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Chinatown Residents Hear Traffic Plan Changes

March 19-25, 2004. Downtown Express [article]

Parking problems more than traffic congestion were on the minds of Chinatown residents who sloshed through Tuesday''s spring snowstorm to hear proposals to revamp Chatham Square.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation presented its Chinatown Traffic Study to local residents and community leaders. The findings offer several solutions to congestion and confusion at the intersection where seven streets converge on what everyone agrees is a badly placed plaza.

''Our agenda is not traffic,'' said community resident Dorothy Thom, an outspoken voice at the meeting. ''Traffic has some importance but it''s not a top priority. We need more parking, a community or cultural center and more residences. But first priority should be parking before traffic congestion. There''s no point in having good traffic flow if there''s no place to park.''

The meeting is part of a series of outreach get-togethers L.M.D.C. plans as it continues to hear suggestions and refine its proposal for the now-closed Park Row and Kimlau Square, which blocks traffic through Chatham Square.

Joining L.M.D.C. Director of Planning Holly Leicht were Vern Bergelin, senior planning manager of Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas, which conducted the study, and Lawrence Chan of Chan Krieger & Associations, architects of the proposed designs.

''Our mandate is to improve circulation and access to the area,'' said Bergelin. ''Even if 9/11 had not happened, we would recommend a redo of Chatham Square.''

Among the proposals are reconfiguring the seven street intersection into either a four or five-legged one. All plans include moving Kimlau Square north to a point between the Bowery and East Broadway. This would place the memorial gateway that honors Chinese-American soldiers on the same block as Confucius Plaza, a 19-story apartment complex facing Chatham Square.

Plans also call for a new plaza to the west, which could eventually become an access to the Second Avenue Subway.

Other proposals include adding two-way access streets between Park Row and St. James Pl. or Park Row and Worth St. to help ease east-west traffic flow. Also suggested was to keep Park Row closed and make it a pedestrian mall.

Six possible sites for underground parking lots with above ground parks were outlined. The motivation here, said Bergelin, is that by providing more spaces, it would reduce the need to park on the streets, double parking and drivers who cruise the area looking for street spaces. Sidewalks could be widened to ease competition for space between pedestrians, vendors and trash. More greenery and public seating could be added to the area.

Revenue from the parking lots could be used by the community to maintain the parks, build playgrounds or a community center, he said.

''I''m glad their presentation emphasized parking,'' said Keisha Hogans, of the Oliver Street Block Association. ''Parking and revenue are always a good idea. I''m for whatever makes traffic flow better and brings more people into the area.''

Other residents agree that the overall proposal was good, but they still have reservations.

''They have some good suggestions,'' said Jeanie Chin, a Chatham Green resident and board member. ''The design for Chatham Square and surrounding streets is excellent. But we still face issues with closing Park Row. For example, I shop at Century 21 and come back loaded with packages. It would take five minutes to get home by bus and cost $2. Now I have to take a cab and it can take 20 minutes and cost $5. I''m definitely not happy about making Park Row a pedestrian mall.''

Chatham Green resident Danny Chen, who has seen the proposal at earlier meetings, also is against any idea that prevents emergency and service vehicles access to the community.

''If Park Row is turned into a pedestrian mall I still feel it''s important there be access for emergency and other service vehicles,'' he said. ''What they showed us tonight is slightly different from earlier presentations. They''ve made some tweaks and a real effort at possibilities. The feeling was positive here tonight.''


Copyright 2004 Community Media LLC.

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