Volume 19 • Issue 11 | July 28- - August 3, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

A bus turns onto South End Ave.

Residents try to put brakes on B.P.C. tour buses

By Ronda Kaysen

The tourists aren’t so bad, but those unwieldy buses they come in on are another matter entirely.

Battery Park City residents have had enough with tour buses overtaking their neighborhood. The hulking vehicles emit noxious fumes from idling engines, drivers park in “no standing” zones awaiting their charges to return and the unwieldy buses get trapped in neighborhood cul de sacs as they attempt to leave.

“This has been going on for 10 years and it needs to be fixed,” said Gateway Plaza resident JoAnne Chernow. “You need signs that say ‘no tour buses.’”

Residents are particularly perplexed by what they describe as preferential treatment the drivers receive. Traffic police regularly ticket residents who park in the “no standing” zone, say residents, but tour bus drivers seem to go unchecked. “We don’t have the right to stand in this zone — we can’t even load or unload without being ticketed,” said Clove Club resident Becca Acken of the buses that park at the South End Ave. cul-de-sac near her apartment building. “We’re just afraid that it’s going to get out of control.”

Battery Park City is a neatly planned neighborhood isolated from the rest of Manhattan both by the West Side Highway and by its decidedly suburban feel. Cul de sacs, an anomaly in the rest of Manhattan, are common in Battery Park City.

The neighborhood is, in many ways, a tourist magnet. It sits opposite the heavily-touristed World Trade Center site, ferries dock in Battery Park City and the neighborhood offers magnificent waterfront views set alongside manicured parks and a well-maintained public promenade. And with tourists, came buses.

“When buses come in here off of West St., it’s very conspicuous,” said Dolores D’Agostino, a Gateway Plaza resident. “Anything as large as a tour bus, it becomes a problem because the neighborhood just wasn’t designed for that.”

The situation will probably escalate in years to come. The memorial is expected to draw seven million visitors a year when it opens in Sept. 2009, although the estimate may change in the fall when the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation releases new numbers. Freedom Tower architects expect the observation deck will attract five million visitors a year when it opens in 2011. Although a parking lot planned for the new Trade Center site will absorb many of the buses, the entire Downtown area will be saturated with tourists, and many of them will likely venture to Battery Park City for a bucolic view of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor after they leave the memorial.

“It can’t help but get worse,” said Linda Belfer, chairperson of the Community Board 1 Battery Park City Committee.

Part of the problem might have to do with the rebuilding effort itself. Trade Center site-bound tour buses that once parked along Church St. have been displaced in recent weeks because of street construction. Some say the buses have headed west in search of parking. “If you push them out of one place, they pop up in another,” said David Stanke, a Financial District resident who lives directly across from the Trade Center site and writes a column for this newspaper. “Until the full solution [rebuilding the neighborhood] is executed, we’re going to have problems and if it is not executed properly, we’re going to have more problems.”

Stanke worries that the longer it takes to dismantle the contaminated Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St., the longer it will take to resolve the tour bus problem. The demolition of Deutsche Bank has not started because of a series of environmentally-related setbacks. The ramp to the Trade Center parking garage will be located where Deutsche Bank now stands and tour buses will park both there and beneath the Calatrava PATH station, which is currently under construction.

The Battery Park City Authority, the agency that oversees the neighborhood, insists it has not received tour bus complaints in recent months, although the residents Downtown Express spoke with for this story spoke of unreturned phone calls and unanswered e-mails sent to the authority. Regardless, there is little the authority can do. Tour buses are free to drive down public city streets and the agency has no authority over any traffic violations that may occur.

Idling buses are the domain of the Department of Environmental Protection, and the New York City Police Department tickets illegally parked vehicles. An N.Y.P.D. spokesperson told Downtown Express that the department does not keep statistics on traffic violations in specific neighborhoods. Ian Michaels, D.E.P. press secretary, said it is illegal for buses to idle for more than three minutes.

The neighborhood has been struggling with increased traffic congestion from not only tour buses, but from cars, delivery trucks and city buses. The 20-year-old neighborhood is simply growing.

“It used to be that you felt you were in a suburban area, but not anymore,” said D’Agostino. “We get more traffic here than you get in some neighborhoods right in the thick of the city… I guess this is New York.”


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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