By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Manhattan philanthopist behind the controversial high-speed, high-angled competitive bicycle track earmarked for Brooklyn Bridge Park put his feet on the ground in Brooklyn Heights this week, planting dozens of people-counters along Joralemon Street in advance of an environmental impact study.
Joshua Rechnitz's indoor velodrome — a banked, circular track for competitive bicycle racing — would be one of only two such facilities in the country (the other is in San Diego). There are a number of outdoor velodromes, including one in Kissena Park, Queens.
Workers in orange vests were positioned along Joralemon Street — several to a block, from Court to Furman streets — on Saturday and Tuesday, counting people as they walked by. The workers were employed by a contractor for NYC Fieldhouse, Rechnitz's organization that is promising $50 million to build and support a velodrome that doesn't meet Olympic standards on the waterfront near the foot of Joralemon.
Project spokesperson Maureen Connelly told the Brooklyn Eagle that the counters were gathering data in advance for an environmental impact study that would be required following the project's approvate by the board of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“It is essential to conduct pedestrian and automobile counts during appropriate times," she said. “That’s why the counts are being taken during the summer months and will continue to be taken during the fall and winter — to track changes and to have accurate figures.”
Joralemon Street was chosen because it is a “major gateway to the park.” The fieldhouse would be built in an old storage building between Piers 4 and 5.
The survey is being supervised by AKRF, a Manhattan-based planning and environmental consultant. Connelly said “the public is not being billed. All costs are being paid for by Mr. Rechnitz.”
The formal process leading up to the development of the Fieldhouse "begins with a public hearing,” which will take place sometime this fall.
A spokesperson for Brooklyn Bridge Park told the Eagle that “the park is facilitating this study as part of the required environmental review.”
Although the park’s board has not approved the proposal, statements from the park organization about the Fieldhouse have been generally supportive.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation President Regina Myer told the Eagle last month that “the proposed Fieldhouse will bring park users and the community the all-weather sports and recreation venue that has always been included in the General Project Plan for the park but was unattainable due to financial constraints. We will continue to work with the New York City Field House to address the community’s concerns and ensure that this project adds positively to the park experience.”
Robert Perris, district manager of Community Board 2, said the board wasn’t notified about the pedestrian-counting effort. However, he said, those who are doing such surveys, whether from city agencies or private organizations, rarely contact the board.
Greg Brooks, executive director of NYC Fieldhouse, told the Eagle last month that because the Fieldhouse’s velodrome is too small for Olympic trials, the track will be mainly used by cyclists from the community. He also said that major bicycling organizations had expressed “great excitement” about the plan.
Still, the proposal — which would also include space for volleyball, basketball, yoga and other activities — has generated some opposition in nearby communities.
For example, attorney and historic preservationist J. Peter Flemming told the Eagle, “Why help the city build a huge stadium — one of only two in the country — in a tiny waterfront park for this quaint, obscure, bizarre sport?”
Links to earlier velodrome coverage in the Brooklyn Eagle:
Cycling 'Fieldhouse' backer fires back as critics slam $40M facility in BB Park
Velodrome may alter Park’s shape
Bay Ridge velodrome offers an alternative to Brooklyn Bridge Park