Volume 19 | Issue 27 | November 17 - 23, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

A pedestrian runs across West St. at Warren St. The state Dept. of Transportation predicts there will be an increase in the number of accidents at the intersection under the new plan, although the agency believes the changes will reduce the total number of accidents on West St.

Residents fight dangerous change to highway crossing

By Skye H. McFarlane

Plans to revamp the southern section of West St. came under fire twice last Thursday, as one group of community members rallied for intersection safety in the morning before another group barraged the New York State Department of Transportation with concerns at an evening meeting.

The Nov. 9 rally, hosted by the West Side Crossings Task Force, was held at the corner of West and Warren Sts., where the state and city Departments of Transportation want to add two southbound left-turn lanes into Tribeca. With the support of local politicians, the Task Force kicked off its petition campaign to stop the intersection alteration. Petitioners assert — and D.O.T. agrees — that the change would cause more accidents at the intersection.

Later that day, at Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee meeting, board members grilled state D.O.T. representatives about several aspects of the project, including threats to active recreation, staging and the placement of pedestrian bridges.

The Route 9A Project, as it is officially called, entails refinishing West St. and its adjacent paths, walkways and plantings from Chambers St. down to Battery Park. The southern portion of the project, from W. Thames St. to Battery Pl., is already complete and work on the northern portion is expected to run from April 2007 to June 2009.

A crossing at risk

“Sometimes people are surprised by what government agencies plan to do. Other times, they are shocked and appalled. This is the latter,” said Assemblymember Deborah Glick at the start of the Thursday morning rally.

Standing in front of colorful protest posters and curious children from P.S./I.S. 89, Glick called the D.O.T. plan to “put vehicular traffic concerns over the safety of children and seniors” negligent and called on community members to not only sign petitions, but also to call 311 and register their concerns. Glick said she would work to bring about a meeting between community leaders and representatives from the state and city transportation departments.

“They should do more about encouraging mass transit rather than making it easier for vehicles and harder for pedestrians,” Glick said after the rally.

Though it is just a small detail in the Route 9A Project, the intersection at Warren St. looms large in the minds of many community members because it connects Tribeca with the Battery Park City ballfields, P.S./I.S. 89, and a number of Battery Park City residences, including the Hallmark senior living center.

The environmental impact statement prepared by State Transportation revealed that the changes at West and Warren Sts. would both shrink the size of the median and increase the number of accidents per year by 60 percent, from five (if no change is made), to eight.

Hand-timing done by the Task Force has shown that the crossing time at West and Warren (46 seconds) is currently the most generous in the area. At Murray St., pedestrians have 36 seconds to cross West St. At Chambers St., they have 34 seconds, although that intersection also has a pedestrian bridge. Based on the project’s E.I.S., the Task Force estimates that the new design would reduce the crossing time at Warren St. to 30 seconds.

“We at the Downtown Little League believe that children should get exercise,” said league president Mark Costello at the rally. “We don’t think they should get exercise by sprinting across an eight-lane highway at West St.”

Costello and others were forced to shout above the sounds of three nearby construction sites — 200 Chambers St. and 101 Warren St. on the eastern side of West St. and Site 23/24, adjacent to the ballfields. The buzzing and pounding at the future residential towers helped to hammer home the point that in a few years, even more families will be using the intersection.

Yet development, specifically development at the W.T.C. site, is precisely why the state and city want turning lanes at Warren St. At the C.B. 1 meeting that evening, 9A Project manager Richard Schmalz said that before 9/11, West St. was in the process of being turned into an eight-lane roadway. Once the new W.T.C. buildings are completed and traffic returns to pre-9/11 levels, Schmalz said, turn lanes will be necessary to alleviate congestion in the area.

In an interview on Nov. 15, Schmalz elaborated on the state D.O.T.’s plan, saying that in addition to preventing clogs on West and Chambers Sts., the Warren St. turning lanes will provide much-needed access to the east side of Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, a high priority for the city. Schmalz also said that the D.O.T. is conscious of the fact that the Downtown neighborhood has changed dramatically since the pre-9/11 highway plans were first conceived.

“I’ve never worked in an area like this before,” he said. “The pedestrians crossing the street down there right now are almost twice the number of cars….We know we have to maximize the safety for them.”

