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UN in Brooklyn could clog streets

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Even with hundreds of new parking spaces included in the Downtown Brooklyn Plan redevelopment project, the arrival of some 3,000 United Nations employees would drown the area’s already packed streets with wall-to-wall congestion, not to mention deplete an already bleak parking situation, a traffic expert and an elected official warned this week.

State Sen. Marty Golden, of Bay Ridge, who blocked a vote in Albany over whether to allow the issuance of $600 million in bonds to fund construction of a 35-story skyscraper next to the United Nations’ current headquarters, said that a move to Brooklyn would almost certainly usher in traffic and parking woes.

“They don’t respect the traffic laws of the city of New York, so I expect them to be parked all over the place,” said Golden. “So in Downtown Brooklyn, which is already congested, it will just continue to go on. They’ll need more meter maids, which will cost taxpayers more money.”

The failure of U.N. officials and foreign diplomats to repay parking violations, he said, is one reason he blocked the bid for new digs in Manhattan.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report issued last week that the United Nations may have found commercial space in Downtown Brooklyn that could serve its Secretariat and General Assembly needs while its iconic glass-and-steel headquarters on the East River is being renovated.

Besides its staff of 3,000, the U.N.’s General Assembly meetings require a conference hall big enough to seat 1,800 — which a development proposed on the southern corner of Willoughby and Flatbush avenues might be able to provide.

Designed as a major push to retain back-office space in New York City and keep corporations from fleeing to New Jersey, the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, passed by the City Council in August, is expected to encourage more than 6 million square feet of office development in addition to 1 million square feet of retail space and residential development — in part by allowing buildings to rise up to 400 feet.

But according to a draft environmental impact statement for the Downtown Brooklyn Plan released in November 2003, whose authors could not have foreseen the added impact of the United Nations and its slew of diplomatic license plates, intersections all along Flatbush Avenue are predicted to see added traffic. It cited Willoughby Street in particular, of which developer Joseph Sitt has said U.N. officials inquired.

“Willoughby Street would function as the primary access corridor for much of the commercial development that would occur with the proposed actions,” it states, before adding: “The east-bound left-turn movement from Willoughby Street onto Flatbush Avenue Extension experiences congestion in all peak periods.”

Brian Ketcham, a traffic consultant who owns Community Consulting Services, said that the development of 60 blocks in Downtown Brooklyn would add more than 3,700 new off-street parking spaces. But with that, he said, much more traffic could be expected.
Ongoing development in and around Downtown Brooklyn, said Ketcham, threatens to generate nearly 22 million vehicle trips annually while increasing travel in Brooklyn by more than 2 percent.

“Each weekday this new development will generate 59,000 new car and truck trips, another 189,000 subway trips and 47,000 bus trips,” said Ketcham in a study released last month on the impact the Downtown Plan — as well as plans for an Ikea and Fairway supermarket in Red Hook, Lowe’s in Gowanus and Bruce Ratner’s plan for an arena and 17 high-rises at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues — would have on Brooklyn. “This should be of grave concern to everyone in and around Downtown Brooklyn as we watch the MTA cut, not increase, services. The results will be significantly increased crowding for all transportation facilities.”

As for the addition of the United Nations, which he did not count in his study, Ketcham was somewhat dismissive as he explained his belief that the move was a long shot.

“The U.N. has got huge security issues,” he said. “Basically, wherever it’s located it’s going to bring problems within a mile. But frankly, I’m not going to think about it. It’s pretty remote.”

Joseph Sitt, a developer whose Thor Equities company owns both an above-ground parking-lot along Flatbush Avenue Extension and Willoughby Street and the adjoining Gallery at Fulton Mall indoor shopping mall, told reporters that he had been contacted by U.N. officials about the 1.2 million-square-foot office project he has in mind for that area. It would include a 700-space parking garage.

Lee Silberstein, a spokesman for Thor Equities, said this week: “We would be very interested in working with the city and others in bring the U.N. to Brooklyn.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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