybe the focus should be on reclaiming space from traffic instead of worrying about keeping dank underground passages outside of fare control so people can scurry around the area like rats.”

    In general I can agree with that, but not here. Traffic has to go somewhere, and it isn’t as if there are that many other arterials around that would be better places for it to go. Even with zero private autos, there would be a lot of trucks, buses, taxis etc through this area.

    Big picture, there are not a lot of ways to go east-west through Brooklyn for commercial traffic, and most of them funnel into this spot. The other choices are Linden, Church, the Prospect and that is a tight squeeze through the former village of Flatbush, and Linden, Kings Highway, Avenue P, 65th Street which isn’t much better.

    There are great place to walk all around there. But not at that very spot. It isn’t a place one should drive to, either.

  • Nassau County will be a natural fanbase for the Nets, but I can’t see how to get to the Atlantic Center by car via highways. And folks on Long Island will not want to drive on local arterials.

    With Google Maps, when I did trips from Valley Stream and Great Neck, I had to force it to take the LIE. And then it routes me to the BQE. The trips take about 1 hour and 20 minutes with traffic, and there is ALWAYS traffic on these roads.

    So here’s hoping that the LIRR will be the only mode of transport, and we can go about the business of narrowing the surrounding roadways.

  • Mike

    Ratner already built a plaza across the street, in front of the mall. It’s a slightly less high-traffic location, but still no one uses it because it’s too unpleasant to be in. There is zero reason to believe this one will turn out any different.

  • tom murphy

    LL: This spot is indeed a funnel. Can you, or anyone, tell me if the planning includes plugging northbound 4th or 5th Avenues? Can’t really see that from the pix.

  • Ray
  • J:Lai

    I think if the plaza was in the other direction, more like Pacific St. and 6th ave, it would be more accessible and pleasant for pedestrians. I think that area is included in the footprint, although probably already dedicated to some of the high-rise development.

  • SmartenUp

    I for one would NOT be in that subway tunnel, either before or after a game…

    You know those L.I. types, they can be as rowdy as the lager-louts outside a Brit football pitch.

    Just saying…

  • Lighten up, guys. This plaza will help the city’s film industry, providing it with a convenient location to film apocalyptic wastelands.

  • R. Thibault

    Another lose-lose project for the majority of urban dwellers. This should be a town square with lots of greenspace. But it’s worse than bland… It’s bland and polluted. Hold your breath as you race across those scary lanes of traffic. Just horrible. Designed for people who don’t even live in the neighborhood. Definite Ratner PR spin.

  • Larry,

    In response to your question about where 18,000 people should gather, I choose “nowhere.”

    Given your well-known concerns about New York’s coming financial apocalypse, do you really think sinking $700 million + in subsidies into a basketball arena is a good use of our money? Pro sports is the next big bubble — teams hold municipalities and states hostage for newer, fancier, more expensive venues, financed predominantly by taxpayers. We have existing arenas in Manhattan, Newark, East Rutherford and Uniondale, with a total of two pro basketball teams and three pro hockey teams. That doesn’t seem like a very efficient allocation of resources, especially since MSG and the Prudential Center are both highly transit-accessible.

    Since games are darn-near unaffordable to most families of four in the metro area, and for what you’d spend to attend just one game you can buy a 40-inch flat-screen TV, attendance will only continue to decline.

    Arenas and stadiums are at least as big a scam as NYS pensions — if anyone would get that, I’d expect it to be you.


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