West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 24 | November 14 - 20, 2007

Trying to reclaim Chinatown’s streets and parking

By Albert Amateau

About 100 Chinatown and Little Italy residents told traffic officials and John Liu, chairperson of the City Council Transportation Committee, about parking problems in their neighborhoods at a Nov. 7 joint meeting of the Community Board 2 Chinatown and Transportation Committees.

Placard parking — by city employees displaying official permits — was a constant complaint. Frequent closings of Mulberry St. for special events were another sore point. Tourist buses idling at the curbs all day waiting to take Canal St. shoppers back to the suburbs annoyed a Soho representative.
Peddlers who sell merchandise from the back of their vans — dubbed “tailgate stores” — also crowd the curbsides in Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, said Zella Jones, a C.B. 2 Transportation Committee member.

A delegation of children and parents protested that No Standing regulations at the Lighthouse Daycare Center at 82 Bowery result in traffic tickets for parents dropping off and picking up their children. Don Lee, a former C.B. 2 member who spoke for the daycare parents, said the offending No Standing rules were imposed during the repair of the Manhattan Bridge, completed nearly two years ago.

“Just roll back the rules to the way they were,” Lee urged.

David Louie, president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, declared that No Parking and No Standing rules for 11 busy spots north and south of Canal St. are a heavy burden for Chinatown merchants and institutions.

The purpose of last week’s meeting, co-sponsored by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, a regional agency, was to get neighborhood input for the Canal Area Transportation Study, Track II, which will make recommendations to improve the flow along Manhattan’s most congested east-west corridor.

The study area is between Houston and Chambers Sts. river to river, but the Nov. 7 parking study meeting was focused on the area between Broadway and Bowery.

Liu, who represents Flushing, Queens, in the City Council, was a special guest of the C.B. 2 committees. He received a big hand with his support for reopening Park Row, closed since the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack.

“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be reopened,” said Liu, adding that he hoped Park Row would open again in two years or so.

Liu reaffirmed his support of congestion pricing.

“It will serve to curtail traffic on Canal St.,” he said.

He also supported making drivers’ licenses available for everyone regardless of immigration status, which was the law before George Pataki became governor. Illegal immigrants who drove before continue to drive now and denying them licenses puts more uninsured drivers on the roads, he said.

“Hit-and-run accidents seem to be rising in the past two years,” Liu said. “I don’t know if you can attribute it to the license policy, but it’s possible,” he added.

Liu received another round of applause when he said a two-way toll could be re-established on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“A change in the E-ZPass toll system would eliminate the toll plaza and make the one-way toll less necessary,” he said. The current one-way tolls on the Verrazano and the Holland Tunnel allow trucks to travel toll-free from Staten Island to Brooklyn and Manhattan to New Jersey, increasing traffic on the Canal St. corridor.

Liu also promised to work for a Chatham Square stop on the proposed Second Ave. subway.

“But don’t hold your breath,” he cautioned. “The project still needs $500 billion.”

Dorothy Thom, a longtime Chinatown resident, attributed neighborhood parking problems in part to the closing in the early part of 2001 of the low-cost public municipal parking garage under Police Plaza.

“People here can’t afford $25 a day for parking in private lots,” she said. “Why can’t we find a replacement for the municipal garage?”

Gerry Bogacz, a N.Y. Metropolitan Transportation Council staff member, said his group is likely to include a public parking garage as part of its recommendations in 2009.

The municipal garage was originally closed to make way for a 911 emergency phone center, but the city dropped the phone center proposal after the World Trade Center attack. Nevertheless, the garage remains for the use only of police and official vehicles.

Regarding placard parking, Lillian Tozzi, of the Little Italy Neighborhood Association, told the meeting that she complained to the Fifth Precinct that police were not enforcing abuses of permit parking. She said cars displaying police parking permits are parked at curbsides all day. Rules for permit parking allow parking only while on official business and not all day, Councilmember Liu observed.

Lee said he found cars displaying permits took 60 percent of curbside parking.

However, Officer O’Neal, a longtime member of the Fifth Precinct, said parking enforcement is difficult because many of the permits are fake and some of the real ones are on cars parked for legitimate city business.

“There are two problems: illegal permits and illegal use of legal permits,” he said, adding, “The precinct can enforce the rules but we can’t change policy.”

Nevertheless, Kay Webster, parent-teacher coordinator at P.S. 130 on Baxter St., where the Nov. 7 meeting took place, asked the community board to consider recommending that teachers at the school be granted permit parking. But Liu said that giving on-street parking permits to 80,000 teachers “would be a significant additional burden for congested streets.”

John Casalinuovo, a Little Italy resident, said neighbors lose eight to 10 blocks of parking due to frequent street closures. Tozzi agreed that street closings were responsible for much of the congestion and parking problems.

“If you want to keep traffic moving, you can’t keep closing the streets,” she said.

Louie, the Chinese Chamber president, said that out of 11 Chinatown parking rule changes that the community board approved last year, the city implemented only three. And in two of the implemented changes, requests for two-hour metered parking — on Baxter St. between Hester and Canal Sts. from 8 a.m.-7 p.m., and on the west side of Centre St. between Howard and Grand Sts. during the same hours — the city only granted one-hour metered parking.

Jim Solomon, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Chinatown Committee, noted that the full board would hold its Dec. 20 monthly meeting at P.S. 130 in Chinatown, the first such meeting in the neighborhood in a number of years.

Solomon also said the committee would ask the board to consider calling for permanent parking regulation signs to replace the temporary signs in the neighborhood, which drivers often destroy in order to get away with parking illegally.

The Citizens Committee for New York City and the Chinese Progressive Association will conduct a forum on congestion pricing and Chinatown at 6 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, 62 Mott St.

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