Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monsey Wal-Mart: Prototypical Traffic Deficiency

On Tuesday, April 4th, the Town of Ramapo Planning Board will be holding a "scoping session" before letting the developer of the proposed Wal-Mart on Rt. 59 begin to conduct the environmental review pursuant to the submission of a full EIS. The purpose of such a session is to give the various stakeholders-neighborhood residents, small businesses and elected officials-the opportunity to suggest the kind of data that the developer's consultants should be collecting if an adequate analysis is to be forthcoming.

Typically consultants for the developer try to minimize the potential impacts of a project in an attempt to reduce opposition. It is also typical that localities, and this includes a large city such as New York, don't have either the inclination or the resources to challenge the developer's self-serving data.

This leaves it up to the opponents to hire expertise to question a project's assumptions. In the case of the Monsey Wal-Mart the Alliance has retained Brian Ketcham and he has already examined the preliminary traffic data that was submitted to the Ramapo Board. It shouldn't be shock to find that this traffic report leaves a great deal to be desired.

Initially, the submitted study appears to be almost entirely derivative: the consultants did very little independent data collection and instead relied on available information from the town and NYS DOT. Cleary, one of the primary necessities here will be for the consultants to collect data from comparable Wal-Mart stores in similar milieus.

In addition, as Ketcham points out, any reliance on the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) trip generation rates is inadequate because these numbers are not only dated but they don't speak well to the hyper-Wal-Mart phenomenon. Wal-Mart is certainly not average.

One thing we know about Wal-Mart is that the company possesses precise data on customer counts by the hour! It will not be difficult to get a better estimate than the one that the consultants have submitted which relies on the experiences of the contiguous Pathmark supermarket. Pathmark is a grocery store that services the local community, not a regional supercenter that will draw people from as far away as the Bronx and Westchester.

It is also important to point out that the regional nature of the store means that the shopping patterns of the local Orthodox Jewish community will not be the factor that the consultants are alleging in their preliminary report. In fact it is more probable that, instead of the diminution of business that Pathmark experiences on Friday night and Saturday, there will be an increase as non-Orthodox shoppers take advantage of the relative calm in the local community.

Ketcham goes on to question the parking requirements and his full report can be found here. A final point is the issue of the "societal costs" of the store. Here the issue is traffic accidents and particularly the higher rate of fatalities that characterizes the Rt.59 corridor. Community safety, and not only traffic is involved in this, will become a big issue as the debate evolves on this Monsey store.

Anyone who is concerned with the quality of life in this area of Rockland should come down to the Ramapo Planning Board meeting at the town Hall on Tuesday at 7:30 PM.