Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 1 - 7, 2009
City slams brakes on contentious bus plan
By Julie Shapiro
Under fire from residents and elected officials, the city agreed last 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, first reported on DowntownExpress.com last Friday, was a relief to those who had been battling it. “This is wonderful news,” Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, said. “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 last Monday.
Residents worried that putting the buses on West St. would snarl Holland Tunnel traffic, fill the increasingly residential neighborhood with diesel fumes and block West St. businesses from getting deliveries. The community was particularly upset because the D.O.T. said at a meeting that they’d known about the bus move for a year and a half, several people said.
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, the D.O.T. met with community leaders on Tuesday to solicit site suggestions and C.B. 1 district manager Noah Pfefferblit said he was “very pleased by their new tone.” The D.O.T. will meet with more community board members next week.
The D.O.T. still wants to keep all the buses in C.B. 1, below Canal St., a spokesperson said, but Menin and other residents want them to be dispersed through other neighborhoods as well.
One idea for C.B. 1 is to put the buses on Battery Pl. just north of Battery Park, but the D.O.T. said last 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.
Paul Sipos, whose art transporting business is on West St. in Tribeca, said other recently suggested locations include the block of West St. between Spring and Houston Sts., 11th Ave. south of the Javits Center and the Hudson River piers north of Pier 86, where the Intrepid is docked.
The D.O.T. declined to comment on these locations.
Sipos could not think of a site in C.B. 1 that would be ideal for the buses, though moving them outside of Lower Manhattan might not be an easy fix either.
“Other neighborhoods probably feel the same way we did,” Sipos said. “Nobody wants buses.”
Sipos was relieved the D.O.T. decided not to move the buses to West St., but, he added, “We do have to remain on our toes and be vigilant.”
Another opponent of the Tribeca bus plan was the Borough of Manhattan Community College, which has fresh air ducts along West St. between Harrison and N. Moore Sts.
“It’s obvious,” said Angela Sales, director of government and community relations for B.M.C.C. “If the buses are there and the buses are idling, carbon dioxide would be at a very high level and coming into the college.”
The cars whizzing down West St. don’t cause as much of a problem because they are farther from the ducts and are not sitting still, Sales said. She attended a meeting organized by Gerson last Wednesday.
Sales and Sipos both guessed that B.M.C.C.’s objections played a big role in the city’s decision to drop the bus plan. The D.O.T. did not find out about the fresh air ducts until last Wednesday, a D.O.T. spokesperson said.
Diane Lapson, president of the Independence Plaza North tenants association, was thrilled to hear the city backed off. She said the plan echoed the city’s decision to store World Trade Center debris on barges right below I.P.N.’s windows, which was also a public safety hazard.
“We seem to be a staging area for any pollution,” she said.
At Tuesday night’s community board meeting, the board discussed an angry resolution that was drafted before D.O.T. agreed not to put the buses on West St. Some board members still wanted to pass a slightly modified version, because despite the city’s change of heart, they are furious at the city for trying to push the plan through. But more board members just wanted to move on, and they tabled the resolution.
“Why do we need to take any action?” Menin said. “We won.”