Schmalz pointed out that while the roadway changes are projected to increase accidents at Warren St., the number of accidents in the area as a whole, from Chambers St. to Albany St., will be reduced from around 300 per year if no change is made anywhere to just over 200 per year under the D.O.T. plan. “You can’t look at just one street. You’ve got to look at is as a system,” he said, adding that the D.O.T. has planned a series of working (i.e. non-public) meetings with community leaders in hopes of resolving the issue.

In the meantime, neighborhood residents intend to keep up the fight. In addition to Assemblymember Glick, the rally attracted C.B. 1 chairperson Julie Menin, members of the P.S./I.S. 89 administration and Parent Teacher Associations, and representatives of State Sen. Martin Connor and Councilmember Alan Gerson.

“The sky was blue. I saw a lot of people I know here,” said Bob Townley, who organized the rally. “Everything was perfect except that we are not yet successful on the issue. But we will be.”

Townley’s group plans to circulate petitions and solicit signatures at a table outside the school throughout the month of November.

W. Thames park, Rector bridge

The Battery Park City Committee moved the Route 9A Project up to No. 1 on the Committee’s agenda last Thursday after two dozen parents and players from the Downtown Soccer League showed up to protest the project’s incursion on W. Thames park.

As a nearly two-hour discussion revealed, however, the park was not the only problematic detail of the state’s plan for West St.

The meeting began with a state D.O.T. slideshow laying out plans for the northern part of the project. The project will resurface West St. from Chambers St. to W. Thames, make the street eight lanes wide and move the street farther west to accommodate the W.T.C. redevelopment. The pedestrian walkway on the west side of the street, across from the W.T.C. memorial, will be resurfaced with granite, and benches and plantings will be added. The area around W. Thames will get a new playground, gardens, a permanent dog run, a water play area and a rennovated playing field.

The temporary pedestrian bridge at Vesey St. will come down once the West St. project is completed in 2009 and the bridge at Rector St. will be repaired and reduced from two tubes to one. A new, permanent pedestrian bridge at Liberty St. is also planned, but that project must coordinate with the long-delayed deconstruction of the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St.

After the plans were laid out, a number of concerns emerged from the community. Board members repeated their desire to add active recreation to the already-completed South Promenade section of the project, a concept that was thwarted earlier in the year by the city’s Arts Commission. Local dog owners expressed dismay that the new dog run at W. Thames park will be slightly smaller than the current, temporary run.

The soccer and Little League contingent got mixed results from its requests regarding the small W. Thames field, which both leagues use. With regards to making the lawn more level for ball games, D.O.T.’s Heather Sporn gave the leagues a thumbs-up sign. The flatter field will be several feet shorter, however, due to the installation of shade arbors on either end of the lawn at the request of the Battery Park City Authority.

As to how long the field will be out of commission for construction work, Schmalz said that the D.O.T. will “make every effort to minimize the impact” of construction, but said he wouldn’t know specifics until February, when a contractor is chosen for the job.

The most contentious issue of the meeting came up when Schmalz revealed that the completion of two basketball courts and a community garden on the north side of W. Thames park will be delayed, perhaps for several years. The D.O.T. cannot revamp that area until the Rector St. bridge and its ramp are removed, Schmalz said.

Several board members balked at this information, saying that they had never been told that leaving the temporary bridge up (a community request) would lead to an indefinite delay in the court/garden project.

“We gave our approval [to the Route 9A Project] based on the idea that there would be a permanent park upon completion,” said committee chairperson Linda Belfer. “It’s clear now that we made our decision based on erroneous information.”

“Obviously we need to think and weigh in on this,” added Jeff Galloway, also a C.B. 1 committee member.

Belfer said that the committee would encourage the public to come to next month’s meeting, at which the board members will decide whether to A) leave the plans as they are, B) take down the Rector St. bridge and have the D.O.T. build the courts and the garden, or C) leave the bridge up and have the B.P.C.A. install some form of temporary recreation until such time as the permanent park can be completed.

D.O.T. officials and B.P.C.A. representative Leticia Remauro said that they would be supportive of whatever decision the community makes, so long as it is made before a contractor signs on to the project.

Downtown community’s interpretation

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