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Did problems with limos at Barclays Center start with omissions in its Transportation Demand Management plan?

The framework for transportation management around Barclays Center is contained in the “Transportation Demand Management Plan for Barclays Center” (TDM), produced by Sam Schwartz Engineering, release in draft in May of 2012, and updated in August of 2012. The plan has two stated goals: “The first is to minimize the number of vehicles that travel to the arena. The second is to minimize the impact on the surrounding area from the patrons who insist on driving, regardless of the available alternatives.”

Since the arena opening on September 28, many incident reports have been submitted to AYW documenting illegal parking and idling by limousines on the streets near Barclays Center. At the December 6 Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting, there was extended discussion on a plan by the 78th Precinct and DOT to allow limousines to queue on the south side of Atlantic Avenue between 6th Avenue and Carlton Avenue. Several participants (including the writer) questioned whether essentially providing free parking to limos was consistent with the goals of the TDM. Representatives from the ESDC and Forest City Ratner were quick to suggest that limos should not be considered to be covered by the TDM.

A review of the TDM shows it considered patron travel by limousine. Further, an accompanying study by Clarion Research indicates FCRC had reason to believe the TDM strategies would not be effective in reducing travel to the arena by limousine. Looking more closely at the sampling used in the Clarion study also suggests that its results almost certainly understate the number of arena patrons likely to travel to events by limousine, a potential problem that should have been apparent to FCRC when reviewing the data.


TDM: Communications reduce patrons driving, but have no effect on limo use

Clarion conducted two-part interviews with 2,226 individuals likely to attend events at Barclays Center. During the initial interview, individuals were asked about the mode of transportation they were likely to use to travel to the arena. Interviewees were then given information about available public transit servicing Barclays Center, and were told about the difficulty in finding parking near the arena. In the second part of the interview, individuals were asked again to state the mode of transportation they would choose to travel to a Barclays Center event.

After finding out about transit options and parking challenges, interviewees who expressed a preference for traveling to an event by personal car decreased from 38.6% of the total sample to 34.1%. Those who expressed a preference for traveling by taxi decreased from 2.2% to 1.5%. Public transit was the beneficiary of these losses, increasing its share of prospective arena patrons to 54.4% from 45.4%. These results were cited by Sam Schwartz Engineering in recommending a communications-oriented approach to discourage driving to the arena.

Chart showing change in preference for travel to arena after receiving mass transit and parking info. (Clarion Research)

However, the same results showed that information about public transit options and scarce parking had an opposite effect on 0.4% of individuals who initially stated a preference for traveling to arena events by limousine: At the second set of interviews, 0.5% indicated a preference for limo travel, a small gain. Clarion also found that among individuals stating an initial preference to travel by vehicle who could not be swayed to use public transit, convenience, not cost, was the most important factor in their choice. And what mode of transportation is more convenient than a limo hired for an entire night? In sum, results of the firm’s quantitative research gave no reason to believe the strategies planned for Barclays Center's TDM would reduce limousine travel to arena events at all.


Small number of patrons projected likely to travel by limo probably unrealistic

Although Clarion’s research indicated planned TDM methods would not be effective in reducing limousine driving to Barclays Center, the low percentage of individuals in its survey indicating a preference for traveling to the arena by limousine also indicated these few trips might not pose a problem to the surrounding neighborhoods. After all, 0.5% of patrons arriving for a sold-out 18,000-seat event by limousine is only 90 people. If an average limousine carries two patrons, that adds up to only 45 trips.

Unfortunately, this optimistic scenario does not align with the Barclays Center marketing plan, which heavily promotes the venue’s luxury seating and dining options. According to information disclosed during Barclays Center’s application for its liquor license, its Vault suites and bar area have a maximum capacity of 427 people; its Courtside Club (which exclusively services the patrons in premium courtside seating) has a capacity of 539; and its 40/40 Club has a capacity of 350. This total capacity of 1,316 in premium seating and dining areas represents 7.3% of the 18,000 person capacity of Barclays Center.

Neither the Clarion study nor the TDM itself mentions Barclays Center’s sales goals with respect to VIP customers, but the venue clearly expects more than 0.5% of its patrons to meet that distinction. Given Barclays Center’s focus on high-end entertainment marketing, the split among survey participants favoring limousine use seems unrealistically low.  To forecast demand for limousine use and plan strategies to manage it, Barclays Center should have commissioned quantitative research specifically focusing on the segment of premium customers, rather than expect the sample Clarion culled of a general population to be representative of the audience makeup it envisioned for the arena.  


Where we go from here

The TDM’s omission of a plan to reduce the impact of limousine travel to Barclays Center appears to be a result of its failure to consider the target segmentation of the venue’s audience. Since there can be no question that the current issues surrounding limousines parking and idling illegally on local streets fall within the TDM’s goal “to minimize the impact on the surrounding area from the patrons who insist on driving, regardless of the available alternatives,” the TDM should be revised to specifically address the current conditions it failed to predict. FCRC has not yet seen fit to include its traffic consultants Sam Schwartz Engineering in any public discussion of impacts from limousine travel to Barclays Center, and it is not clear that SSE is engaged on the matter in any other capacity.

NYPD and DOT have taken independent action to address the problem.  Their proposal to create a staging area on the public curb of Atlantic Avenue is a direct community impact. The plan should not be considered permanent before a more accurate assessment of the number of trips to Barclays Center events by limousine can be made, and other alternatives that would not require public space are studied.

In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future, enforcement of parking and idling regulations will continue to be required. Due to the shifting of locations where limousines congregate, as well as the challenges inherent in issuing summonses to drivers in running vehicles, enforcement is likely to be manpower-intensive—another challenge to be considered by a revised TDM.