Downtown Express photo by David Stanke
Photo of crane work at the W.T.C. near Church St., taken with a telephoto lens, which distorts the perspective. The workers are much further from the building than it appears.
It’s not safer when city stops W.T.C. work
By David Stanke
Why did the southeast corner of the World Trade Center suddenly go quiet? Tishman Construction suspended a heavy crane boom over Church St. during hours of active use without a permit. For this violation, the city revoked two crane permits and halted construction. Should we be relieved that the city is moving in to protect us? Or is this another meaningless delay motivated by a territorial dispute. I do not feel any safer having the Department of Buildings involved at the W.T.C site.
With all of the crane “accidents” around the city recently, issues of safety did occur to me as Tishman constructed the 12-story crane a stone’s throw from my front window two weeks ago. The installation of the crane was so impressive that I watched the process as the violation occurred. From what I saw and what I have heard, the technical aspects of the installation were done properly. If done properly, this activity should pose no danger. The restrictions are to protect the public against mistakes. The city identified a technical violation, which would have increased risk to the public only if the actual procedure was not done correctly.
Tishman successfully installed the crane at 4 W.T.C. without dropping anything from the crane, without any incidents in which the crane or boom was out of control or any of the equipment was pushed beyond limits. Just as I often walk under ladders, I could have walked under this crane without being hurt. But Tishman was required to get a permit to close the street. Not getting one is a violation, but it is not a serious one in terms of safety.
The crane that collapsed on the Upper East Side some months ago killed people, but had no violations. The crane at the W.T.C did no damage, but had violations. When should we be concerned about safety?
The city just finished negotiating with the Port Authority to get into the W.T.C to regulate aspects of construction. The Port, because of its legal standing as a bi-state agency, did not fall under the authority of city building regulators. Various city officials were undoubtedly frustrated by this exclusion. Regulation is power. I wish I could believe that the city was simply acting to protect the public and the construction workers on the W.T.C site.
City regulators focus on specifics of code rather than safety. They are prone to unpredictable, suspicious behavior. Our condo, for example, recently fired an elevator maintenance company for years of poor service. The new company promptly cleared longstanding violations. In response, the D.O.B issued more violations than we have ever had, although they were not serious enough to shut the elevator, and the inspector did not explain what the problems were. The violations seemed punitive rather than protective. Was the inspector partial to our previous contractor?
The city was regulating the decontamination and deconstruction of the Deutsche Bank building. Under the city’s watch, the standpipe was disconnected and serious fire and safety violations proliferated. The Fire Department lost two men in the fire. What drove the regulators’ agenda? Was it safety or speed of progress? Regulators are too easily used as a political tool to punish or support projects depending on political expediency. The D.O.B could shut down any construction site in the city if it chose.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is now circulating demolition plans for Deutsche Bank. Neighbors of ours in another building, Mark Scherzer and Mary Perillo, are going though these plans with extreme caution and suspicion. They are making serious safety recommendations, like putting tarps over debris containers and suspending construction in high winds. Debris has fallen from the Deutsche Bank building before and damaged the fire station. Our neighbors are trying to enhance neighborhood safety.
Why does the public need to take action like this? Don’t we taxpayers hire regulators to be experts? But regulators have not protected us at Deutsche Bank. They have not prevented falling cranes or collapsing buildings. Inspectors issue fines and violations, but there have been some glaring lapses on big issues. With Tishman’s crane, I don’t suspect that public safety is their first concern.
The Department of Transportation did not issue a permit to close Church, and would not do so for work during the week. The violation was issued on a Thursday. Would the D.O.T have given a permit for work on that Saturday or would they have delayed the project for weeks?
The crane operators took a chance they should not have taken. For that, they should be fined or penalized. I prefer confident competence to spurious regulation of questionable intent. The threat of lawsuits resulting from a construction accident will do more to keep contractors on their toes than the regulators ever will.
As I write this, the cranes sit silently on the site. Hundreds of workers have been sent home. Construction has stopped and local businesses are hurting. The W.T.C is once again at a standstill. What are we waiting for? Will the D.O.B provide advice or oversight to enhance safety? Or will they simply take a few pounds of flesh and fortify their egos?
David Stanke lives and writes in Lower Manhattan. His email is email@example.com and he Tweets at davestanke.