Chinatown Business Group Proposes Car-Free Streets

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 tea
shops instead of today’s mess of double-parked cars, delivery trucks and idling
buses. That’s the radical proposal under consideration by Chinatown
business leaders such as Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown
Partnership 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 Jan
Lee, owner of the Chinese home furnishings shop Sinotique. "We have more
immediate 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 says
Liu 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.

  • Councilmember Liu and the entire Transportation Committee could do great things for relieving traffic congestion and therefore the environment, simply by challenging the DOT to innovate, experiment and analyze the results in an open manner. Anything less would represent a failure of leadership.

  • Rather than banning cars from the streets, how about eliminating parking, widening the sidewalks, and keeping a single lane with speedbumps and a drop-off area midblock? The drop-off area could be used for trucks delivering supplies to restaurants and businesses, and it would be a good idea to have a lane available to give emergency vehicles easy access to the businesses.

  • Another approach to consider might be Hans Monderman’s “shared space” concept — that is, a street where cars and pedestrians are equal, and the design tells the driver what to do.

  • Joey

    I stay away from Chinatown because of the horrible smell and greasy sidewalks, not because of traffic. Closing the streets to traffic allows businesses to set up seating on the sidewalks, but who wants to eat when the street reaks of dead fish and garbage?!

  • Jan Lee

    I appreciate the follow up comments offered on this website. Calling any street in Chinatown a “low volume Street” is simply reflective of how ill-informed your writer is. I suggest you contact Brian Ketchum, PE , who is a traffic engineer hired by plaintiffs who are fighthing to reopen Park Row to its pre NYPD takeover days. The volume of traffic that will be passing through the area in very near future as a result of the rebuilding of Ground Zero and the vigorous development going on in downtown Brooklyn will inundate Chinatown even with all the streets completely open. There is no consideration given to the inevitable increase of vehicular traffic as a result of the ground zer project when the discussion of Chinatown street closures is mentioned. Brian Ketchum will be preparing a statement for the upcoming hearing at 125 Worth ST. on Sept. 14th for the DEIS on Park Row. I encourage you and your readers to continue to learn the facts and interview ACTUAL Chinatown residents and business owners before commenting further.
    Jan Lee

  • Geoff Lee

    Your writer is misinformed. I have lived in Chinatown all my life and a general survey of businesses and, even more so, the residents of Chinatown, would not be in favor of a street mall like Little Italy. Consider Chinatown pre-9/11 and how businesses were at least able to maintain their livelihoods at that time. Illegal parking by NYPD and government salaried employees since 9/11 took ALL the parking spaces, legal or illegal, Mon-Fri 9-5 for FIVE YEARS. Many Chinatown businesses suffered and closed as a result. According to the law and the Dept of Transportation, Chinatown is in a NO PERMIT ZONE. Enforcement of existing laws to eliminate illegal parking with placards is the answer. The NYPD needs to be Courteous Respectful and Professional so Chinatown can have its streets back. 9/11 was five years ago, Chinatown is in a NO PERMIT ZONE, and it’s time for illegal placard parkers to be ticketed and towed, simple as that.

  • Geoff Lee

    Let’s be very clear here: The Department of Transporation has specific NO PERMIT ZONES. It is the law that in NO PERMIT ZONES, cars with placards, permits or vehicle utilization books on their dashboards are Illegally Parked. Permits and placards are no valid in a NO PERMIT ZONE. Since 9/11 the D.O.T. and NYPD have shut their eyes and ignored these laws and over a million parking violations have occurred in the Chinatown area alone.


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