Whether pro or con, locals at a Thursday night hearing for the proposed Gowanus Whole Foods agreed on one thing: if the mega organic store does indeed open shop at Third Avenue and Third Street, it will mean mega traffic.
Though at the hearing for the grocery giant locals voiced myriad concerns – from the design and location of the store to concerns for how the grocery store might affect canal clean-up efforts – the most oft repeated trepidations stemmed from the sheer amount of traffic the store would bring into the neighborhood.
“Whole Foods would be a great addition to one of our shopping strips,” said Second Place resident Rita Miller, “But I’m concerned about how the [thousands of] additional car trips reported will impact my street.”
A traffic study commissioned by Whole Foods anticipates significantly increased traffic at Third Street, and particularly at the intersections of Third Street and Third Avenue and Third and Bond streets. The store anticipates an additional 687 vehicles per hour in the neighborhood during peak Saturday hours, 555 vehicles per hour on weekday evenings and 339 vehicles per hour during weekday morning rush hours.
Whole Foods representatives said the store would hope to open in late 2012 – roughly the same time that the Barclays Center arena is slated to open, meaning a huge influx of traffic into these parts of Brooklyn.
The store has proposed a few changes in an effort to mitigate the increased traffic, including new striping on crosswalks, signal interval adjustments, the removal of parking spaces for turn lanes, increased signage and shifting of center lanes. The study states that these changes would be “sufficient” to accommodate additional traffic without “creating significant adverse traffic impacts.”
But residents say that these few changes are not nearly enough to accommodate the hundreds of additional vehicle trips per hour that Whole Foods expects.
“Traffic is already a mess on Third Avenue,” said Nathan Elbogen, the Director of the Old American Can Factory just across the street. “You would change the character of the neighborhood."
He pointed out that the traffic study refers to Third Avenue as a “commuter street” though it is really a “two-lane truck route” and then politely suggested the store open up on Fourth Avenue instead.
Locals at the hearing criticized the store’s diminutive attempts to mitigate anticipated congestion and failure to conduct a more thorough study of traffic impacts. (The study only looks at up to 2012, and considers no blocks west of Bond Street).
Rather than increased pedestrian-friendliness or shuttle buses, the store said that one of its solutions to discourage car trips to the store was a “commitment to home delivery.”
“We think that this is a fantastic location, but we want it to go in with the appropriate traffic changes,” said Bob Mesnard, an officer of the Third Street Block Association.
The block association suggested to the community board and Whole Foods a number of additional traffic changes, such as installing “bulb-outs” on Smith and Third streets to increase pedestrian safety, adding a dedicated right turn lane at the entrance to the store on eastbound Third Street and a right turn lane from westbound Third Street onto Bond Street.
Whole Foods representatives, though, argued that they had completed a traffic study exactly to the Department of Transportations specifications – and nothing more.
“If DOT says this study needs to be increased, needs to be bigger, then of course we’ll comply,” said Amir Risavi, who headed up the traffic study for the grocery giant.
Others wondered why Whole Foods hadn’t spelled out bigger plans for promoting pedestrian traffic.
“How do you get people to walk to a store when they can drive?” asked community board member Elizabeth Shipley. “The store needs to be more inviting to pedestrians. Traffic is always a mess now.”