Atlantic Yards Could Become Much Less Car-Centric

Off-street parking for the Atlantic Yards project, which sits near one of the world’s great confluences of transit lines, was once projected to include space for as many as 3,670 cars. Now the number of parking spots could get chopped down to 2,876 or, in one scenario, a significantly less car-centric 1,200, according to a new review prepared for the state body overseeing the development.

Fewer parking spaces at Atlantic Yards means less traffic on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Chris Hamby/Flickr
Fewer parking spaces at Atlantic Yards means less traffic on Flatbush Avenue. Photo: Chris Hamby/Flickr

The new environmental study, first covered by Atlantic Yards Report, is being prepared after a court ordered the state agency, Empire State Development, to examine the impacts of the project’s delayed construction timeline. The full Atlantic Yards proposal calls for approximately 6,430 residential units, about 180 hotel rooms, and nearly 600,000 square feet of retail and commercial space by 2035.

The study by consultants AKRF and Philip Habib & Associates offers two parking estimates. The first would entail 2,896 spaces in five garages. The second, labeled the “reduced parking alternative,” would create 1,200 spaces in three garages. Both numbers are significantly lower than the 3,670 spaces proposed in the project’s original environmental impact statement from 2006.

With less parking, the finished project would generate less traffic. There would be fewer curb cuts for garages, creating a safer, more cohesive pedestrian environment. Another potential benefit: Reducing the amount of parking could make the project easier to finance and lead to quicker housing construction.

Why the change? One factor is that the city’s environmental review guidelines are different than they were eight years ago. The guidelines now anticipate that car trips to the commercial uses at the site will increase at a slower pace than previously assumed, which accounts in large part for the drop from 3,670 spaces to 2,896.

To arrive at the option with 1,200 spaces, the report looks west, to recent parking reforms in Downtown Brooklyn. Despite the area’s rock-bottom car ownership rates, developers there were required to overbuild off-street parking. Facing a glut, the city halved residential parking requirements in 2012.

So instead of blindly using the city’s decades-old outer-borough parking requirements, the document offers a “reduced parking alternative” that applies the Downtown Brooklyn parking ratios to the Atlantic Yards project.

“The project site exhibits many of the characteristics of Downtown Brooklyn,” the report notes, including “some of the best transit access in the city.”

The new parking numbers for Atlantic Yards underscore the potential ripple effect of large-scale parking reform. Without the reforms in Downtown Brooklyn, it would be more difficult for the report to justify a reduced parking option. And while the Downtown Brooklyn reforms could have gone much further and eliminated parking minimums, you can see the difference even these meager reforms can make when applied to the status quo — it adds up to thousands of parking spaces in the case of Atlantic Yards. Without reform for “inner ring” neighborhoods like the area where Atlantic Yards sits, developers will continue to build excessive amounts of parking, driving up housing costs and generating traffic that clogs streets.

Under the reduced parking option, there would be 876 spaces for residential, commercial, retail, hotel and school uses on the site, 24 spaces for NYPD’s 78th Precinct, and 300 spaces to serve the Barclays Center. Using the methodology of the city’s environmental review law, which requires parking to be identified for all car trips that a development is pseudo-scientifically projected to generate, the report notes that this amount of on-site parking plus the existing capacity in nearby public garages could handle all anticipated driving trips to Atlantic Yards.

Although off-street garages can handle the car traffic on game days, Atlantic Yards Report notes that the lure of free on-street parking in nearby neighborhoods is irresistible: A quarter of Nets attendees drive to the game, with slightly more than half of that group choosing to park on the street. DOT rejected residential parking permits near the Barclays Center in 2012, and the latest environmental review does not consider the idea.

Empire State Development is hosting a public hearing on the new environmental study on Wednesday, April 30, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107, in Brooklyn.

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