Friday, May 8, 2009

Downtown Express and The Villager coverage of the Liu / Gerson Town Hall on Transportation Issues

Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 8 - 14, 2009

Traffic changes driving ’em crazy in L.E.S. and Chinatown

By Albert Amateau

Lower East Side and Chinatown residents braved the rain on Monday to denounce Mayor Bloomberg and the city Department of Transportation over traffic changes the city has made during the past several months and is contemplating for the future for their neighborhoods.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who convened the May 4 forum on traffic and parking at P.S. 137 at East Broadway and Grand St., told Transportation officials that what the city thought would be improvements to traffic circulation and pedestrian safety on Grand St. have not worked.

“We get too many complaints that D.O.T. turns a deaf ear to community concerns,” Gerson said. “Traffic on Grand St. is worse. Pedestrian crossings are more dangerous. Critical turns for the Fire Department, ambulances and police have become difficult.”

Neighbors also railed against the recently established Grand St. bike lanes, and denounced bike riders who ride on the sidewalks and ride in the wrong direction when they do use the bike lanes.

Jan Lee, of Mott St., presented photos of Depart-ment of Parks cars and garbage trucks parking in the entrance of Columbus Park in Chinatown.

“It’s a daily occurrence,” he said. “Every weekday between 12 and 2 you’ll see a whole circulation of cars, even though there is curbside parking space reserved for the Parks Department.”

Luis Sanchez, a D.O.T. official at the forum, said the department tries to respond to the needs of pedestrians, drivers and delivery trucks.

“We end up taking from one group and giving to another,” he said. But he promised to call the Parks Department about vehicles in Columbus Park.

Triple Edwards, another Chinatown resident, insisted that the Police Department should be involved in traffic and parking forums.

“They are part of the traffic and parking problem in Chatham Square, and there is no dialogue with N.Y.P.D.,” he said.

Harold “Heshy” Jacob, the manager of the East River Housing Co-ops on Grand St. at the F.D.R. Drive and a director of the Hatzolah volunteer ambulance service, said the Grand St. traffic islands installed last year and the Grand St. bike lanes have interfered with emergency calls and delayed truck deliveries.

“Ambulances can’t get up Grand St.,” Jacob said. “I’ve seen fire engines tied up at Pitt St. Cars can’t move on Essex St.” Jacob recalled that the traffic islands last winter were useless as safety refuges for pedestrians because they were covered with snow and ice. The concrete of at least one island disintegrated over the winter and doesn’t exist any longer, he said.

Jacob also said the Grand St. bike lanes were a menace because they force trucks to park in the middle of the street when making deliveries.

Jacob recalled that Margaret Forgione, D.O.T. Manhattan borough commissioner, told a Lower East Side forum earlier this year that the Grand St. median island was intended to avoid pedestrian deaths on a section of Grand St. where there had been three fatalities. Jacob said he obtained records through a Freedom of Information Law request and found that there were no fatalities at that location, but that there had been one death on Clinton St. after a safety island had been installed at an intersection.

Jacob said there should have been an environmental impact statement done for the Grand St. traffic islands, but there was none.

Sanchez did not respond to Jacob’s comments.

“This is Bloomberg — arrogantly conceived and arrogantly carried out,” said Aaron Mitrani. He recalled pointing out to a construction foreman at one location last year that his crew was building an island next to another that was under construction.

“They made a mistake and they had to take it all down,” he said.

Mitrani noted that north-south traffic, especially along Essex St., is often at a standstill as far as the eye can see. He also condemned cyclists for disobeying traffic rules and riding wherever they pleased.

“It’s time the city licensed bikes so they can track offenders,” he said.

Iris Blutreich was angry about the curbside parking lost because of the bike lanes. She also called for an end to alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules and suggested that new street-cleaning technology could vacuum trash from the gutters. Parking-meter rules on the Jewish Sabbath should also be dropped, Blutreich said.

Darci Kennedy, a resident of Rutgers St. between Madison and Cherry Sts., said two parking lanes leave no room for cars on the street. Fire trucks cannot get to buildings, she said.

Rutgers St. residents called on D.O.T. to change traffic rules in time for the annual Rutgers St. neighborhood stickball game on May 23.

“It’s an important event for us,” Kennedy said.

Morris Faitelewicz also called for licensing bicycles and giving summonses to bike riders who violate traffic rules.

“They must he held accountable,” he said. Motorcycle and motor-scooter riders who remove their license plates and park on sidewalks should also get summonses, he added. Faitelewicz suggested that license identification should be affixed permanently on the vehicles rather than on a removable license plate.

Gerson said he intends to conduct a series of traffic town hall meetings, the next one on May 19 at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry St. at Prince St.

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