Volume 21, Number 50 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 24 - 30, 2009
UPDATED (April 24, 2009)
City nixes Tribeca bus plan
By Julie Shapiro
Under fire from residents and elected officials, the city agreed Friday to nix its plan to move 18 commuter buses to West St.
The move was going to happen Mon., April 27, but dozens of angry Tribecans spoke out against it. They disliked both the substance of the plan, which would allow buses to park between Canal and Harrison Sts. 11 hours a day seven days a week, and the fact that the city Dept. of Transportation gave the community less than two weeks’ notice.
“We will work with the community and elected leaders in the coming weeks to find new alternatives that meet the project’s needs while having the least impact on the surrounding neighborhood,” D.O.T. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in a statement. “We have heard from the community, and these buses will not be relocated until we can strike the right balance.”
The city’s decision to back off the plan was a relief to those who had been battling it.
“This is wonderful news,” Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, told Downtown Express. “We got a really terrific victory on this.”
Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler’s office, which oversees D.O.T., told Menin of the city’s change of heart and said the city would work with the community to find another location for the buses, which currently park on South St., Menin said The buses have to move because of construction on the East River Waterfront esplanade, which was supposed to start on Monday.
One day before backing off the plan entirely, the D.O.T. said they would delay the bus move two weeks to look at alternate sites, according to numerous neighborhood sources. Now that West St. in Tribeca is off the table, Sadik-Khan will meet with residents and elected officials next Tuesday to solicit site suggestions, Menin said.
One idea is to put the buses on Battery Pl. just north of Battery Park, but the D.O.T. said earlier this week that many tour buses already stop there and the area gets particularly busy in the summer. City Councilmember Alan Gerson also has several locations in mind for the buses, both inside and outside his Council district, but Paul Nagle, his spokesperson, declined to share them Friday. West St. just north of Canal St. is out of Gerson’s district and could be a potential alternative although no source mentioned this possibility on or off the record.
Suchi Sanagavarapu, a D.O.T. project manager, said at the April 15 C.B. 1 meeting that the D.O.T. has known about the bus move for about a year and a half. But she did not give a reason why the D.O.T. waited until now to make it public, several people who attended the meeting said. Two days after Downtown Express asked about this, a D.O.T. spokesperson said the West St. location was decided only recently.
“This is not the first time D.O.T. has done this,” Michael Levine, director of land use and planning for C.B. 1 said several days ago. He cited other examples, including the bike path through City Hall Park, when D.O.T. came to the community board only after making a final decision.
Levine had said that the D.O.T. did not look carefully enough at the impact on businesses along West St. and north Tribeca’s growing residential population. The city did not do an environmental impact statement, which would have required public review. The D.O.T. would not say this week if they considered any other sites for the buses.
The D.O.T. said parking changes do not require an E.I.S.
A longer-term solution to the bus problem is the parking garage above the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a project that remains in limbo although the community has been pushing for buses to use the space for years. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. has studied the feasibility of buying the garage and converting it for buses, but the project needs funding.
The D.O.T.’s decision comes in the wake of several community actions, including a rally Borough President Scott Stringer held Wednesday and a meeting with D.O.T. that City Councilmember Alan Gerson held the same day.
Many residents were concerned about diesel fumes from the row of buses, but the D.O.T. said that would not be a problem because “no idling” rules will be in place, but did not say if there would be any patrol officers enforcing the rule.
Had the buses moved to West St., they would have stayed about five years, said several people who attended a meeting with D.O.T.
John Mele, property manager for Ponte Equities, which owns 50 buildings in Tribeca and the F.illi Ponte Restaurant on West St., said the buses would make it hard for the restaurant to get deliveries.
“Someone thinks it’s a good idea, but I’m not so sure it’s people who are familiar with the area,” he said of D.O.T.’s original Tribeca plan.
On Fridays, traffic from the Holland Tunnel backs up along West St. starting at 2 p.m., Mele said. The row of buses will make the traffic worse, he said.
The D.O.T. said last week that the buses would leave West St. to pick up commuters before rush hour started, minimizing their conflict with auto traffic.
Residents were also concerned about the buses displacing parking for black cars for Citigroup, who agreed to use West St. rather than Greenwich St. at the community’s request.
Andy Neale, a member of the Tribeca Community Association, said the neighborhood is even more outraged about the buses than they were about the apartment towers Jack Parker recently opened along the highway.
“Tribeca was already cut off [from Hudson River Park] by the West Side Highway and high-rises,” Neale said before the D.O.T.’s turnaround, “and now they’re going to cut us off with a line of commuter buses.”