Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brian Lehrer WNYC - Chatham Square Reconstruction

For those of you who missed Brian Lehrer on WNYC radio CCRC has transcribed the interview for your review. Transportation Alternatives Wiley Norville and AAFE's Thomas Yu, Chair of the Chatham Square Task Force of CB3 speak about traffic in and through Chinatown.
Here is the link to hear the interview: Look Both Ways (The Brian Lehrer Show: Monday, 26 January 2009)


Brian Lehrer Show - A.M. 1/26/2009
BL: ... We also saw the tragic accident in Chinatown last week
where a delivery van ran into a group on a sidewalk in
Manhattan's Chinatown, killing 2 children and injuring several
others. The incident was deemed an "accident" but Chinatown
is still the most dangerous neighborhood in Manhattan for
pedestrians. So, we're going to look at pedestrian safety in
Chinatown to understand why it's particularly dangerous there,
and what to do about it, and we'll also look at pedestrian
safety in general as an issue across a heavily trafficked
metropolitan area. Joining me now are Wiley Norvell,
communications director of the group Transportation
Alternatives which advocates for pedestrians and bicyclists,
and, Thomas Yu, director of housing development at Asian
Americans for Equality. He is also the chair of the Chatham
Square Redesign Committee of Community Board 3. Welcome both
of you. Good morning.

WN and TY: Good morning.

BL: There were 25 fatalities and more than 1100 injuries in the
decade from 1995 to 2005 in Chinatown. More fatalities than
any other Manhattan zip code. Thomas Yu - What makes
Chinatown the most [dangerous] neighborhood in Manhattan for

TY: One, well you have.. it's both a residential and commercial
area, it is a tourist destination, and so you have a lot of
conversions of major arteries that you have - the Manhattan
Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge feeding into it; people take
Canal Street and other nearby streets to get to the tunnels,
and also, it's just north of the Courts and City Hall, so you
have a convergence of a lot of traffic really overloading the
streets of some of the neighborhood.

BL: Wiley, that's just to say that there's a lot of cars and
trucks. Is it that simple, or is it a matter of how the
streets and the traffic patterns, and so forth, are designed
and managed by the City?

WN: Well, I think you could sum up the conditions in Chinatown
with the phrase "No margin for error" with the amount of
vehicular and truck traffic pouring across Canal Street and
all those neighborhood streets, all the businesses, and
probably the most pedestrian congestion outside of maybe Times
Square. There's really no margin for error in Chinatown.
It's what we saw with this last crash; you know, a double-
parked vehicle that was in reverse, presumably in reverse, not
going very fast, but because of the all the congestion, all
the pedestrians, even something like that is going to lead to
fatality and tragedy. That's really the plague of Chinatown,
that there's just so many demands put on those streets. These
are streets that probably have not changed design-wise since
the 19th Century.

BL: Sure enough. I mean, it's one of the oldest neighborhoods in
the City and it still has a lot of the 18th century or 19th
century pedestrian infrastructure. From a policy perspective,
Thomas Yu, what could improve the pedestrian infrastructure
while still maintaining the commercial use and the business
access that so many in Chinatown depend on?

TY: As you know, we are meeting as a task force regarding one
issue, the Chatham Square redesign. Some of the things that
we have asked the DOT for, we haven't gotten. Things as
simple as a Pedestrian-Vehicular Conflict Analysis, which is
typical for just finding out how these additional cars - when
there is construction work, if it is diverted - how it affects
pedestrians at intersections. We've been asking for that and
have not gotten it.

BL: Would you like this? Manhattan Borough President Scott
Stringer and City Councilman Daniel Squadron have called for
a comprehensive plan for pedestrian safety in Chinatown. It
includes banning commercial traffic on local residential
streets, even though commercial traffic has all been pushed to
the Manhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn Bridge which does not
take commercial traffic anymore. This comprehensive plan
includes banning commercial traffic on local residential
streets, re-opening Park Row - which was closed as a post-9/11
security measure for the NYPD, traffic calming measures - like
bollards and speed bumps, more commercial parking. Let me ask
you, Wiley, I know Transportation Alternatives never likes
more parking, but what do you think about that blueprint from
the Borough President and Councilman Squadron?

