Gotham Gazette

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Rebuilding NYC

Imagining Downtown Transportation

At last week's Imagine New York workshop about lower Manhattan transportation projects, over 100 people debated downtown's transportation future. In small groups, they examined how well state and city plans stack up with their own transportation priorities.

Before the workshops began, transportation experts outlined the different plans for lower Manhattan, including the World Trade Center Transportation Hub at Ground Zero, a new Fulton Street Transit Center, a new South Ferry Subway Station, new connections to John F. Kennedy Airport and making a section of West Street an underground tunnel in order to build a park on top of it.

In group discussions, many said they were relieved that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to untangle the confusing connections between the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, M and Z trains in a new Fulton Street Transit Center at Broadway.

Some of the other planned projects, however, were not so widely embraced. One group gave all of the different proposals a ranking from 1 to 5 and gave the plan to put a bus garage underneath the World Trade Center memorial site, which many victim's families find offensive, a score of -10.

In another group, Midtown resident Stephen Wilder took a look at the price estimates for bringing part of West Street underground, a project that Governor George Pataki is supporting, and said that a $900 million price tag is far too hefty. Spending that much on a short stretch of road is "wasteful," he said.

Jordan Gruzen, an architect whose office was destroyed on 9/11, quickly spoke up in defense of a short West Street tunnel. "It is a key element so that the entire World Trade Center rebuilding is finished," he said. "If you leave the traffic, the cars going by quickly, the noise they generate effects the memorial space. If we don't build this, it is something we'll look back twenty, thirty years from now and say, we missed our chance."

"I'm of the absolute opposite opinion," said Roland Gebhardt, from Rebuild Downtown Our Town. "Yes, we have to deal with the traffic in that area. But with a tunnel or underpass we would create two new ramps in areas that each will run over two blocks. Those ramps are a blight for the neighborhood. They are very difficult to design to make humane. They block people from crossing the street," he said. Gebhardt added that repaving West Street with certain materials could make traffic less noisy.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other politicians have said that providing a one-seat ride from lower Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport is an essential transportation plan. But Katie Taylor from the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, said she doesn't see why a one-seat ride has become a must-do project. "Why are we prioritizing the airports, and the visitors more than we are residents? These are hard choices about money, you know, all of these things. In the end, we have to choose," she said.

"This plan doesn't even really serve the tourists, because it is a one-seat ride to lower Manhattan, where there frankly are very little hotels. The reality is, visitors budget for the maximum ease, which for them is a car. It will always be a car, I think for a very long time. It would take one incredible magical ride to take them absolutely everywhere they want to go to make them not get into a car. This just isn't a city that facilitates it."

"But Katie, what do we want the city to be like?" Gebhardt broke in. "Now we have an opportunity to change it. It is about what we want to be. Visitors bring in revenue. They are intimidated. If they can do it with a one-seat ride, they will do it."

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