Sunday, February 8, 2009

City Council Debates Chatham Square Plan

By Jonathan Weeks
Epoch Times Staff

Feb 7 09

NEW YORK—Representatives from City Council today called for a full community review of the Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to reconfigure Chatham Square.

Chatham Square is located on Park Row between the federal buildings of lower Manhattan and Chinatown. Pedestrians crossing through Chatham Square must contend with long crossings, inadequate sight lines, and multiple simultaneous turning movements through crosswalks. A new design would reconfigure Chatham Square improving traffic and pedestrian conditions, and create a new public open space according to a program released by the NYC government in 2008.

The City has proposed a $50 million plan to reconfigure Chatham Square to help diminish the impact of Park Row’s closure on the community. Andrew Winters, director of the Mayor's Office for Capital Projects, testified that the project would improve traffic flow and conditions for pedestrians. A pedestrian promenade that will be open to bikers as well is planned for the parking lanes of Park Row, which will still be used by official vehicles. The reconfiguration will include a 22,000 square foot public plaza and will be designed in partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The residents of nearby Chinatown hold another view. The majority do not want this project to see fruition. Many feel that the reconfiguration will make foot and wheeled traffic worse and will endanger pedestrians more than the current layout. It also moves the community closer to the permanent closing of Park Row which is a vital artery between Chinatown and lower Manhattan.

Officials indicated that the project will move forward despite strong community objections, including formal resolutions from Manhattan Community Boards One and Three rejecting the plan.

"It is clear from the testimonies that the plan does not work for the community. The bidding needs to be delayed to allow for meaningful community input, in accordance with the timetable, which the City's agreement with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation requires," said Council Member Gerson, chair of the Council Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee.

The City has made it clear that Park Row will not be reopened in the foreseeable future due to the "current threat environment." This is based on an assessment by the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau in consultation with outside security experts, said James Waters, Commanding Officer of the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau in a testimony.

After the September 11 attacks Park Row was closed to protect police headquarters, the Metropolitan Detention Center, and the Federal and State Court Buildings. "The closure of Park Row has had a devastating effect on Chinatown, causing increased congestion, impeding emergency services vehicles, increasing noise and air pollution, and hurting businesses," said Council Member Gerson.

Prior to the September 11 attacks, the federal government had issued plans to increase security at its federal buildings at 26 Federal Plaza and 290 Broadway, which included closing parts of Broadway and Center Streets. City officials objected to these closures, saying that the streets were main arteries into Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. They voiced concerns that emergency service vehicles would be obstructed. According to a press release, the debate over the closings of Broadway and other streets adjacent to the Federal buildings became so heated that the Federal government threatened to take the streets by eminent domain.

Many residents of Chinatown are wondering why similar effort is not being put forth to fight the permanent closing of Park Row.

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