Activists Ask Feds to Assess Park Row Security Threat

The Chinatown Working Group (CWG) did not request a meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. On the contrary, the White House asked him to pay a visit to the community planning organization yesterday. But presented with the opportunity to discuss the neighborhood’s most pressing transportation problems, they made the most of the unexpected offer.

As the panel, representing 50 downtown groups, nears the completion of a comprehensive blueprint for Chinatown’s future, one transportation issue  in particular looms large.  Even the location of yesterday’s meeting was designed to underscore their point — the time has come (almost a decade after 9/11) to reopen Park Row.

Park Row has been closed since 2001.

Sitting in a community room in the Chatham Green Co-op (located on Park Row), activists pleaded with LaHood for help in combating what they see as stonewalling from the NYPD. Police officials have always insisted their headquarters on Park Row would become an easy terrorist target if the barricades were taken down. At the same time, they’ve contended the decision is not theirs alone — that the federal government also has authority over the matter.

Community Board 3 member David Crane told LaHood, “we need an honest assessment of the security needs” in the area. CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer added, “the NYPD says it’s a federal issue. That’s never made a lot of sense to us.” Chinatown activist Jan Lee called for an examination of who gave the order to close Park Row.” LaHood promised to talk with officials at the Department of Homeland Security. At the very least, he said, someone in the federal government should brief the community about the security concerns in the neighborhood. But LaHood did not directly address the CWG’s request for “an independent analysis of the transportation and security requirements” in the area.

In a letter presented to LaHood, the Working Group outlined another concern:

…We have learned that there are HUGE amounts of diesel fuel being stored under the Municipal building and under One Police Plaza – situated above and beside the tracks of the MTA subway system and at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. This concentration risk will only be exacerbated by the establishment of the proposed Joint Operations Command Center on the Police Headquarters Campus.

In the letter, the group asked LaHood to work with Homeland Security to “devise a concrete plan to mitigate the danger to the residential community by relocating potential targets away from the densely populated areas of Lower Manhattan.”

Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary

Among the other matters CWG members raised with LaHood: the impact on the neighborhood of the rapidly expanding interstate bus business.  The city’s Department of Transportation has been trying to figure out how to minimize traffic congestion, pollution and noise caused by the buses.

There’s a move afoot in the State Legislature and the City Council to give the city enforcement power over the bus companies. Currently, they’re restrained by interstate commerce laws. State Senator Daniel Squadron said yesterday there’s a lot that can be done to address the problem on the local and state levels — but that federal intervention might be required in the future.  After the meeting, he told me lawmakers are researching the complex issues before drafting a proposed law. He’s hoping a bill will be introduced before the end of the current legislative session.

In the end, the community activists seemed to appreciate LaHood’s interest in Chinatown’s transportation issues. His visit may have helped smooth over some of the lingering resentments created by last year’s terror trial debacle. In a larger sense, the event offered a glimpse of what’s ahead for the Chinatown Working Group. Their draft recommendations are so sweeping, members of the organization will ultimately have to engage all levels of government (local, state, federal) if they hope to implement their vision for the neighborhood. Yesterday’s meeting was, at least, a start.