Quiet Red Hook streets became bumper-to-bumper traffic jams when hordes of furniture-crazed shoppers flocked to the newly opened Ikea on its debut weekend.
Once-dreary roads that connect the Beard Street big box with the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway saw such a big uptick in traffic that cops from the 76th Precinct rushed in to police the area and bolster the efforts of 17 off-duty officers hired by Ikea to handle traffic.
More than three times as many cars drove down Bay Street during a one-hour period on Sunday, June 22, compared to one week earlier, according to a count by The Brooklyn Paper.
All told, 810 cars drove on Bay Street between Clinton and Columbia streets on June 22, compared to 235 the week before.
Red Hook residents say that the influx of cars made Columbia Street look more like a parking lot than a thoroughfare.
“It was unreal. I’ve never seen so much traffic in my life,” said Jay McKnight, co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Association. “I was fearful of crossing Columbia Street — it was bumper to bumper and everyone seemed like they were in a hurry, trying to inch up between cars.”
To handle traffic, Ikea built a 1,400-spot primary parking lot and acquired a temporary overflow lot on the neighboring site of the former Revere Sugar refinery, which it has secured at least until Labor Day.
Before opening, the furniture giant also paid to put up new signs directing drivers to the store, and hired 17 off-duty NYPD cops to form a “paid detail unit” that would help direct traffic.
But even with Ikea’s preparations, cars clogged Red Hook roads.
Employees of a private security company that was helping direct traffic said that both parking lots were near capacity on Sunday.
“There are just a few spots left. It’s overcrowded,” said one employee who was leading drivers to parking spaces in the main lot. “We’re waiting for someone to come out before we can let someone in. It’s pretty much car for car.”
And the traffic was so thick on the streets that the 76th Precinct had to dispatch additional cops to help the “paid detail unit” move traffic through Red Hook, a police source told The Brooklyn Paper.
Ikea officials will not release any information about the number of customers who visited the new store — which was expected to draw about 17,000 shoppers on weekend days — nor would they comment on the number of cars that pulled into its lots.
Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth said that traffic congestion in Red Hook will lessen as time goes on.
“Grand opening times are the busiest times of any store’s life cycle,” he said.
Ikea shoppers who spent a chunk of their day idling in backed-up streets and crowded parking lots sure hope that Roth is right.
“Traffic was just awful. It took 20 minutes from when we got off the BQE,” said Jason Bell, who drove from Ditmas Park to browse.
Traffic was a main concern of Ikea opponents when the Swedish furniture giant was seeking approval to build its first New York City location. Unlike existing big box stores, which are typically built near highways, the Ikea sits on Beard Street near the corner of Richard Street at the far southern end of Red Hook. It is also far from subways. It is expected that the vast majority of its customers will drive there.