Volume 74, Number 30 | December 01 - 07, 2004

Traffic jam over Pier 57, as consultants’ studies clash

By Albert Amateau

In the wake of a recent recommendation by a community working group about the redevelopment of Pier 57, the two rivals for the project have commissioned competing traffic studies in the hope of influencing a decision expected soon by the Hudson River Park Trust.

The clashing traffic studies were undertaken by Sam Schwartz, a traffic consultant and former city Department of Transportation official, on behalf of Chelsea Piers Management and by Philip Habib, a traffic consultant who has done studies for several private and government projects, on behalf of Leonardo on Pier 57, a consortium of the Cipriani restaurant group and the developer Steve Witkoff.

The Trust, which is building the 5-mile-long riverfront park, earlier this year designated the Pier 57 Community Working Group, composed of West Side elected officials, Community Board 4 members and neighborhood waterfront advocates, to review the projects and make a recommendation.

The Working Group voted in favor of Leonardo on Pier 57 recently. And soon after, Chelsea Piers commissioned Schwartz to do a traffic study. Schwartz found that the Leonardo project would cause unprecedented congestion on the West Side Highway, have a negative impact on the Hudson River Park bikeway and walkway and make it harder to get in and out of the sports and entertainment complex, which Chelsea Piers developed and has been operating on Piers 59, 60, 61 and 62 for the past 11 years.

Habib’s response on behalf of the Leonardo group declared that Schwartz’s conclusions were based on grossly exaggerated assumptions about the number of people who could attend the Leonardo banquet-and-event space at the same time, misunderstanding of the Leonardo project’s parking plans and failure to consider revisions to the Leonardo plan.

The Trust last week acknowledged receiving the conflicting traffic studies but Chris Martin, Trust spokesperson, said the agency could not comment on them. While the Trust board of directors has a meeting at City Planning, 22 Reade St., on Dec. 2 at 4 p.m., the Pier 57 issue is not on the agenda, but it could be brought up for discussion. Martin, however, indicated that a vote was not likely this month.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who is on the Pier 57 Working Group, said this week that the Cipriani-Witkoff proposal “is much preferred for the development of Pier 57.” In addition to what he called “superior design and respect for the historic nature of the pier,” Gottfried said the Cipriani team’s “responsiveness to and interest in the concerns of the neighboring community and its local elected officials and those of the Working Group,” was a factor in the choice.

Ed Kirkland, a Community Board 4 member on the Working Group, said the Cipriani team’s response to the community was “in contrast to the long lack of response to community concerns of Chelsea Piers over the years, not in this proposal alone,”

Nevertheless, Gottfried said he was still concerned about the Cipriani proposal for a 70,000-sq.-ft. banquet-and-event space and its traffic impact.

The 300,000-sq.-ft pier at W. 15th St., a city bus garage until last year, was most recently used to detain people arrested in connection with protests during the Republican National Convention.

Gottfried along with Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Sen. Tom Duane and City Councilmember Christine Quinn reaffirmed the Working Group’s choice of the Cipriani plan in a letter to the Trust board of directors. Assemblymember Deborah Glick also sent the board a letter calling for reconsideration of two proposals by community-based groups that the Trust eliminated in September because of doubts about financial capabilities.

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