A few W.T.C. bus ideas, even more problems
By Julie Shapiro
Buses, buses everywhere — and not a place to park.
That’s the problem the city is facing Downtown, where 200 commuter buses stop daily in the Financial District and dozens of tour buses visit the South Street Seaport and Battery Park. Residents say the buses clog Lower Manhattan’s narrow streets and idle in no-standing zones while waiting for passengers. And starting next year, the problem will worsen as the city estimates that an additional 200 tour buses will chug down to the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center site. The memorial is scheduled to open on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.
“We’re looking under every rock for parking,” said Luis Sanchez, Lower Manhattan borough commissioner for the city Dept. of Transportation. “We’re exploring every possibility. It may not be one thing. It may be a combination.”
Sanchez presented some of those possibilities, ranging from the practical to the unlikely, to Community Board 1 last week. The first idea Sanchez mentioned, and the only one he called “promising,” was to convert half of the parking garage near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel entrance for buses. For $80 million to $100 million, the garage could be rebuilt to house 80 to 120 buses, Sanchez said. The conversion would require new ramps over West St. and down to Greenwich St., he said.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. had been pushing the idea of a bus garage there for years and was once expected to fund it, but last year the L.M.D.C. said it had no money for the garage. The L.M.D.C. would also have to negotiate an agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the garage.
Sanchez said the air rights above the garage could be sold to recoup some of the costs.
Although Community Board 1 strongly advocated a bus garage near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel entrance in the past, many board members have changed their minds.
“Most of us think it’s a bad idea,” said Jeff Galloway, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Planning Committee. “We view the Greenwich St. South area as the next big thing. To put a garage in the middle of that area…would take out a chunk of the neighborhood.”
Sanchez agreed that “No one wants to have a bus garage in their neighborhood,” but he said the buses have to go somewhere.
The true solution will come when the vehicle security center at the W.T.C. opens, adding 80 parking spaces for tour buses. Those spaces should be enough to accommodate the roughly 200 tour buses expected at the W.T.C. site each day, Sanchez said.
But the vehicle security center is several years behind schedule and likely won’t open until 2013, while tourists will begin flooding the 9/11 memorial as soon as 2011, Sanchez said.
In addition to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel bus garage, the city is looking at several other solutions to the bus problem. One is to park buses remotely, in New Jersey or Red Hook, and have tourists take ferries or PATH trains to reach the World Trade Center. Another is to park the buses in a lot in Midtown — the city found an available one on 57th St. — and run environmentally friendly shuttle buses down to the W.T.C.
Sanchez also said the city could use stalled Lower Manhattan construction sites, like Silverstein Properties’ 99 Church St., as parking lots for buses. Or the buses could share space in FedEx and UPS garages, since the trucks leave during the day and the garages often sit empty. Or the city could put barges along Manhattan’s waterfront and park the buses there.
“Every one has some kind of flaw,” Sanchez said of the ideas. The biggest flaw is that all of them cost money, and it’s unclear who will pay for the infrastructure and the enforcement. The city has been holding regular meetings on the bus issue with the Port Authority and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Local residents are concerned that they’ll be the ones who pay — if not in dollars, then in the pollution, noise and traffic from idling buses.
“People are coming to visit us because we suffered, so why make us suffer even more?” said Diane Lapson, a Tribeca resident and C.B. 1 member.
Galloway said the city should look to Europe for models on handling buses. Many European cities force tour buses to use remote drop-off points and provide shuttles or public transportation, Galloway said.
But John Foss, another board member, said the tour buses will keep coming whether residents like it or not, so the city should provide a place for them to park Downtown. Paul Goldstein, director of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s district office, spoke up for the tunnel garage site and reminded the board that few of the other options on the table are realistic.
Galloway, though, feared that a new garage could draw even more buses Downtown, and he continued to press for remote-site solutions.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet,” he said.