Last night we posted a brief report about City Councilman Alan Gerson's town hall meeting on transportation issues. You can always count on plenty of passion from the people who live on the Lower East Side – and they did not disappoint. Even before the audience got their chance to vent, Gerson made it clear to the city transportation official (Commissioner Luis Sanchez) in attendance that his constituents are, to put it mildly, unhappy with recent changes to streets in the neighborhood.
Councilman John Liu, transportation committee chairman, made a cameo at the beginning of the meeting. He also acknowledged there is deep dissatisfaction not only with DOT decisions but also with the failure of the city to seek community feedback. Gerson pledged to follow up on every issue that was raised at this forum and the other town halls scheduled in lower Manhattan in the next few weeks.
The Grand Street bike lanes and center islands installed last year were ridiculed by several residents of Co-op Village. Harold Jacob accused DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione of lying when she told him the center median was installed because pedestrians had been killed by cars on Grand Street. Jacob said he believed the changes had, in fact, made the street more dangerous. Because there is less room to maneuver, Jacob claimed fire trucks and ambulances can't safely pass through. "You've actually put lives in danger," he told DOT officials.
Another resident contended the islands, opposed by Community Board 3, were "arrogantly conceived and arrogantly carried out." More than one speaker blamed Mayor Bloomberg, accusing him of "destroying Grand Street." Some people demanded that the medians be removed – others wanted the bike lanes eliminated. Several residents claimed bicyclists on Grand Street are out of control, ignoring traffic signals, riding the wrong direction in the bike lanes and riding on sidewalks. They suggested the city require cyclists to be licensed. A few speakers complained about the parking meters installed on Grand, arguing that local businesses were being hurt because customers can't pay to park.
Other issues that were raised:
- Traffic signs on Rutgers Street near Cherry were criticized as dangerous and unnecessary.
- Parks Department vehicles backing up into the Columbus Park in Chinatown, endangering the lives of children. The commissioner and Councilman Gerson pledged to call the Parks Dept. about the problem.
- A lack of parking in the neighborhood. Gerson said he would press city officials to open up mostly emty lots under the Williamsburg Bridge.
- An extremely short "walk" signal on Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge.
- A chaotic situation in which private buses are clogging the streets in Chinatown, parking in front of residential buildings and causing gridlock.
Gerson said he was committed to balancing the needs of automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians in the city. He said he hoped the presence of the DOT officials last night meant a new era of cooperation with the community was about to begin. Gerson said he would hold another town hall May 19.
We spoke with a representative from Transportation Alternatives, the cycling and pedestrian advocacy organization, this afternoon. That interview will be posted soon.