WN: There's a lot of good things there, especially on the traffic
calming front. This is a toolbox that's tried and tested.
These are things that worked on Queens Blvd ten years ago -
tamed the Blvd of Death to some extent. In a place like
Chinatown, we can't go without them. We can't go without
things like bollards to protect pedestrians on sidewalks,
better signal timing to give pedestrians added time to cross
these dangerous streets like Canal [Street]. We can't go
without them any longer, and we hope the City moves very
aggressively to roll them out in that neighborhood.

BL: Anyone else from Chinatown or anywhere else in the metro area?
Because we will expand this out from Chinatown in just a
minute. Traffic safety. You know, it's not drivers who get
killed on the streets of New York in driver-pedestrian
accidents, it is pedestrians. So, any suggestions to improve
pedestrian safety? Any place where you particularly unsafe
crossing the street? Call and shout out your intersection and
maybe it will put it on the City Transportation Dept's radar
screen. 212 433 WNYC, and of course anyone from Chinatown.
(repeats) or post to: and click on Brian Lehrer show
for Wiley Norvell from Trans Alt and Thomas Yu from AAFE and
CB3 in Chinatown.

Here's Mike in Manhattan.

MIKE: Yes, hello. I have a comment on the current conversation
and I think one of the people who needs to be thanked for
part of the congestion in Chinatown is former Congressman
Guy Molinari from Staten Island, who put a bill through
Congress that required the Port Authority to have one-way
tolls on the Verrazano Bridge, so what truckers now do in
order to avoid the toll on the Verrazano Bridge is - they
take Canal Street and the Holland Tunnel instead of going
through Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge. That
causes a good part of the heavy truck congestion on
Staten Island.

BL: Thomas Yu - You think that's right?

TY: That's absolutely correct. A lot of wider regional
transportation decisions affect Chinatown because it is a
regional hub. For example, the tolls on the Verrazano Bridge
is one of them. Even development on the other side of the
bridges in Brooklyn are pouring traffic into Chinatown. These
are the things that the residents have brought up in the Task

BL: Wiley, if Chinatown is the most dangerous neighborhood for
pedestrians in Manhattan, do you happen to know what the 2nd
and 3rd and 4th most dangerous neighborhoods are, either in
Manhattan per se, or citywide?

WN: We'll they're really going to concentrate where you have the
same problems - intense vehicular traffic, especially truck
traffic converging with a lot of pedestrian density. Those
are going to be places like Washington Heights, places like
midtown, places like Harlem, where you have all those uses

BL: Here is somebody elsewhere in Manhattan who has a pedestrian
problem. Richard, you're on WNYC.

RICHARD: I wanted to speak about the approaches to crossings like
the Queensborough Bridge, where the crossings are -
everybody's sort of in highway mode, and there is this
terrible disregard for the pedestrian crosswalks and
people oftentimes on cell phones coming onto these
crossings, and the danger posed to pedestrians and
myself, especially when I'm wheeling my 20-month son
around, is really upsetting. It seems like some of the
traffic agents do their job, others do not, but I think
in these areas that are right near major crossings,
especially free ones where lots of times drivers are
trying to avoid the tunnels or the paid crossings, it's
a special problem.

BL: Wiley?

WN: This really hits the nail on the head. It's really negligent
and dangerous driving that are posing the hugest risks to New
Yorkers. All these pedestrian deaths that happen - the Number
1 cause isn't things like drunk driving or being on a cell
phone, that we think of in the headlines - it's things like
speeding, it's things like driver inattention, and there is so
little margin for error that it's inevitable that we have this
many crashes when people aren't paying attention. We really
need a new push to do what we did with drunk driving. You
know, 30 years ago drunk driving was not only permitted, it
was almost celebrated if you look at movies from the 70s. In
this day and age, we really need to bring the same aggressive
approach with respect to culture and laws to reckless driving.
There's so little margin for error in New York that we can't
afford to be inattentive, we can't afford not be bringing 100%
of our attention. If you drive 2 tons of steel on New York
City streets, you're responsible for the outcomes of what's
going to happen.

