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Chinatown Business Group Proposes Car-Free Streets

12:17 PM EDT on August 15, 2006

Bayard Street, Chinatown. Photo: SkyShaper

AM New York reports on a "radical" proposal to open two narrow Chinatown streets, Mott and Bayard, to pedestrians, shoppers and diners:

Imagine car-free Chinatown streets full of alfresco dining and sidewalk teashops instead of today's mess of double-parked cars, delivery trucks and idlingbuses. That's the radical proposal under consideration by Chinatownbusiness leaders such as Wellington Chen, executive director of the ChinatownPartnership Local Development Corp.

Unfortunately, Jan Lee, the neighborhood activist leading the fight against illegal police parking in Chinatown appears to be against the idea:

"It's not something any business person in Chinatown will support," said JanLee, owner of the Chinese home furnishings shop Sinotique. "We have moreimmediate problems, like illegal parking." Lee is worried that any street closures would further discourage customers and make surrounding traffic even worse in a neighborhood that's still recovering from 9/11.

Lee's concerns reflect some common misunderstandings. First, closing these streets to cars is a great way to get cops to stop parking on them. Lee should come and look at the new Willoughby Street pedestrian plaza in Downtown Brooklyn for an example. As for the concern that pedestrianization will hurt business, Stone Street in Lower Manhattan shows that the opposite is, most likely, true. Closing Stone Street to cars has been a huge success for neighborhood businesses. Finally, Lee needs to know that closing these two low-traffic streets would almost certainly reduce traffic congestion in the area, not increase it. Reducing road capacity tends to reduce traffic congestion.

Still, the idea is being seriously considered by Councilman John Liu(D-Flushing), who chairs the council's Transportation Committee. An aide saysLiu is intrigued by the concept and may hold hearings on it this fall.

Ever since John Liu's quiet killing of City Council's Car-Free Parks legislation, Int. 276, in favor of the Mayor's weaker proposal, we've been noticing that the Councilmember is lots-of-talk-little-action when it comes to Livable Streets issues. Based on the numerous press releases we get from his office, Liu seems to be far more interested in his tabloid-ready fight with with shock jock Troi Torain than anything related to transportation and public space. Public hearings would be a good chance to see if Liu is willing to actually follow through on any of this stuff.

Still, the question arises: Do we really need public hearings on the closure of two small streets in Chinatown? When the DOT wants to increase traffic capacity on city streets like the addition traffic-increasing left-turn bays on Houston Street, they just do it. No public hearings.

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