Volume 22, Number 31 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 11 - 17, 2009
Downtown Express photos by Julie Shapiro
Not many people notice the pedestrian path, right, near the Battery Tunnel Garage, but those that do, do not have good options when they get out near West St., left.
A better walk through the garage?
By Julie Shapiro
Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, does not mince words when she talks about Greenwich St. South, the oft-forgotten Lower Manhattan neighborhood that the Alliance hopes to revitalize.
One of the biggest problems is that it’s hard to travel across the car-centric neighborhood to get from the Financial District to Battery Park City, Berger said. Many pedestrians cut through the Battery Tunnel Garage, but she said that route is not safe.
“It feels scary, it is hard to navigate and it is ugly,” Berger said last week at meeting of Community Board 1’s Planning Committee.
The Alliance is working with local residents and city and state agencies to improve the look and safety of the walkway through the garage, which is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. At a minimum, the Alliance hopes to add signage and better lighting using money from its re:Construction program, but broader changes to the traffic patterns may be needed as well.
An M.T.A. spokesperson said the agency looked forward to hearing the Alliance’s proposals and would review them.
Today, 1,400 people traverse the walkway every hour during peak times, a number that the Alliance expects to increase once P.S./I.S. 276 opens in southern B.P.C. next fall.
“Moms and baby carriages will be crossing a street that’s not a street, [then] a parking lot and a tunnel entrance,” Berger said. “I hope the kids are holding hands. This is a very, very pressing issue.”
The most confusing part of the path is between the garage and West St., near the stalled 50 West construction site, where pedestrians have to hop from traffic island to traffic island, dodging cars and buses heading in several directions. The pedestrian path is not clearly marked and the area is not well lit at night.
Anthony Notaro, a B.P.C. resident and member of the Planning Committee, said he avoids the garage whenever he can.
“It’s intimidating,” he said. “Are you on a street or are you not on a street?”
Several people waiting to cross West St. there on a recent evening also said the intersection was a problem.
“This is the only part of my walk home that I don’t like,” said Renee Chen, 25, a B.P.C. resident. “If the light was better, that would be great.”
The walkability of the neighborhood south of the World Trade Center site is very important to Kevin Cunningham, founder of 3-Legged Dog, the experimental arts center that moved to Greenwich St. in 2006. Cunningham said the Alliance’s ideas would help neighborhood newcomers navigate the streets around 3-Legged Dog, which aren’t always well marked.
“The neighborhood is still kind of out of the way, but we are seeing a lot more foot traffic now,” Cunningham said. “Once people get to our space one time, they never have trouble again.”
Improvements to the garage walkway could be the first concrete change to come out of the Alliance’s $400,000 planning study for Greenwich South, released earlier this fall. The study reiterated several long-term ideas like decking over the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel entrance to create open space and selling air rights for new developments in the 23-block neighborhood.
In addition to redesigning the garage walkway, the Alliance’s other short-term goal is to expand the nearby Edgar St. plaza into two lanes of Edgar St. The Alliance hoped to get funding for the project through the city Dept. of Transportation’s plaza program, but Berger said last week that she no longer thinks the city will support the expansion. A D.O.T. spokesperson said the agency had not yet made a decision.
Berger envisions the improved Edgar St. plaza as a green Wi-Fi hotspot that will be more attractive to local workers, residents and tourists. Anything would be an improvement over the barren concrete triangle that’s there now, “a place where old street furniture goes to die,” she said.
The Planning Committee passed a resolution urging the city to reconsider funding the Edgar St. expansion.