Chinatown Pol, Business Leaders Want Cars Back on Park Row — And May Prevail
Did the cops get ahead of the mayor? Or is the mayor just not ready to announce something?
The NYPD set up flashing screens on Friday alerting residents that Park Row — which has been inaccessible to thru car traffic since the massive security escalation in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 — would once again become a shortcut for drivers, though by later in the day, City Hall said the cops had made a mistake.
But for how long will it be an error?
Chinatown leaders have long lobbied City Hall to let drivers back on Park Row, and freshman Council Member Christopher Marte and dozens of Chinatown businesses and local civic groups have renewed that effort since Mayor Adams took over, saying it is time to let vehicles back onto a roadway that, they say, connects the neighborhood to the Civic Center just to the south.
“Park Row is a multi-lane passageway that we know can fit all the needs of our community. We support having an improved bike lane, pedestrian walkways, added greenery, and vehicle traffic,” Marte wrote in an April 3 letter co-signed by more than 80 organizations and obtained by Streetsblog.
The Lower Manhattanites propose to phase in traffic on just the western (southbound) side of the road, but it’s unclear if that would open up to just one or two directions of traffic.
The NYPD’s digital sign at the corner of Worth Street said non-commercial vehicles would be able enter the current security zone on weeknights between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., and on weekends. At least two cops told Streetsblog on Friday that the re-opening to cars was a done deal — but it is not, according to mayoral spokesman Charles Lutvak.
Hizzoner plans to work with locals on a “vision” for the corridor with help from a $20-million funding boost for downtown neighborhoods courtesy of Gov. Hochul, according to the Adams rep.
“Over the next month, the administration will work with community members on a vision for Chinatown through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, including how Park Row can best serve everyone who lives, works, and spends time in Lower Manhattan,” Lutvak said.
Marte told Streetsblog he has long been in favor of bringing back the corridor between Worth and Frankfort streets, where NYPD set up barriers and checkpoints nearly 22 years ago after the September 11 attacks.
Cops also seized other downtown streets in the immediate aftermath, and then reopened them, but the NYPD kept up the checkpoints around its fortress-like home base to prevent possible car bomb attacks, according to a 2007 report.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to spruce up Park Row with a tree-lined walkway and lawns back in 2008, but those proposals never got past the NYPD’s concerns. As a result, only emergency vehicles and MTA buses were allowed through until 2018, when then-Mayor Bill de Blasio added a two-way bike lane and more pedestrian space.
There is currently a way down off the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Row via a set of stairs, but the steps are dark and smell of urine, and locals have nicknamed them the “murder stairs.”
The NYPD has also taken the name Park Row literally, storing vehicles there, including on top of the bike lane.
Marte hopes the funding will make for a better connector for Chinatown and the rest of his downtown district.
“We have hundreds of thousands of tourists — maybe millions — that come from the Brooklyn Bridge or come from the Seaport but never make it to Chinatown or the Lower East Side,” he said. “So now we’ll have an easy access point, one that’s clear, one that’s hopefully really beautiful for folks to enjoy, and to help our small businesses, but also help just the ecosystem of this neighborhood.
“It’s been lot of work coordinating with government to make this a reality, but it seems like we’re close, and so hopefully we can just get to it,” Marte added.
That coordinated effort has not involved locals, however, and some residents questioned why the plans to turn space back to cars have not yet come up for even cursory public review yet — quite a contrast from the months of hearings, walk-throughs, visioning sessions and polling that the Department of Transportation conducts whenever it proposes to repurpose street space for a bike lane.
“Where is the community voice in this, how did this happen?” asked Lucy West, a longtime resident of the adjacent Chatham Green complex and member of Park Row Alliance, a civic organization.
“I don’t think there’s enough transparency about why and how Park Row’s going to reopen,” added Jim Kontnier, who lives across the street in Chatham Towers. “I’d be more than happy if it was never used again for cars, but I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think its fair, especially since it’s a city street that this street is used solely for the police department.”
Marte’s letter argues that since the road is not a new one, it should not need as much of a bureaucratic process to bring back.
“While we understand that some trial periods might be necessary, we hope that there is not an extensive need for traffic studies as this is not a new road,” reads his missive.
The plans were always to bring cars back, the Council member said, arguing that it wouldn’t mark a big change from the government vehicles that currently use it.
“Vehicles have always been part of that vision, whether to make it easier for ambulances to go by — right now it’s a busway — and we do see city administration vehicles use it all the time,” the legislator said. “And so it’s pretty much not changing the use of it, but highlighting – hopefully with the [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] money that’s coming from the state — to make it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly first.”
It is unclear how the change reflected on NYPD signs would help the Chinatown businesses that are lobbying for it; especially since the southbound-only roadway would simply take drivers away from Chinatown.
West, who moved into her building a couple of years before the block lockdown, said the city should reopen Park Row to cars and dial back the heavy police presence.
“We live in like what I call a militarized gated community,” she said. “I think it’s a bit of overkill.”