New Efforts Underway to Manage Commercial Food Suppliers on Allen Street

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If you spend any time on lower Allen Street, you know the area is a congested mess for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists. During a meeting of Community Board 3’s transportation committee last month, there was a discussion about what can be done to make the area safer and less chaotic.

There are quite a few wholesale food-related businesses on the west side of the block below Hester Street that supply restaurants in Chinatown with produce and other items. Trucks routinely pull up to load and unload supplies, leaving large crates and mechanical equipment strewn on the sidewalk and in the parking lane. One local resident, Emma Colbert of the SPaCE Block Association, told board members about an incident in which a bystander was badly injured while workers were going about their business. An artery was severed and the woman required emergency medical attention. Colbert provided us with a video illustrating the general “Wild West” atmosphere on Allen Street during the daytime hours.

Officers from both the 7th Precinct (which patrols the east side of Allen Street) and the 5th Precinct (which patrols the west side of Allen Street) were present for the meeting. The 7th Precinct is primarily concerned with the continuing struggle to control intercity buses, which clog the thoroughfare from South Street to Grand Street and beyond. One of their main concerns is that passengers purchase tickets at storefront offices and then bolt across the street to board waiting buses, creating a dangerous situation. Broken fences in the area have made matters worse.

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Both precincts reported that officers have handed out a large number of tickets to bus operators, many of whom are parking in the area illegally. City regulations require intercity buses to apply for designated stops and to use only approved locations for loading and unloading, but the rules are routinely ignored by bus companies.

As for the the commercial loading/unloading issues, members of the community board, the office of City Council member Margaret Chin, the Chinatown Partnership and the Department of Transportation paid a visit to lower Allen in the past several weeks to have a look at the situation first-hand. The businesses along this stretch provide a lifeline to Chinatown’s restaurants, and no one wants to disrupt that. But at the same time, CB3 is hoping state regulators can help with outreach to the businesses about proper safety and food-handling procedures. Here’s part of a letter the board sent to the state agency on June 1:

Allen Street has vibrant and bustling fish, fruit and vegetable wholesale businesses. It is an integral part of the Chinatown community. However, these distributors also keep pallets of food outside on the sidewalk for many hours, often exposed to the elements and obstructing pedestrian traffic. The increasing numbers of intercity buses loading and unloading passengers on Allen Street exacerbates the sidewalk and street congestion, and our offices have received complaints. Our offices recently visited Allen Street with the New York City Police Department and the Department of Transportation, and observed the public health and safety hazards occurring. Rather than issue numerous violations, it would benefit the merchants and concerned residents to educate the businesses on state regulations, and make sure they have the tools to comply. We understand that the Department of Agriculture has conducted interagency taskforces in Chinatown before and has a staff member who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese. The combination of street safety and food safety issues make this a complicated area, but we look forward to coordinating with your office on this issue.

Also at the May meeting, board members asked the city to repair the broken fences along Allen Street. The DOT said this is the responsibility of the Parks Department. The police precincts added that they would conduct more enforcement sweeps in the area in an ongoing effort to tame the intercity bus industry.