Volume 21, Number 26 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 7 - 12, 2008

The Port Authority will add signage and better lighting to the sidewalk shed in front of the Deutsche Bank building on Liberty St.

Port to dress up the W.T.C. site for the rest of construction

By Julie Shapiro

Wondering what’s going on behind the construction fence that encloses the World Trade Center site?

The man with the answers is Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority, and from today through Nov. 11 Ward is answering questions online at wtcprogress.com. The Q-and-A feature is one of several community initiatives Ward unveiled Thursday.

“Wow!” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1’s W.TC. Redevelopment Committee, when told Ward would reply to questions. “That’s very cool. That’s very exciting…. That’s amazing that he’s paying such attention to detail.”

The construction fence along Liberty St. will get blue and white stripes to brighten it.

Ward also announced improvements to the site’s perimeter Thursday, based on a tour the Port recently led to hear community members’ quality-of-life and safety concerns. The Port will add lighting, directional signage and artwork around the site. The Port will also deter illegal vendors with new signage and more aggressive patrols.

“We recognize that this is a community that the site is getting built in,” Ward said at the Port Authority’s board meeting Thursday. “We need to do a better job of helping pedestrians move around the site…. I think this will really help.”

The Port will make the changes within the next month. The Port did not immediately say how much the improvements would cost, but Ward used the word “inexpensive” in describing them.

On Liberty St. between Greenwich and Washington Sts., the block with the damaged Deutsche Bank building, the Port will repave the ground to make it safer, install lighting beneath the sidewalk shed and paint the plywood construction walls in royal blue and white stripes. In images released Thursday, the paint looks like it will make a difference, but it’s hard to gauge the impact of the new lighting because the Port’s before and after pictures were taken during the day.

The Church St. sidewalk across from Century 21 and the Millenium Hotel will remain closed during the coming years of construction, but the Port will try and make the green wall more attractive. The entire fence around the site will have images showing what it will look like six years from now when everything is done. The Port will also add signs directing tourists through the maze of barriers and scaffolding. Ward described the need to create a sense of place for the neighborhood as more than just a construction site.

“We’re going to be looking at this barrier for years to come, so investing in it now after seven years is really worthwhile,” Hughes said.

In easing pedestrian congestion, the Port pinpointed the intersection of Church and Vesey Sts. as the biggest problem spot. The Port plans to widen sidewalks and modify parking regulations and traffic-signal timing to ease the flow.

“It’s going to be a difficult period regardless of what anyone does,” Port Chairperson Anthony Coscia said after hearing Ward’s presentation. “But clearly these are very responsive to at least the criticisms I’ve heard in the past of the way we’ve managed the process.”

The Port Authority will wrap the “eyesore” of a construction fence along Church St. with images of what the site will look like six years from now.

Hughes agreed that she is seeing a more responsive version of the Port Authority.

“There seems to have been a change with the appointment of the new executive director in working with community,” Hughes said, referring to Ward. “The fact that they initiated this — it’s great.”

Hughes praised Ward’s recent hiring of Sam Schwartz to work on traffic coordination and community outreach for the Port’s new Office of Program Logistics. Schwartz led the recent site walkthrough, which Hughes attended along with Downtown Alliance President Liz Berger and other community members.

Ward’s announcement Thursday addressed many of the issues Hughes raised, which range from the cosmetic to the serious. One of her top concerns is pedestrian flow, especially since Vesey St. will be closed and Liberty St. will be reconfigured, likely for years.

Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson, said this week that the Port will definitely have to close Vesey St. between Church and West Sts., but he did not know when. The community had hoped Vesey St. would stay open, because its closure will force pedestrians to make a cumbersome detour around the Church St. post office to get to the temporary PATH station or Battery Park City. An entrance to the A, C, E subway on Church near Vesey would also likely close.

The Port had previously also announced that the Liberty St. bridge would move one block south to land at West and Cedar Sts. Coleman said this week that the move will happen around the middle of next year at the earliest.

Combine those larger inconveniences with smaller ones like locked doors in the World Financial Center, broken escalators and the lack of a separated bike path along West St., and the hassles add up.

“Maybe if the different agencies and powers that be come together, those little inconveniences could be improved,” Hughes said.

Some of the problems, like illegal vendors on Church St., lie outside of the Port Authority’s purview, but Ward committed Thursday to work with the Police Department, Department of Transportation and other city agencies.

John Foss, a C.B. 1 member who lives on Barclay St. and also attended the walkthrough, said afterwards that the Port must be held accountable for mitigating the disruptions in the neighborhood.

“Do they need to take the lead?” Foss said. “Yes.”

Julie@DowntownExpress.com




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