Volume 16 • Issue 46 | April 9 - 15, 2004

Canal unsafe, walkers say

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Pedestrians had the light as they tried to cross Canal at Hudson St., but vehicles turning toward the Holland Tunnel blocked the crosswalk.

The city is making plans to ease congestion on Canal St., but relief can’t come quickly enough for pedestrians forced to dodge traffic at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel.

“It’s really dangerous,”’ said Daniella Drashovick, an au pair crossing Canal at Hudson St. on Wednesday with her two young charges, ages 3 and 6.

Starting in 2006 or 2007, the city Department of Transportation will conduct a full-scale reconstruction of Canal St., said Keith Kalb, an agency spokesperson. The work is part of a $140 million, federally funded effort to rebuild Lower Manhattan streets after 9/11 that also includes Broadway, Chambers and Liberty Sts.

While pedestrians said they would welcome these changes, many didn’t want to wait three years for a reprieve from the often-treacherous conditions on the north side of Canal and Hudson Sts. Joanne Branham, who works at 487 Greenwich St., suggested a faster solution.

“If possible, they should make it a four-way light,” said Branham, an office manager at Avenue A/ NYC, an advertising firm.

First-time crossers are baffled by the complicated traffic patterns on the north side of Canal and Hudson Sts., where cars turn into the Holland Tunnel from the south, east and west. Pedestrians on either side of the median must compete with two streams of vehicles, often turning quickly, as they make their way across the street.

“It was a bit confusing and I was in all honesty imagining myself getting hit by a car,” Neill Myers, 27, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, said right after she crossed Hudson St.

Branham said she was so tired of weaving between cars that sometimes she deliberately slowed down in the crosswalk to make them yield. “It really frustrates me they don’t give me the right of way,” Branham said.

At least two police officers direct traffic at the intersection during the evening rush. An officer stationed there Wednesday evening said he often saw bad behavior from motorists and pedestrians alike. He had a philosophical take on the scene.

“It’s New York,” said the officer, who declined to give his name. “I grew up here all my life. I’m used to it.”

From 1998 to 2002, there were 11 pedestrian accidents and no fatalities reported at the intersection of Canal and Hudson Sts., according to Craig Chin of the Department of Transportation. Available records date back only to 1998, Chin said, so he could not immediately determine if there had ever been any pedestrians killed at that intersection.

To prepare for the Canal St. reconstruction, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council will hold a series of community workshops to identify priorities for improvements. The Council hopes to begin this initiative by June, said Gerry Bogacz, planning group director of the Council.

Plans are already underway to remedy another “challenging” intersection along Canal St., Bogacz said. An underpass will likely be created at Canal below Sixth Ave. and Varick St. along an existing subway mezzanine, Bogacz said. Urban planners have recognized the public’s reluctance to use overpasses, Bogacz said, and the Canal St. underpass would be a pilot effort to determine whether people were more inclined to go under. It would also make it easier for pedestrians to access the triangle park planned for Sixth and Canal, he added.

In the meantime, Kalb recommended that pedestrians take the long way around the intersection. Even though the 1,9 subway exit deposits pedestrians on the north side of the street, pedestrians wishing to continue north along Canal should make the extra effort to cross to the south side before Hudson St. so as not to compete with two streams of traffic, Kalb said. The two extra crossings should not phase New Yorkers, Kalb said: “It’s New York — it’s a walking city.”



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