Volume 18 • Issue 4 | JUNE 17-23, 20


Canal Park drives the road to a safer street

Canal is a city street best known for its traffic, congestion and pollution. A new park however has sprung up in the middle of the street’s western end – its widest area. The reopening of Canal Park is less than a few weeks away. The trees, flowers and grass are visible and have added a bright green spot to a place where cars rule.

The park comes thanks to the work of the leaders of the Canal West Coalition and Tribeca Community Association, who have been fighting six years for the park. In 1920, the park was taken away – supposedly temporarily — to build the Holland Tunnel. In 1930, Robert Moses tried to take it away from the public forever. We’ll let Mr. Moses rest in peace, thankful his theft has finally been reversed.

The state Dept. of Transportation and the city settled a lawsuit with the neighborhood groups five years ago, agreeing to expand and rebuild a park. Instead of crabgrass, D.O.T. and the city’s Parks Dept. paid for and designed a first-class open space. Yes it’s small, but every little bit helps and the $2 million investment should make the area a little safer for walkers.

Cars and trucks speeding to the tunnel or Route 9A when there’s little traffic, and the ones honking when they sit and wait impatiently, now have a visual signal that they are driving through a neighborhood — not on a highway. A Transportation Alternatives study showed there were 14 pedestrian deaths and 353 injuries on Canal St. from 1995 to 2001. The city Transportation Dept. reports the numbers have been getting better in recent years, but we still have had one death a year for the last three years including this one, and 2005 isn’t yet half over.

The problems aren’t isolated at the west end of the street but along its entire length. Transportation Alternatives ranked the intersection of Canal and Mott as one of the 10 most dangerous in Manhattan. Hudson and Canal, which is overwhelmed by the tunnel entrance, is abominable. If not for the heavy contingent of traffic police near the tunnel, this undoubtedly would be another high-accident area.

An achingly long-range federal study of the Canal St. area has been underway for several years. A few modest improvements have been made as a result, but as we reported two weeks ago, the final phase of the Canal Area Transportation Study will not be finished for two years, after which time more improvements may be recommended. Traffic changes do require careful study, but an additional two years seems excessive.

Exacerbating the Canal St. problems is a warped, one-way tolling system that gives truckers economic incentives to drive into Lower Manhattan. The one-way Verrazano Bridge draws trucks that have no reason being here. The disastrous toll decision was a federal political payoff to Staten Island residents. There is no hope of changing the tolls in the short run, but it may not be that long before the Democrats control the House of Representatives again, which will give U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Canal St., a chance to get a toll reversal passed through Congress.

That’s long-term. In the short run, parks along the street can provide a little desperately needed open space and get more drivers to slow down and stop honking. We’d like to see construction on the long-awaited Varick-Canal triangle park begin soon. And we’re pleased we can enjoy Canal Park now.

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