BL: Richard, thank you for your call. Now, Thomas Yu, you're the
chair of the Chatham Square Redesign Committee of CB3 and,
after 9/11 Park Row, as we mentioned earlier, was closed to
vehicle traffic which merchants and residents claim have
worsened gridlock and lowered property values. Now the City
has plans to redesign Chatham Square and transform Park Row
into a landscaped pedestrian and bicycle area. Do you like
that idea?

TY: If we were just to reflect the feelings of the community on
the Task Force, there are public members - they're absolutely
against the idea. But everything we've been told is that we
can't ask for it, that it [Park Row] will be closed. It's
compounding a lot of problems in the area where traffic has
trouble flowing, and with the upcoming Brooklyn Bridge repairs
- that will divert a lot of traffic into Chinatown.
Businesses are worried that the shut down of the streets,
especially on the weekends when Chinatown does most of its
business, will severely affect the economy of the

BL: And Wiley, you've been reading on Streetsblog, a liveable
streets advocate - side-aligned with Trans Alternatives, that
these more pedestrian-friendly measures are drawing opposition
from the business community which is reliant on auto traffic.
So, there's a conflict about whether the community even wants
more street space allocated to pedestrians?

WN: You know, it's hard to say. I think my colleague on the other
line could probably verify that, you now, over the years
Chinatown has really gotten the short end of the stick from
the City of New York, whether it's NYPD response to 9/11,
whether it's government workers parking with permits
illegally, whether it's all this traffic congestion... There's
so much bad faith on the part of the City over 20 years with
respect to Chinatown, that it's hard to recognize the good
when it's playing out. There is, I think, a lot of good to
this Chatham Square redesign, I think there's a lot in it for
a neighborhood with as many pedestrians and as low car
ownership as Chinatown, but certainly there's more room for
community input on this.

BL: BTW - When we finish this discussion, we're going to have a
happier conversation for Chinatown and other parts of the City
and the region and the world. We're going to celebrate the
Year of the Ox. The Lunar New Year is of course today and
we're collecting posts. Some good stuff is already coming in
on our webpage [with] answers to the question: How are you
celebrating the Year of the Ox?
[followed by discussion on Year of the Ox]

BL: To finish up on transportation - Wiley Norvell from Transp.
Alternatives, your group has been advocating for implementing
what they call "Leading Pedestrian Interval Systems" in our
intersections. What is that?

WN: Well, one of the major causes of crashes in NYC is failure to
yield - cars turning across pedestrians while they're in the
crosswalk with a walking signal. What LPI's do is give
pedestrians time to cross. It's also called "Exclusive
Crossing Time" where a pedestrian has 10 seconds to establish
themselves in the intersection before they have to contend
with traffic turning in front of them.

BL: Megan in Brooklyn has an issue that a few of our callers do
with respect to Chinatown street safety.

MEGAN: Hi, my question about Chinatown is that I know that the
stalls - the vendors have stalls extend[ing] so far onto
the sidewalk, it seems to leave very little space for,
particularly, large numbers of tourists to walk around
in. People tend to walk in the street. I'm wondering if
that is part of the problem of why it's so dangerous in

TY: You have some instances where the sidewalk has been taken over
by produce and things like that. These are things that we all
can work on, I'm sure, especially the response that small
businesses have in terms of closing the street completely to
traffic. I think maybe there can be some compromise worked
out where maybe certain hours they get their shipments, and
then they in turn police their area of the sidewalk.

BL: Megan, thank you very much. We'll leave it there. [followed
by discussion on Year of the Ox]

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