Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Flushing Gridlock Protest at City Planning

Nothing could be more representative of the way that Mike Bloomberg's sustainable development rhetoric contradicts the kind of development he actually promotes, than the severe gridlock-causing Flushing Commons-a land use application that will be heard today at the City Planning Commission. If the plan is approved as it exists today, Flushing and surrounding communities will be in for a real hard time trying to drive in and around their already over congested neighborhoods. That is why scores of Flushing residents and small business owners will be down at City Planning today to voice their objections to the ill conceived plan.

Additionally, the Flushing Commons plan also underscores just how fallacious the city's environmental impacts studies are-using false and out-dated traffic data that underestimates existing car and truck flow, while totally ignoring surrounding projects currently built or on the planning drawing board-something that our traffic expert Brian Ketcham slices and dices for today's so-called hearing. We say so-called, because this is a project that has emerged-kind of like Alien-from the bowels of EDC, without any real impact from the city planners who are supposed to provide proper due diligence.

Is it any wonder, that there is a revolving door between the Bloomberg administration and big real estate? In fact, as the Observer has reported the lates defection is over to the Myss Organization, builders of the BJ anchored Sky Parc project that has exacerbated traffic conditions nin Flushing and beyond, but whose impact goes unexamined in the Flushing Commons DEIS: "Jeff Kay, the Bloomberg administration's well-regarded director of operations, is headed to the real estate industry. He will head to Queens-based real estate giant Muss Development, the developer announced Tuesday afternoon, taking a job as its COO."

The Observer notes the pattern: "Mr. Kay's move goes to show the pipeline between the Bloomberg administration and real estate is still flowing (although there used to be more who left the city). In addition to Muss, firms including Extell, the Durst Organization, Related, Vornado, Brookfield and Tishman Construction have all hired away Bloomberg aides in the past few years."

This revolving door underscores the mobilization of bias in the Bloomberg administration where the watch what we do, not what we say policy making threatens to inundate Queens neighborhoods; at the same time that the loopy transportation planners are trying to make Manhattan car free-a clearing action for the limousines driven for the mayor's rich friends. The "car-tiac arrest" conditions in and around the proposed Flushing Commons should mandate a moratorium on any new development; that is, if the little man behind the curtain down at city hall actually walked the walk on sustainable development.

Still this FC development is a real disaster-with so many traffic issues that it is tough to know where to begin highlighting just how bad traffic will become if this monstrosity is ever built. We'll simply attach parts of  the Ketcham testimony for review-and comment further sometime this afternoon after the rubber stamp hearing is finished down at Reade Street this morning.

Hon. Amanda M. Burden, FAICP, Chair

New York City Planning Commission

22 Reade Street

New York, New York 10007-1216

RE: DEIS for the Flushing Commons, Queens, NY, CEQR #06DME010Q

Dear Chairperson Burden:

The following are comments about the traffic and transit impacts reported in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Flushing Commons, Downtown Flushing, Queens, New York, CEQR #06DME010Q.

The Flushing Commons totals nearly 2 million square feet and includes 620 dwelling units and more than a million square feet of retail, restaurant, office, and hotel and community space including 1,600 off-street parking spaces. The project will generate as much as a thousand car and truck trips an hour, much of this from destination retail activity.

I will show that the assumptions used to arrive at the figures provided in the DEIS are wrong; that the DEIS for the Flushing Commons site drastically under reports the project’s auto trip making; that the DEIS fails entirely to account for all No Build traffic—in particular, the Willets Point Development Plan; and that the DEIS must consequently be revised accordingly.

Before getting into the details I want to compare current travel behavior in Queens with the assumptions in the DEIS. The DEIS reports that approximately 70% of residents in the Flushing Commons site will own a car whereas 94% of all residents in Queens own a car. According to origin-destination data provided by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (see table, attached), 53% of all travel in Queens is by auto, 9.8% by bus and 12.8% by subway and commuter rail versus 29.5% by auto, 10.1% by bus and 27.6% by subway and commuter rail reported in Table 14-6 in the DEIS.

Trip generation and temporal characteristics used in the DEIS are from the CEQR Technical Manual or other sources that have been used for decades. They derive from limited data collected generations ago during a very different time in New York City. Plus, the data was collected in Manhattan where just 20% of households owned a car. For virtually every EIS that I have prepared we collected trip generation data from nearby sites of similar land use. There are plenty of large scale developments in Queens that would be appropriate for surveys of the various land use categories included in this project. It is a disgrace that New York City continues to allow the use of ancient travel data to permit developers to low ball project impacts especially for an $850 million project such as Flushing Commons. It is a practice that must be changed.

Even with the low balling of traffic volumes the DEIS reports huge traffic impacts. These impacts are on top of equally great traffic impacts resulting from so-called No Build development that imposes gridlock conditions in and around downtown Flushing today...."

Moratorium Needed

The Ketcham analysis dramatizes why we need a stoppage of these developments in and around down town Flushing in order to properly gauge the cumulative impacts. This needs to be done outside of the purview of an EDC that has both tunnel vision and incompetent leadership. If Mayor Bloomberg wants to salvage a smidgen of his legacy for green development, he needs to put a stop to what's going on in Queens-take a deep breathe-and really plan for an environmentally friendly future. At the current rate of unsustainable development, Queens County will be one larger  parking lot in the next decade.