Downtown movin’ up: Skyscrapers tower over same old infrastructure

Downtown Brooklyn’s biggest booster said this week that the development the area will experience in the next five years — adding more than 14,000 apartments, 1,800 hotel rooms and 1.6 million square feet of office space — is happening faster than some of the neighborhood’s basic infrastructure can handle.

But Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Joe Chan, who showed off the glitzy new face of the borough’s gateway in an Ian McKellen–narrated video presentation last week, said he and his staff were on top of it.

“There’s a need for ongoing attention and problem solving to happen,” said Chan. “And that’s something that we are, and will be, focusing on.”

Those words should come as some comfort to anyone who was taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the numbers presented in last week’s video: By 2012, the Partnership anticipates 23 million square feet of new development in and around Downtown, including the 8.7-million-square-foot Atlantic Yards project.

So much development, so little talk of how to handle its repercussions — the new train passengers, new pedestrians, new drivers, and all those toilet flushes, said Brad Lander, the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

“The video contains nothing about how growth will work for residents of Brooklyn and how infrastructure issues will be addressed,” he said.

Indeed, policy wonks warn that such seismic shifts in the borough’s central business district will, at best, hamper, and at worst overwhelm, basic services.

“It’s really going to be very difficult [for subways] to be able to accommodate that growth,” said Rae Zimmerman, director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems at New York University. “And, I think there will be certain hotspots where the road systems just aren’t able to accommodate it. There’s already a lot of congestion.”

Carolyn Konheim, a Brooklyn-based transportation consultant, also warned of the city’s apparent lack of preparation for the onslaught of development.

“The transit impacts will be severe on the already crowded lines — the A, C, 4 and 5,” said Konheim. “There’s [also] a shortage of roadway capacity.”

Even Chan put down his pompons to voice his worries.

“Many of the issues [raised] are very legitimate,” he said.

“Some of the elementary schools in the areas surrounding Downtown Brooklyn are nearing capacity,” added Chan, who lives in the neighborhood. “There are none in the core of Downtown Brooklyn. There’s also the dearth of middle school options.”

On Wednesday, Chan also expressed concern about the onslaught of construction and its impact on road conditions.

“Small businesses and residents will be inconvenienced,” he said. “And road conditions may worsen. There’s a need for ongoing attention and problem solving, and that’s something that we are and will be focusing on.”

The Partnership, which has no official power but has a bully pulpit and a connection to Chan’s former boss, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, has also called for more-frequent service on non-peak subways, express service on the F line, more G-train service, free street transfers between unconnected subway lines, and residential permit parking.

Chan’s candid assessment of the infrastructure problems facing Downtown Brooklyn came just a week after the Partnership’s release of a flashy video pitching the neighborhood to would-be investors.

The video, which features a voiceover by McKellen, sought to place an idyllic face on a wave of ad-hoc development that will transform Downtown into a 24/7 residential and business community.

Chan pointed out that while the development will strain infrastructure, it’s that same web of roads and subways that makes Downtown Brooklyn such an ideal site for development.

“Density in Brooklyn should be here,” said Chan. “It is an unparalleled transit hub and is readily accessible from anywhere in the city. When you look at the Downtown Brooklyn context, this is the downtown for a city of 2.5 million people.”