Volume 16 • Issue 53 | May 28 - June 3, 2004

F.D.R. bus plan crashes at C.B. 1

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Community members blasted a government proposal to use two lanes of the southbound F.D.R. Drive between the Brooklyn Bridge and Wall St. to park buses during the renovation of West St.

At a Community Board 1 waterfront committee meeting on May 26, a representative from the state Department of Transportation presented a plan for moving commuter buses that currently park on West St. over to the East Side. Construction on the south end of West St. will begin this August, said Richard Schmalz, project director for the Route 9A project, and the buses that wait there between routes could shift over to the F.D.R. via Peck Slip or Old Slip.

Community members attacked the idea, saying it would bring undue pollution and congestion to the neighborhood.

“It seems the West Side again is getting re-beautified and on the East Side we’re being asked to absorb all the buses,” said Paul Viggiano, a former state Assemblymember and the president of the board at Southbridge Towers. “What do we get out of this, fumes?”

Schmalz said the F.D.R. emerged as a candidate for an alternate bus parking area because like West St. it is also state property.

“Frankly, we didn’t know where else we’d find a place to park buses in Lower Manhattan,” Schmalz said.

The proposal would set aside a 600-foot space that would accommodate as many as 18 mostly private buses, Schmalz said, adding that officials did not expect that many buses in the staging zone at one time. A recent study on the current West Street bus parking area showed that buses stayed an average of 11 minutes each, with some parking for as long as two hours in between commuter routes to New Jersey and other points.

Around a year and a half ago, the state granted permission for up to four buses to park along West St. between routes, said Christopher Cotter, an official with the state D.O.T. But word spread quickly about the bus parking option, and Schmalz acknowledged certain “abuses.” Buses now sometimes crowd the area from Battery Place down to Rector St.

The F.D.R. parking area would be a temporary solution for the buses, Schmalz said, but officials did not say exactly when it would end. Construction on most of the southern end of West St. is scheduled for completion at the end of 2005. This part of the project does not involve the more controversial question as to whether to build a West St. vehicular tunnel near the World Trade Center site. D.O.T. is holding an update meeting on West St. on June 2 at St. John’s University’s Downtown campus at 101 Murray St., from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Ray O’Keefe, a board member, said short-term plans won’t work for buses. “I think any temporary plan for which there’s no permanent plan is not a temporary solution,” he said.

Community board members said they were particularly disappointed by the plan because they had proposed a pedestrian promenade on part of the F.D.R. The recommendation followed a C.B. 1 –Downtown Alliance study of the East River waterfront.

“Instead of getting a promenade, we get a bus parking lot,” said Paul Hovitz, a Southbridge resident and member of C.B. 1.

Officials said they would rethink the proposal in light of community opposition.

“We will sit down with the city D.O.T. and talk about alternatives,” Schmalz said.

The city Department of Transportation initially requested that the state provide a bus staging area a year and a half ago, Schmalz said.

“We’re trying to meet a lot of needs here,” said Tom Cocola, a city D.O.T. spokesperson, saying that rebuilding involved many challenges. He said the city would reconsider the F.D.R. proposal.

“We’ll have to work with the state and the community to see what we can do,” Cocola said.


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