Tuesday, July 06, 2010

But Who's Counting?

There are so many things wrong with the Flushing Commons project that we have almost given up counting-from a broken agreement with the former council member, to a fatally flawed environmental review that has so many omissions and inconsistencies that we’re amazed that the consultants actually had the chutzpah to put their names to it. And yet, what’s even more amazing is the level of political support for the project-support that is inversely proportional to the depth of community opposition.

Put simply, downtown Flushing cannot sustain the kind of overdeveloped density that this project will inflict upon it. As Flushing Commons wends its way towards a city council hearing this month, the Queens Chronicle is reporting that NYC DOT is conducting studies to see how to alleviate the current traffic gridlock in the same community targeted by this development: “If you get a summons on July 19, don’t say you haven’t been warned. The Downtown Flushing Task Force, at its first Town Hall meeting on Tuesday night, updated citizens on new traffic patterns that will be implemented starting Sunday, July 18 and monetarily enforced the next day.”

Why new patterns? “These improvements are intended to decrease traffic jams in downtown Flushing, to enhance the safety of both motorists and pedestrians and to provide more sidewalk space for 90,000 people per 24-hour period. “It’ll be an improvement,” McCarthy said of the plan. However, “people are not going to be doing 50 miles per hour in the downtown Flushing area.” The DOT has decided to implement its six-month pilot plan, several years in the making, during the summer months because streets in the Queens commercial hub are significantly less congested at this time of year.”

So, in typical Bloombergista fashion, one hand doesn’t have a clue what the other hand-in this case EDC-is doing. While the DOT schemes to develop a traffic reduction methodology that, given the level of pedestrian density is a real safety concern, the city’s economic development mavens are plotting to flood the neighborhood with even more cars and trucks. If the actions of the DOT aren’t a perfect example of crackpot rationality, we don’t know what is.

And the DOT allows EDC and the city planners to get away with a disgraceful traffic analysis for the Flushing Commons extravaganza-one that grossly minimizes the very same traffic that the city agency is in the midst of trying to mitigate.

As Flushing Coalition’s Brian Ketcham pointed out in his testimony for the CPC:

 “The developer assumes that less than 30% of all resident trips are made by auto for any purpose. Travel behavior in Queens is very different from that assumed in the Flushing Commons DEIS—most of which is lifted from the Willets Point FGEIS. Compared to the 30% assumption for auto use, 53% of Queens’s trips are made by auto.

The DEIS also assumes 46% of residents will use transit (Willets Point assumes 55%). Queens’ residents use transit for just 23% of travel…Auto use by Flushing Commons' residents is very likely substantially greater than what has been assumed. Correcting for this error will result in a near doubling of resident auto trips with a huge impact on congestion in the downtown Flushing community.”

And on top of all of this dereliction and deflection on the part of the city, we learn-again from the Queens Chronicle-that the old Caldor site at Roosevelt and Main Street will be converted into a retail mall with 365 parking spaces: “Flushing shoppers will have to wait a little longer for the opening of the New World Mall at the old Caldor site in Flushing. Plans now call for it to open in October, a month later than expected. The 165,000-square-foot building, at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street, has been closed since Caldor went out of business 11 years ago.”

Who will the tenants be? “According to a spokeswoman, Helen Suen, the three-level store will be converted into shops for nationally known retailers such as the Gap and Cohen’s Optical on the first level, a supermarket on the second floor and an Asian food court on the third.”

Ah yes, the same destination retailers that are supposed to occupy-either 36,000 sq. ft., or 120,000 sq. ft. (depending on what section of the EIS you read)-Flushing Commons. And wouldn’t you know that now CB 7-after ratifying both Willets Point and Flushing Commons-is raising the traffic alarm:

Gene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, noted that corner of Main and Roosevelt is particularly busy and that the Department of Transportation is beginning a six-month traffic redirection pilot program in the area beginning in mid-July. The DOT’s plan includes temporary sidewalk widening at the two intersections on the southeast and northwest corners of Roosevelt Avenue and disallowing all turns at Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue. “The developers haven’t come to us about the new mall,” Kelty said, acknowledging that the project is as of right and no special approvals are needed. He is especially concerned about supermarket shoppers getting in and out of the location. The Roosevelt-Main site is the third busiest pedestrian hub in the city.”

As well he should be. With an additional 165,000 sq. ft. of retail on the way-and around 250,000 sq, ft. still vacant over at Sky View Parc, there is no need for any more traffic generating retail business. But when the developer is questioned about all of this-and about the need for the additional parking that was agreed to by John Liu-he laments that all of the plans are predicated on economic necessity-with no independent verification that this is indeed the case. But, as we have been told countless times, the ULURP process isn't about economics-and if this application isn't environmentally sustainable, then that's all that should matter to the city council.

So, with more retail on the way-and with no traffic amalysis that takes into consideration the cumulative impacts-or, for that matter, the impact of any new traffic mitigations thought up over at DOT, what the city council is looking at is a fatally flawed application; one that was submitted without any vetting from the impacted community, and which will have a much greater negative impact on Flushing than the low balling EIS admits.

And the result is aproject that is an absolute and disgraceful mess-but one that could at least mitigated by removing the retail component of the development. Replacing it with housing (affordable would be nice) would not only achieve a true public interest goal, it would dramatically reduce the traffic impact and parking inadequacies of the project.

It is now time for the saner heads to prevail at the city council. The rubber stampers at CPC have been dismissed, so it is now the opportune moment for a clear analysis of the Flushing Commons flaws to commence forthwith. Without the dramatic alteration of the size and scope of Flushing Commons, the DOT can beat themselves to death with traffic studies, and turn signals, and one way streets-all to no avail.

Without the significant and dramatic intervention of the city council, Flushing is headed for the kind of traffic nightmare that will force everyone out of their cars and onto bicycles. And forget the 7 Line, there’s no more room at that inn. Who's gonna stand up for sustainability? Not the man with the PLaNYC.