Police say they’ve hurt Chinatown traffic, not business

By Ronda Kaysen

Closing the streets surrounding One Police Plaza has increased noise pollution and traffic in the area, delayed buses, caused a spike in pedestrian accidents and isolated the area from the surrounding Chinatown neighborhood, a study by the New York City Police Dept. found. Nevertheless, the streets should remain closed indefinitely to protect Police Headquarters from a potential terrorist attack, the same study declared.

N.Y.P.D. shut Park Row and access to many of the surrounding streets after Sept. 11, 2001 as a security measure. The surrounding Chinatown community insists the closure has blocked vital arteries to the neighborhood, hampering access and inflicting damage on nearby businesses and property values.

In 2004, New York State Supreme Court Judge Walter Tolub ordered N.Y.P.D. to conduct the study, an Environmental Impact Statement, to determine the affect this has had on the neighborhood.

Shutting streets “might be good for the police department, but it’s not good for Chinatown,” said Bonnie Wong, president of Asian Women in Business. “Places are closing in Chinatown. Long established businesses are closing.”

Last year, the city reopened Park Row to some buses after the City Council passed legislation forcing the police dept. to respond to community concerns. Park Row remains shut to non-authorized vehicles between Worth St. and the Brooklyn Bridge. Madison St. between Frankfort St. and St. James Pl. is closed, as is Pearl St. from Foley Sq. to St. James Place. Avenue of the Finest is closed and the northbound Park Row Brooklyn Bridge off-ramp remains shut.

The result is three-square blocks of bollards and checkpoints. Pedestrians have no access to Park Row, the main artery connecting the Civic Center to Chinatown. Vehicles traveling east to Chinatown or heading south to the Brooklyn Bridge must traverse police headquarters through a maze of one-way streets with baffling, triangular intersections.

“People now travel around Chinatown and bypass the neighborhood completely,” said David Eng, a spokesperson for the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, a local business group funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. “That certainly has had a large effect on businesses.”

The study, a draft E.I.S., which will now go through a public comment period, agrees. The closure “has created significant traffic impacts” on the surrounding neighborhood, it finds. At Chatham Sq., cars careening from six different streets are diverted around the maze of closed streets, creating a chaotic free for all. Buses rerouted around the security zone suffer from longer travel times.

Pedestrian accidents at Worth and Broadway have increased since 2003, according to the study. There were five accidents involving pedestrians at that intersection last year, up from four. However, pedestrian accidents have plummeted at other Chinatown intersections, including East Broadway and Catherine St., which saw accidents drop from seven to zero since 2000.

The study describes the area within the security zone as suffering from “an abandoned quality in contract to the active and lively surrounding area.

In perhaps the most controversial finding, surrounding businesses suffered no ill effects and real estate values were no different from “normal economic trends.”

Local residents were stunned by some of the findings and described the E.I.S. as another attempt by N.Y.P.D. to dismiss community concerns.

“It’s inherently unreasonable that they can say that there’s been no impact” to businesses, said City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents the neighborhood.

Despite the adverse impact on the neighborhood, the streets must remain closed to protect One Police Plaza, the study concludes. It suggests implementing traffic easing measures and making the security zone more welcoming by adding benches, lights and planters.

“There are serious flaws in the E.I.S.,” said Danny Chen, a member of the Civic Center Residents’ Coalition and a resident of Chatham Green Houses, a residential complex that sits in the security zone. Residents must show I.D. at a police checkpoint in order to access their own parking lot.

The E.I.S. “was for the N.Y.P.D. and not for the community,” Chen said. In one instance, the E.I.S. suggests restoring 40 parking spaces for city workers.

The study also suggests reconfiguring Chatham Sq., which was redesigned before Sept. 11, 2001, and reopening Park Row to additional bus routes.

Renovating Chatham Sq. creates its own set of problems. The square is home to two military monuments — the Lin Ze Xu statue and Kim Lau arch — and the study does not address how they would be affected by a redesign.

“If you’re going to run the street through the square, what are you going to do with the statue? They didn’t address it,” said Paul Lee, a Mott St. resident whose family-owned business, Mott Street General Store, closed in 2003 after more than a century in the neighborhood.

Lee speculated that veterans groups would object to moving the statue and the arch since both commemorate military heroes. “You’re in for a fire fight,” he warned. “I’ll get on the barricades with them. As a community member I’m not going to let my people be disrespected.”

In a 2004 study, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. laid out several of the same solutions for the Park Row quagmire that N.Y.P.D. proposed. The corporation, which was created to revitalize Lower Manhattan after 9/11, called for changing traffic patterns around Chatham Sq. and building a pedestrian plaza on Park Row adorned with planters and benches. Last year, it set aside $32 million for Chinatown, including $25 million to improve the Park Row area.

Paul Browne, N.Y.P.D. deputy commissioner of public information, did not return calls for comment for this story.

One question continues to nag residents. If One Police Plaza is such a security risk that it requires cordoning off several city blocks, what is it doing in the middle of Manhattan?

“Police headquarters is not imbedded in the bedrock of Manhattan,” said Chen, suggesting the city move the headquarters to Randall’s Island. “They have more security than any other building in the city. Do they really belong in a densely populated residential community? We don’t think that they do.”

The Civic Center Residents Coalition will hold a public meeting on Aug. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Confucius Plaza Community Room, 33 Bowery at Bayard St. to discuss the draft E.I.S. and upcoming public hearing. It is available online at nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/dclm/draftEIS1PPsctyplan07312006.html

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