downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 13 | August 10 - 16, 2007

Police study on Park Row changes, closure remains

By Skye H. McFarlane

The security barriers around 1 Police Plaza may be having a “significant adverse impact” on the historic Chinatown community, according to the most recent environmental study by the N.Y.P.D., but local businessman Jan Lee sees the fight against those barriers as a positive for Chinatown.

“On the one hand it’s historically significant,” Lee said after the Police Department released its final environmental impact statement on the security measures last week. “Chinatown is showing people that when you encroach on Chinatown…we come back with legal action; we rally the troops. We really did force their hand.”

Lee, a member of the Civic Center Residents Coalition, said that while he did not agree with the final E.I.S., he was glad that the study had been produced and that it reflected some of the community’s concerns regarding both the security plan itself and the draft E.I.S. that was released last year.

The final E.I.S. is the latest chapter in a saga that began when the N.Y.P.D. cordoned off the streets around its headquarters in the wake of 9/11, closing parts of Park Row, Pearl St. and Madison St. to non-official traffic. The security measures riled local residents and business owners, who said that the street closures — Park Row in particular — jammed up traffic and hindered mass transit, local deliveries and ambulances.

A group of local residents sued and the N.Y.P.D. was ordered in 2003 to prepare an environmental assessment analyzing the impact of the security zone. After the Police Dept. ruled that the security zone did not negatively impact the community, the residents sued again. In 2004, State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub ordered the city to conduct a more thorough E.I.S. and take a “hard look” at the socioeconomic impact of the barriers.

The resulting draft E.I.S. caused even more community uproar, as it used a non-scientific survey of 20 local businesses to support its conclusion that the Chinatown economy had not been affected by the street closures. In the biggest change from the draft, the final E.I.S. contained a more comprehensive survey of 306 business owners from three different neighborhoods near the security zone. The full E.I.S. can be accessed through a link on the N.Y.P.D.’s home page at www.nyc.gov/nypd.

In its summary report, the E.I.S. called the new business survey “at most, inconclusive.” However the survey report itself, prepared by SIS International Research, reported that 61 percent of the businesses in the historic Chinatown area believed that business had been hurt by the security zone. Opinions on the effect of the street closure were evenly split in the area north of Canal St. East of the Bowery, businesses largely believed that the street closures did not have an effect on business, but across all three neighborhoods, business owners expressed concerns about traffic, parking and the state of the tourism industry.

“There was a general consensus [even amongst those who did not feel that business had been strongly affected] that less parking space and traffic congestion made it difficult and less attractive to enter the Chinatown area,” the report stated.

The final E.I.S. dismissed this conclusion, though, stating that consistent property values and storefront vacancy rates demonstrated that there was no significant impact to the local economy. The E.I.S. also dismissed the anecdotal statements by New York Downtown Hospital staff saying that the street closures have harmed emergency response times. The E.I.S. cited Fire Dept. stats showing that local response times are comparable to those around the city. While ambulances are permitted to drive through the security zone, they must stop at the barriers and show identification.

Where the final E.I.S. did admit a “significant adverse impact” was in the areas of urban design, traffic congestion and noise. The E.I.S. also stated that “the closure of public streets and the addition of the security elements have introduced a forbidding and unaesthetic quality to the area.” The report stopped short of calling this an adverse impact, however, citing the fact that Jersey barriers and bollards have become commonplace in Lower Manhattan since 9/11.

To mitigate some of the impacts, the E.I.S. proposed to improve the streetscape on Park Row and to adjust the configuration and timing of some local intersections. The mitigation plan also mentioned returning three of the local bus routes to Park Row, a plan that is already underway — although one of the buses was damaged this past June when a security barrier on the street popped up accidentally underneath the bus, injuring three passengers.

Despite changes to the business survey and to some of the E.I.S. language, the study’s conclusion is the same: Due to security concerns, and fears of car bombs in particular, the street closures and barriers must remain in effect until the terrorism threat has abated.

“The recent decision by the N.Y.P.D. to keep Park Row closed is short-sighted and unacceptable,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in statement to Downtown Express Wednesday. “While I understand the need to protect our public safety, I believe thesemeasures must be balanced with the needs of residents and businesses in the area. Park Row is a vital artery that must be fully reopened if we are truly ever going to revitalize our Lower Manhattan and Chinatown communities.”

Lee pointed out that even City Hall is not protected by the type of wide “stand-off” zone and street closures that surround 1 Police Plaza. In fact, one of the post-9/11 barriers around City Hall, the northern lawn of City Hall Park, was reopened to the public last week. But if the Police Dept. does need such stringent protection, Lee and some of his fellow neighborhood activists have an idea: Move police headquarters out of Lower Manhattan. The Civic Center Residents Coalition believes that the N.Y.P.D. failed to seriously consider this suggestion in the final E.I.S.

Although the Police Dept. did not return requests for comment, the E.I.S. responded to calls to move police headquarters by pointing out that three courthouses also sit within the security zone, adjacent to 1 Police Plaza.

“Given the functions hosted by 1 Police Plaza, and the close coordination required between the N.Y.P.D. and the criminal justice system, it is essential for all of the functions within police headquarters to be located within close proximity to the court facilities and detention centers, as well as the seat of government,” the report said in response to a comment by Seaport resident John Ost that the Police Dept. ought to decentralize to make itself more secure.

Regardless of the conclusions in the final E.I.S., Lee said that local merchants and residents will continue to fight to reopen Park Row. Although they have not yet decided their next move, they have not ruled out the possibility of further legal action.

“I think as long as communities Downtown continue to be as outraged and vocal and courageous as they have been, the city eventually will do things in favor of the community,” Lee said.


Skye@DowntownExpress.com





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