Monday, April 26, 2010

Call For a Moratorium on Unsustainable Development

We have been pointing out to what extent the Mike Bloomberg development policies contradict his pretensions to be seen as a champion of sustainable-i.e. environment friendly-development. In examining the overall development picture in Queens, with the help of our traffic expert Brian Ketcham, we come to the inescapable conclusion that the city needs tp put a moratorium on all new development until a global traffic analysis can be done to determine whether the existing local and arterial roadways can accommodate all of the excess vehicular traffic.

Once the extent of the environmental challenge is properly understood, we would expect that all transit friendly environmental groups-including even those who have developed an untoward intimacy with Mayor Overdevelopment-to support the moratorium; as well as an independent traffic study of the cumulative impacts of both proposed as well as approved projects. What follows is Ketcham's indictment and prescription.

The Problem with More Development in North-Central Queens (Or, Can Queens Afford Out-of-Control Development in North-Central Queens)

Proponents for the Willets Point Development Plan find themselves in a bind: They need new ramps connecting with the Van Wyck Expressway to make their plan work. They have produced an Access Modification Report (AMR) required by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approval of the ramps. The AMR offers an incredible vision for the area’s future: its authors would like us to believe that by the year 2035 traffic conditions in and around Willets Point will be “free flowing.”

How the AMR authors come to this conclusion is anyone’s guess – unless somehow millions of commuters and truckers disappear over the next 25 years. Spend five minutes traveling by car through the Willets Point area today, circa 2010, and you will note that it is hardly free flowing. In fact, the area is gridlocked during peak commuter hours and on weekends. It’s notable that the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) for Willets Point envisions the same—but intensified—gridlocked conditions by 2017, when this project is expected to be completed. Recently, the description of traffic gridlock conditions has been underscored by the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for nearby Flushing Commons.

A detailed investigation by Willets Point United’s traffic engineer shows that both the FGEIS and the DEIS referenced above do not fully account for all new traffic that is anticipated by 2017. This independent investigation also reveals that the AMR failed entirely to account for this new development including trips generated by both Willets Point and Flushing Commons. In other words, the FGEIS and the DEIS together under-report the severity of traffic increases in coming years. Population in Queens is expected to increase by more than 12% over the next 25 years. The AMR fails to account for the expected growth in travel from population growth.

So how to square that circle? The Willets Point Development defenders either have to pretend those two reports don’t exist or they have to revise the AMR to conform to the FGEIS and the Flushing Commons DEIS. Better yet, they argue, new federally-funded ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway could present the cure-all for the congestion problem.
Brian Ketcham, the traffic engineer hired by Willets Point United, found a number of troubling facts that suggest the Willets Point Development Plan is doomed to choke on congestion:

• New development in close proximity to Willets Point has not been accounted for in this or in other nearby projects like Flushing Commons and the College Point Police Academy.

• The consequence is that the traffic impacts in all three projects will be much worse than reported.

• The Local Development Corporation for Flushing is pursuing another major development east of the Flushing River between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Blvd. to complement the Willets Point Development Plan. This project has not been included in any of the analyses completed for Willets Point or for Flushing Commons.

• Nearby expressways and local access roads are gridlocked during peak commuter hours today and will be worse in the future even without any of these massive projects.

• Plus, the proposed Van Wyck ramps simply do not work. There is insufficient capacity along the Van Wyck in peak commuter hours to accommodate most of the Willets Point traffic.

• The FHWA reports eight criteria for AMR approvals; the AMR in the Willets Point Development Plan fails five of these criteria. The ramps must be rejected.

• Unless Queens comes to terms about the limitations to growth for this area and proposed and potential development is not allowed to occur unhampered, it is certain to cause bankrupting economic and transportation distress for the area.
The big picture is this: So much new development in the Flushing/Willets Point area has been proposed, approved, or already completed – each generating much new traffic on a 24/7 basis -- that it is time New York City and State stop all new development while a transportation master plan (including for public transit) is completed to establish reasonable limits to development in Downtown Flushing and surrounding residential communities.


Given the preceeding analysis, it is clear to us that the Willets Point ramps need to be put on hold-as the NRDC has endorsed-until an independent consultant is hired. But even more so, the Flushing Commons development must also be halted in the interest of the quality of life of all Queens neighborhoods