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Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Thursday, February 24, 2005

BUILD BIG, SAVE THE PLANET? 

An underlying theme in Aaron Naparstek's NY Press piece ("Quality Of Life: Not
About Squeegie Men Anymore," Feb. 23-Mar.1)
-- that automobile reduction and he promotion of mass transit is necessary -- is undercut by his belief that an ideal way to achieve that goal is Bruce Ratner's massive, ill-conceived development at Brooklyn's already-clogged Atlantic Yards footprint.

Or, more succinctly, Naparstek's contention that increasing "urban density" will help the earth survive.

Unfortunately, a Nets arena at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic won't do the trick. In fact, it could have the opposite effect -- increasing traffic and emissions in an urban setting far more concentrated than the Meadowlands.

Studies have shown that 60% of Knicks fans drive to games at Madison Square Garden -- either their own cars or in cabs. Sixty percent! That's a mind-blowing statistic. If that's the figure for MSG, smack dab in midtown Manhattan and also sitting on a subway/commuter rail hub, we can count on at least as many in Brooklyn, which still carries a taint for suburbanites whose families fled the city in generations past.

The project's developer, Forest City Ratner (FCR) says they'll need to stage 250 events a year -- five nights a week -- to break even. And while Naparstek's suggestion that ticket discounts for mass transit riders is a nice idea, it will just reduce the gate receipts, which will reduce event-generated taxes, which -- if the city and state follow through with extremely risky PILOT and TIF funding schemes for Ratner's monstrous colossus -- will increase the chances that the public will be left paying off Bruce's loans because his arena isn't generating enough income to pay for itself.

Even if people DID take mass transit, the Atlantic/Pacific station won't be able to handle them. The hub just completed a massive rehab project with absolutely no planning for 20,000 fans, 10,000 jobholders and now nearly 6,000 apartments' worth of residents. (That's if you take FCR's fanciful numbers at face value, which we don't.) Plus, additional riders will clog the trains on their way too and fro the massive Downtown Brooklyn and Fourth Avenue corridor developments.

People should take mass transit. Absolutely. But with the MTA broke, it'll be very hard to service Brooklyn if all of these developments are built. While Naparstek is correct that special attention must be paid to these issues, FCR has demonstrated zero interest in the issue, other than repeating their "but it'll sit right on top of subway and LIRR lines" mantra. It's one of many issues on which FCR will only talk with people who already are in their camp, or who tacitly accept their plans.

Fans For Fair Play favors development -- development that takes into account all the factors and works with all of the communities involved. FCR doesn't...not by a longshot.

Urban density, as Naparstek frames it, may or may not be an antidote to America strung out on OPEC, as the Beastie Boys put it. But density's a very slippery slope.

Forcing neighborhoods to change, and people out of their homes and jobs, in order to warehouse people in tall buildings shouldn't be Omaha Beach in the battle against fossil-fuel abuse. Especially when the builder of those big buildings could care less about the issue.

Fans for Fair Play, and our sister organization, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, have paid close attention to what the massive influx of oil/gas/ethanol-burning vehicles servicing Ratner's proposed development could do to Brookyn. We haven't ignored this issue. (One agency put the figure at 125,000 additional vehicular trips a day if FCR's AY and the Downtown Brooklyn plan becomes a reality.)

Naparstek's suggestion that Downtown Brooklyn adopt London's recent installation of tolls to enter its city center is London Mayor Ken Livingstone's tolls might not take here -- the same urban density Naparstek believes will rescue us from cars has created in Brooklyn a dependence on them.

In addition, the cumbersome box stores and major chains that Bruce Ratner favors in his developments will clog the local environment with their endless parade of 18-wheelers making deliveries 24-7 and shoppers buying what's been delivered. This additional downside of urban density will further exacerbate the problem.

I don't know what Naparstek's description of "minimal parking" adds up to, but FCR's arena is planning spaces for 3,000 cars. Its fan-to-space ration of 1-6 is close enough to Shea's 1-8 ratio Shea that red flags should go up for environmental activists, local residents, community boards and city and state agencies.

The 3,000 proposed spaces is a huge enough number to encourage many more event-goers to drive into Brooklyn than capacity will allow. Fans, thinking they'll score a prized space, will drive to the arena earlier in the day and colliding with rush hour traffic...all at an intersection that is chaos now. Plus, Livingstone-type tolls won't stop fans in their SUVs and Hummers who've paid three-figure ticket prices.

There's every reason to develop the Atlantic Yards. Marshall Brown's UNITY plan looks to be better positioned than FCR's drawings to address Naparstek's concerns. Now that the city and MTA has opened bidding on Manhattan's West Side Rail Yards, the idea that Bruce Ratner is far from the only developer interested in the Atlantic Rail Yards -- and another 13 privately-owned acres he is threatening with eminent domain condemnation -- is taking root throughout Brooklyn. The UNITY plan and other developers' ideas should receive equal hearings from the city.

We thank Aaron Naparstek for writing about the decisive environmental impact FCR's hoped-for 17-building development will have on Brooklyn, and beyond. It must be understood, however, that it will be a negative impact for all of us not named Bruce Ratner.
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