Friday, April 30, 2010

Wal-Mart at Gateway: Traffic Nightmare in the Making

The rumored inclusion of a Wal-Mart (Super Wal-Mart?) at the Gateway Mall off of the Shore Parkway in East New York will exacerbate a traffic nightmare on the already gridlocked parkway. The mall and Wal-Mart-have been loudly cheered by the mayor who is seemingly confused about how this retail complex, and the scores of other similar ones throughout the city, totally contradict his planned vison for an environmentally better city in the year 2030.

Traffic engineer Brian Ketcham, using his own time and money, had analyzed the proposed Gateway expansion in 2009-a concern that many of us should have also evidenced given the possible sneak inclusion of the Walmonster in the expanded  mall. As Ketcham's analysis pointed out: "The analysis of the project’s impact along Shore Parkway is totally implausible. The fundamental flaw is the low balled trip generation rates used in this analysis. While I understand that AKRF undertook limited surveys of vehicles entering and leaving the parking lot in November 2006, their data are not reported in the DEIS for public review. What is reported is wrong. The resulting trip generation factors are not credible. They are about half what the Institute of Transportation Engineers reports for ordinary shopping centers nationwide."

That factual error is compounded when we understand the greater traffic impacts of big box stores: "Because big box stores draw from a much larger market area than neighborhood shopping centers, they are notorious for generating far more trips. Thus, the trip numbers used in the Gateway Center traffic/parking analysis and the consequent impact should be more than twice as high as reported is the DEIS." And when we further understand that Wal-Mart has an even greater reach-and can pull customers from as far as twenty five miles away-the Numbers that Related's consultant generated lack all credibility.

And then we get to the incredibly idyllic description of the Shore Parkway-something that anyone who travels the road will know right away is just plain wrong-an intentional obfuscation of reality: "The draft EIS reports that the project will increase traffic along Shore Parkway from 14% to 18%. Anyone who travels the Shore Parkway daily knows that the Parkway is at capacity for much of the day, sometimes moving at 5 to 10 MPH. Yet the traffic analysis assumes peak hour speeds of nearly 55 MPH (the posted maximum) for most time periods on most sectors of the Parkway. Apparently, the preparers of the draft EIS assessed only “ideal” Parkway operations, i.e., conditions with low traffic volumes. Nowhere does the draft EIS provide measured travel speeds along Shore Parkway to calibrate the model based on actual observations. Thus, the analysis of the impacts of the project on Shore Parkway is wrong and the draft EIS is invalid. The fact that the DEIS reports only half the potential trip generation from new big box retail forces me to conclude that the entire traffic analysis is invalid."

The inaccuracies of this EIS, when seen alongside of the even greater Wal-Mart impacts, underscore just how egregious the consultant' deceptions are in the great majority of these mall development proposals. The end result, is a total mockery of the Bloomberg PlaNYC 2030-as environmentalist Ketcham underscored in his letter to the mayor praising his "Broadway Goes Green" initiative: "Congratulations on your program to launch “Broadway Goes Green” (November 26, 2008 My Another step in the right direction. However, “Broadway Goes Green” would have to be 10,000 times as effective as I estimate it will be to offset the impacts of your support for Big Box Stores. Your efforts to rezone much of New York City to accommodate these remotely located totally auto-dependent retail giants have lead to hundreds of Big Box Stores in New York City, adding more than 6% to the CO2 emissions from transportation sources. Do the math: Big Box Stores that have been built or approved will generate 1.5 billion additional vehicle miles of travel every year. That translates into approximately 750,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. But the problem is not just the addition to global warming emissions. The addition of 1.5 billion miles of travel annually will add to congestion, increased traffic accidents and environmental damages totaling $2.3 billion every year."

It is now the right time to call out the mayor on his two faced sustainability policy-and the best way of doing that is for the state legislature-along with the city council-to hold joint traffic and environmental impact hearings on PLaNYC 2030; with the Gateway Mall acting as the star witness to the mayor's blatant hypocrisy. The naked emperor needs to be called out, and a moratorium on much new development should be called so that a full analysis of the environmental damage that the Bloomberg development policy is having on the city can be fully understood by all New Yorkers.