Volume 16 • Issue 41 | March 12 - 18, 2004

Plans to move Confucius Plaza to ease traffic

By Janel Bladow

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Many residents expressed support for an L.M.D.C. proposal to move Confucius Plaza, above, just to the north to ease traffic.

Civic Center residents and members of a Community groups give thumbs up to moving Confucius Plaza out of the congested Chatham Square intersection.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation presented some of its Chinatown Traffic Study findings to the Seaport/Civic Center subcommittee of Community Board 1 this week. Local community groups have also recently seen the plans.

The study looks at traffic congestion in the busy and confusing intersection of seven streets and offers several possible solutions.

“Our goal is to ease congestion and make more sense out of ways to use Park Row,” said Holly Leicht, director of planning for L.M.D.C., during her presentation. She estimated that the project could cost up to $8 million.

Since September 11th, Park Row has been closed to traffic and used only for police and emergency vehicles. This has caused serious traffic jams along St. James Place and Worth Street. Also, Chatham Green and Chatham Towers residents no longer have easy access to parking and handicap entrances and have sued the city as a result.

One possible solution L.M.D.C. offers is closing Park Row to traffic and making it a pedestrian mall. Both residents and subcommittee members were against this idea.

“At Chatham Green and Chatham Towers, our address is Park Row, Danny Chen, a Chatham Green resident, said in a telephone interview. “What happens when a dispatcher gives emergency services a Park Row address and they can’t get there? It causes delays. We want to know how they plan to deal with this.”

The committee squashed this plan saying it’s hard enough now getting from the east side to the west side of Lower Manhattan. Losing Park Row permanently would create more traffic problems than solve them.

“Improving the traffic situation is the issue here,” said one committee member. “Making Park Row a pedestrian mall doesn’t make it better for traffic.”

The more acceptable proposal to the C.B. 1 committee is redesigning Chatham Square so that it becomes more like a traditional four-street intersection. The smaller “capillary” streets would verge into the larger “arteries” before the intersection.

This plan also calls for moving Confucius Plaza out of the intersection and north so that it is between East Broadway and Bowery. This way, northbound vehicles on St. James Place would be able to continue straight onto Bowery without having to make the current left then right turns around the plaza. Westbound traffic would be able to turn left, cross the Square and either travel west on Worth St. or south on Park Row.

Another version of this design calls for taking over the northern tip of block between St. James Place and Park Row and adding an access lane between the two streets so that cars and trucks on those streets don’t have to go into Chatham Square.

The L.M.D.C. did not release maps of the proposed changes because a final plan has not been selected yet.

Leicht also suggested that St. James Place could be widened to accept more traffic by taking over some of the sidewalks along both the east and west sides of the street. A westbound left turn lane could also be added to further move traffic.

Almost everyone agrees that opening up the square so that drivers have the option to go north or make a left turn to go west from St. James Place is the best solution. And moving the plaza is the only way to do it.

“There’s unanimous support in the neighborhood that the monument has to be relocated,” said Chen. “It’s unworkable the way the layout is now. Those double-length buses making a left turn take up the whole area. Even without buses, there’s only room for two cars.”

Another suggestion Leicht offered includes reversing the traffic on Mott St. so that instead of vehicles flowing into Chatham Square, they would be going north out of Chatham Square towards Canal St.

She also mentioned closing Oliver St., a small capillary to the east of St. James Place. Committee members were adamant against this idea, saying that the tiny street is a vital escape route in heavy traffic.

“During the weeks after September 11th these capillaries gave us access to our homes and a way out,” says Chen. “The fear I have is if they are closed, what happens if there’s a major disaster and no capillaries to get us around?”

All of the L.M.D.C. proposals add more green spaces, seating areas and improved sidewalks for pedestrian traffic, another problem in the confusing Civic Center-Chatham Square area.

“I know since Park Row was closed, tourists are having a hard time finding their way to Chinatown,” said one board member.

“Anyway you look at it, we’re stuck in a horrendous situation,” said Chen. “Anything looks good on paper. I’d like to see computer simulations of how these designs will hold up under heavy traffic.”


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