Another Atlantic Yards Broken Promise: There is No Indoor Bike Parking that Bruce Ratner Vowed to Build
Journalist Norman Oder has been covering the Atlantic Yards Brooklyn mega-project since it was just a gleam in the public-boondoggle-envisioning eye of developer Bruce Ratner. And he’s still at it, covering a July 16 meeting which focused on proposed modifications to the ongoing project’s master plan that officials do not believe require environmental review, such as a plan for a 100,000-square-foot fitness facility or a reduction in the amount of parking. Now, Oder brings us inside a meeting at which he learned that developers won’t be building a long-promised bike parking lot.
Developers of Atlantic Yards, since renamed Pacific Park, have finally, and formally, broke their decade-plus-old promise to provide ample and indoor bike parking for two-wheeling ticket holders headed to the Barclays Center.
In fact, they’ve cut promised bike parking from 400 secure indoor spaces to at least 100 unguarded outdoor spaces — and that’s counting 44 existing spots across the street outside the Atlantic Center mall — in part because they never seriously implemented the early version of that original promise.
Plus, they didn’t set aside appropriate space for that permanent indoor location.
There may be an argument for fewer spaces, given that even a concert by the hipster band, The National, in 2013 drew only 99 cyclists to outdoor racks that were typically unguarded. That, however, represented a rare effort to offer secure, valeted outdoor parking in tandem with Transportation Alternatives.
But the failure to offer secure outdoor parking, and now secure spaces indoors — as with the bike rooms for project residents — makes it less likely that ticket holders will bike to events at the arena in one of the most congested areas of Brooklyn.
A “bicycle station with secure indoor parking for 400 bicycles … on the arena block” was part of the controversial project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement in 2006, part of a larger plan to divert people from vehicle usage.
The pledge was repeated in the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, which is supposed to bind project promises, and echoed by arena consultant “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz.
It never happened. Instead, there was only a fractional effort, with a temporary outdoor bike parking lot at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, and several high-profile events at which bike valet parking was offered.
Once construction started at that corner, for the building known as B3 (or 38 Sixth Ave.), those bike racks vanished and were not replaced indoors. While the Barclays Center web site, as of December 2014 (little more than two years after the arena opened), still promised 400 “free bike parking spaces,” by February 2015 that had been shaved to 40 spaces, at Pacific Street and Sixth Avenue, just north of the B3 site.
The environmental impact statement made a vivid promise:
This bicycle station would be a secured, staffed facility providing storage for 400 bicycles. 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, this facility would occupy approximately 4,000 square feet of space including 3,000 square feet of storage space for bicycles and 300 square feet for amenities such as lockers, restrooms and a security desk. In addition, an approximately 700-square-foot bicycle repair and accessory retail shop would be incorporated into the facility to provide services to both users of the bicycle station and the surrounding community.
However, one of the lessons of Atlantic Yards is that “projects change, markets change,” as a former project executive once said.
Reducing the commitment
“There are supposed to be 400 valet bicycle parking spaces for arena event attendees,” said Tobi Jaiyesimi, Atlantic Yards project manager for Empire State Development, the state authority which oversees/shepherds the project and is expected to soon approve proposed changes. “We’re proposing to reduce the required number to at least 100, and to change the requirement that it be in a valeted, indoor storage area.”
That, she said, reflected the experience at even the most publicized bike-valeted event, and the advent of other options, like Citi Bike, and car sharing. Other events, even when valet parking was offered, drew far fewer bicyclists.
Still, they never offered consistent secured outdoor parking, and the promise to do so indoors does not appear to have been taken seriously. Rather than offering 4,000 square feet along the Sixth Avenue corridor, the location contemplated was what Jaiyesimi described as a “small storage area in B3,” near both that building’s parking entrance and the arena loading dock.
Keep in mind that Atlantic Yards responsibilities have diverged, and builders of residential towers have no particular obligation to assist arena operations. Original developer Forest City Ratner sold off the Barclays Center operating company to Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov’s BSE Global, and now owns a small fraction of the remaining project, which is controlled by Greenland USA, an arm of a Shanghai-based conglomerate.
At the meeting, Scott Solish, a representative of Greenland USA, said the space at B3 would be turned “into additional maintenance” space.
So it serves the interest of the developer, not cyclists.
Now the bike burden is shifted to the plaza, overseen by BSE Global, as well as the unrelated Atlantic Center mall.
What about alternatives?
At the meeting, Prospect Heights resident Gib Veconi, who also serves on the board of the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, suggested that the commitment was not seriously pursued.
“Why not start up with 100 spaces of indoor valet parking?” he asked, calling the state’s explanation about the B3 site’s lack of fitness unconvincing: “Someone chose the space for the bike valet parking. It might be the same people who asked for the parking to be dropped.”
Veconi suggested that empty retail spaces on the arena’s Flatbush Avenue flank could be tested for bike parking, but Jaiyesimi raised the issue of security concerns, saying that bicyclists typically would need to show a valid ticket.
“The project was approved well after 9/11,” Veconi countered.
This reporter also brought up that secured bike parking was promised more than a decade ago yet was never delivered.
“I didn’t say they tried to fulfill the valet parking requirement,” Jaiyesimi said, essentially admitting there were no consequences to the broken promise. “I’m noting that they’re taking away the requirement that it be valet, in an indoor, manned facility, and making it so that at least 100 bicycle parking spaces are being made available to arena event attendees. … If there’s increased demand and utilization, once the sites becomes available, additional bicycle parking spaces will be provided.”
More bike parking, she said, could someday be added once another building under construction at the northeast flank of the arena frees up space. Not that there’s any public push.
Today, the Barclays Center website is silent regarding bike parking.