Friday, April 30, 2010

Royal Mall Flush

The NY Daily News is reporting that there is yet another retail mall being planned for downtown Flushing-underscoring the compelling need for a moratorium on new permitted development, and an area-wide traffic study: "THE SITE OF a shuttered department store in downtown Flushing is undergoing a makeover after more than 10 years of vacancy. The former site of Caldor, a now-defunct chain of clothing stores, is being transformed into a three-story shopping center with a restaurant, supermarket and other shops, according to a manager for the project, which is currently under construction. Developers are shooting for a September grand opening for the center at 136-20 Roosevelt Ave. - to be dubbed the New World Mall."

More like otherworldly, if we look at the traffic impacts that will exacerbate the already gridlocked Flushing community. But the chair of the local planning board, one Gene Kelty-who we last knew as a fire marshal with a rather limited knowledge of planning issues-has his own bizarre wish: ""We don't want a flea market," said Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty. "That doesn't complement the area."
He said Flushing residents would welcome a shopping center like Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst. "If you want a mall, put a mall in there with decent stores," Kelty said. Developers do not need to present their plans to the community board because it conforms to the existing zoning."

But what about the traffic impacts, Gene-and the cumulative damage that will be wrought should Flushing Commons ever get built? Kelty isn't totally unaware of the problem, even though there's an obvious disconnect between his support for unbridled development and the concomitant concern he expresses about downtown traffic: "The project is one of several new developments slated for the area, which locals say is already overcrowded and inundated with traffic. The area is the third-busiest pedestrian hub in the city after Manhattan's Broadway and 44th St., and Eighth Ave. between 33rd and 34th Sts., according to the city Transportation Department. "My concern is how it's going to affect traffic circulation," Kelty said. "Where are people going to pick their groceries up?"

Perhaps Kelty can join with the mayor and figure out how to shoehorn some bicycle lanes into Flushing-because it's hard to see how else the folks are going to navigate this hot mess. All of which underscores our call for the development moratorium-and as far as the mayor's sustainability vision, the continued promotion of Flushing Commons is a rather large fly in the mayoral green soup.

Just how bad is the Flushing Commons plan for downtown traffic? Well, let's put it this way, picking up the groceries will be the least of the problems residents will face. Our traffic engineer Brian Ketcham has the gory details. Read them and weep: "The Flushing Commons Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) itself reports that the project will gridlock Downtown traffic during much of the business day. Community Board 7 knows this but approved the project anyway. And, like Willets Point, Flushing Commons has low balled auto ownership, failed to provide sufficient residential parking and assumed very low usage of autos and very high transit utilization for all travel...

Congestion levels in and around Downtown Flushing will be even worse than has been reported by the developer. First, because auto trip generation and temporal distributions for the project are wrong; Correcting for these errors will add significantly to congestion levels. The DEIS also assumes 46% of residents will use transit (Willets Point assumes 55%). Queens’ residents currently use transit for just 23% of all travel for all purposes. Auto use by Flushing Commons' residents is therefore very likely much 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."

But the problems in Flushing and the spillover from projected traffic from the proposed Willets Point development are unavoidably interrelated-and the fraudulent EDC/city study on the proposed Van Wyck ramps makes understanding the situation nigh impossible-as Ketcham points out:

"The Flushing Commons EIS estimates project impacts at 30 intersections in and around Downtown Flushing. It assumes two-thirds of the Willets Point traffic impacts for No Build conditions by simply proportioning the trip assignments from the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS). However, because the FGEIS assumes approximately half the Willets Point traffic would use the Van Wyck ramps, no correction is made for the change reported in the AMR, that just 16% of Willets Point traffic would use the ramps, leaving the rest, about 1,900 car and truck trips in the weekday PM peak hour, to find other routes to gain access to or egress from the Willets Point site. This is a 60% increase in local and nearby expressway traffic that was not accounted for in the AMR or in the EIS for Flushing Commons. Flushing Commons therefore only accounted for approximately a third of Willets Point traffic ultimately assigned to Downtown Flushing. The result of this oversight would add 200 more auto trips to Northern Blvd. and 100 more trips to Roosevelt Avenue in the PM peak hour further adding to the reported gridlocked conditions described in the DEIS."

And, of course, the Flushing Commons EIS assumes one way traffic on Main Street and Union Street, something that is now shelved-necessitating in our view the moratorium and global traffic study that we have already called for. Last night we made this and other points to the Juniper Civic Association-and even though the Maspeth neighborhood is far removed from Willets Point/Flushing, the members of Juniper totally understood the larger point on over development and traffic-as well as the role that the double talking mayor plays in all of this. We are slowly but steadily approaching critical mass on all of this and Flushing Commons and the Willets Point ramps are directly in our cross hairs.