Friday, July 16, 2010

Flushing Commons Off-Track

As we commented yesterday, the Flushing Commons development has some serious flaws that were fully examined by the City Council's Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee at the body's first hearing on the subject. But one of those flaws deserves some greater scrutiny-as we suggested in our previous post: "It was a point that was raised by Brian Ketcham about the manner in which the EDC consultants purposefully underestimate the car and truck trips, They do so by arguing that car ownership is greatly lower than the standard estimates have already determined-70% rather than over 90%. Once they have done so-and they do this for Willets Point as well-they go on to say that the residents and shoppers not in their cars will be using the mass transit infrastructure-both buses and the 7 Line.

It is Brian's strong opinion-and we will be mining the data on this-that there is not enough current capacity to handle all of this putative off-loading onto mass transit alternatives-particularly since the MTA is planning on further cuts to existing service that is already over capacity. If our assumptions are true, it will mean that Flushing will not only end up gridlocked, it will also be train and bus locked-a great legacy for the mayor's greening of NYC."

The point gains additional poignancy, because it has been suggested by New York's Burden-planning commissioner Amanda-that Flushing Commons is a prime example of Mayor Bloomberg's promotion of sustainability because of its location right next to a major transit hub. Now, in our view, Atlantic Yards, located at Fulton and Atlantic Avenue, has a greater claim to this distinction because of the 18 or so interconnecting rail links in and around the site; but the claim that downtown Flushing offers a similar venue for the use of mass transit over looks the fact that the 7 Line (the only train servicing the area) is already stuffed to the gills-and the buses that run out of Main Street are filled to capacity at peak travel hours.

As Ketcham's testimony yesterday underscores, however, if the EDC assumption that a great percentage of the newcomers spawned by Flushing Commons will not drive is true-and that assumption is also made for the even larger complex being planned next door in Willets Point-we're going to need a significant expansion of the 7 Line to accommodate this new ridership. And the billions spent to expand the line to the Far West Side is not exactly what we have in mind here.

As Ketcham told the city council committee yesterday:

"Transit is another problem. By assuming that more than half of project trips are by transit, Flushing Commons places a great burden on both the Number 7 line and the many bus routes currently serving the area and already over capacity. But this is not just a problem with Flushing Commons. More than 20 million square feet of new development is on the books for sites near Flushing—Willets Point, Sky View Parc, the College Point Police Academy and Flushing Commons—are just the big guys. There are also 90 other sites identified totaling nearly 10 million square feet of additional development. If you believe the assumptions in the documentation for these projects—that is, more than half the trips by public transit—you will find they would generate 100,000 more daily subway trips and 70,000 more daily bus trips, more than doubling current demand in the downtown Flushing area."

As the old saying goes, there will be no room at the inn-particularly because, while the Bloombergistas are adding capacity and supposedly funneling it to the transit system, the MTA is cutting service back-as Clyde Haberman writes in this morning's NY Times. Commenting on the Authority's hearings, Haberman points out: "Whether or not one likes the transportation authority — and for many New Yorkers, it is Darth Vader — there is no reason to believe that its leadership derives pleasure from any of this. Nothing was said about elected officials and their slow, steady starvation of mass transit. All the same, the pain for riders is real, and it keeps coming in ways large and small...Bit by bit, riders are learning what death by a thousand cuts feels like. At least with a guillotine, you were sliced only once."

And Crain's Insider (subsc.) reiterates our point about the need for the local council member to listen to the project's critics-it's not only the professional thing to do, it is something that might help him address some of the project's flaws. As the Insider points out: "Councilman Peter Koo, R-Flushing, testified in favor of the proposed Flushing Commons mega-development before the City Council Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee yesterday, and then left before opponents testified. Richard Lipsky, the lobbyist for upset merchants in Flushing's Koreatown section, says he has been unable to schedule a meeting with Koo. “He's been shucking and ducking us,” says Lipsky, who adds that Koo should hear out his clients even if he has no intention of changing his mind."

Because, as the MTA cuts service and the Bloombergistas develop more of Queens to increase transit service demands, some thing's got to give-and, as far as Flushing Commons is concerned, the demand being created is unsustainable and evidence that these EDC sponsored environmental impact studies aren't worth the paper they're printed on (which is a lot of paper indeed). As we have said before, the city council has its work cut out for itself if it's going to be able to mitigate the assumptions being made for this Queens project. As it stands now, there are tens of thousand of additional folks being generated by the overly dense Flushing Commons development-and neither the roads, nor the transit system cam accommodate all of them.