The Department of Transportation and Community Board 1 are often at odds, but in a “Twilight Zone” moment Tuesday night, the D.O.T. was advocating for pedestrians while C.B. 1 advocated for cars.
The city D.O.T.’s plans to close main streets to create temporary greenways left Seaport residents concerned about the resulting gridlock.
On three Saturday mornings in August, the Department of Transportation will ban cars from nearly 5 miles of city streets to make way for cyclists, joggers and walkers. Starting at the beginning of Centre St. in Lower Manhattan, then moving north onto Lafayette St., Fourth Ave. and Park Ave., people will be able to travel all the way to 72nd St. and then to Central Park by walking down the middle of a street.
“This is crazy,” said John Fratta, chairperson of the Seaport/Civic Center Committee. “Centre St. is totally congested.”
Dani Simons, a director at city D.O.T., said the city looked at traffic studies and determined that cars could use alternate routes. In Lower Manhattan, there will not be signs advising cars of a specific detour to take. Through advance notification, drivers will be able to plan around the closure, Simons said.
Board members countered that Downtown streets are already heavily constricted by construction and street fairs, and the last thing anyone needs is to close a major northbound thoroughfare.
The streets will be closed to cars on August 9, 16 and 23 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. On 15 major east-west streets, like Canal, 14th St. and 42nd St., cars will be allowed to cross the car-free zone.
This won’t be a street fair in the traditional sense, Simons promised. Only vendors who already have permits for the blocked-off area will be able to peddle their wares, and they must stay on the sidewalk. “This is not funnel cake and sausages,” she told the board.
Along the route, D.O.T. will set up stages with family-friendly programming and rest stops with bike repair and first aid kits. The police presence at the event will cost the city $300,000 for each Saturday, Simons said.
Fratta acknowledged that it is politically incorrect to advocate for cars in today’s go-green society, but he said that the mountains of idling cars that get stuck in traffic during the program would create extra air pollution.
Luis Sanchez, D.O.T.’s Lower Manhattan borough commissioner, said the event would go forward with or without C.B. 1’s approval. Simons said she wanted to present the plan to the community board so people could suggest improvements. After the event, the D.O.T. will collect evaluation sheets to decide on possible changes for the following year.
Without hope of stopping the plan, the committee voted 3 to 2 to approve it, while expressing deep concerns about the traffic impact and requesting that D.O.T. include the community earlier in the planning process.
Matt Viggiano, from City Councilmember Alan Gerson’s office, told Simons she’d get a better response if she sought community input earlier. The last time D.O.T. sprung a plan on the community, it was the much-maligned bus bulbs. “And we saw how popular that was,” Viggiano said.
Officials plan to continue to meet with community boards and politicians to discuss the plans.
-- Julie Shapiro