Here’s the Chinatown Intersection Where NIMBYs Killed a Pedestrian Overhaul

The view across Chatham Square, looking east from Worth Street. Image: Google Street View

Just a reminder: Chatham Square, the intersection where Chinatown NIMBYs have fended off the reclamation of street space for pedestrians, is a huge expanse of asphalt with chaotic traffic patterns and a terrible safety record. According to CrashStat, dozens of pedestrians and cyclists were injured in traffic crashes at Chatham Square from 1995 to 2005, and five schools are located within three blocks.

In 2008, the city put out a conceptual plan for pedestrian improvements at Chatham Square that would have simplified intersections and added significantly more sidewalk space. But a contingent of opponents, contending that the economic health of Chinatown depends on auto access to Park Row, mobilized against the project. (The Chatham Square project would have altered the street pattern at one end of Park Row, but the street, which goes by NYPD headquarters, has been closed to private traffic since the days after 9/11.)

Today DNAinfo reports that opponents have succeeded. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will be taking the $30 million set aside for those pedestrian improvements and spending it on other things. Jan Lee, owner of the antiques showroom Sinotique and a vocal opponent of the project in his role as leader of the Civic Center Residents Coalition, told DNAinfo that “at least some of the money should remain in Chinatown.” Now that an actual safety improvement is off the table, Lee suggested spending some cash to study the feasibility of re-opening Park Row to traffic.

Here’s one more look at what Lee and other opponents have thwarted:

Chatham Square layout under the proposed redesign...
...and the intersection as it is today.
  • Sweeney Todd

    Jan Lee should be tarred and feathered by his community.

    Chinatown and SoHo are cursed with some of the most benighted neighborhood-level “leaders” in all of Manhattan.

  • Anonymous

    thats a crazy intersection.
    we specifically avoid that area by foot or car. how’s that for business, Jan?

  • Ian Dutton

    The unreported part of the plan that I feel is the biggest loss was the potential conversion of Park Row into a green connector with the City Hall/WTC area, incorporating a bus-only lane and play/walk/relax/cycle space. But Chinatown’s voices only seek to accommodate Wall Streeters’ cars zipping though their doorsteps, polluting their air and killing their children (directly and indirectly). Sad commentary.

  • Anonymous

    I bike through there almost every day and it is truly awful. The proposal really did an amazing job of unraveling the mess.

  • Tom

    Doesn’t anyone remember that the local industry of Manhattan’s Chinatown was nearly destroyed by 9/11 because the essential delivery trucks were barred from entry.  It certainly resulted in a lot of Chinese people and businesses migrating to Brooklyn. 
    Don’t you realize Chinatown is an ever-expanding industrial area at the foot of three bridges on the East River and a vital connection to the tunnel to the mainland?  NYC DOT certainly knows it.  There is a on-going major study dealing with the configuration of Canal Street.   Pay attention to the real story.

  • geust

    @Tom: to me it looks like no roads would have been cut off with the new design, just the shape of the intersection is different. So what’s the problem?

  • Sounds like they want the roads to be more like home.

    (Have you seen the “modern” roads in china? 12 lanes at intersections!)

  • Anonymous

    I used to commute through this intersection every morning.

    I’d come from the east on East Broadway and cut through the plaza (where the Arch and statue are — slowly of course) and then head south on St. James Pl.

    I didn’t like cutting through the Plaza, as it’s for peds.  But you look at that design.  Am I going to do 2 left turns across heavy traffic.  I don’t think so. 

    A total redesign is badly needed.

  • Mark

     The current design is a disaster which does not serve the neighborhood at all.  The only ones who benefit are the drivers passing through the neighborhood.   The amazing thing is the extent to which the community leaders in Chinatown cannot see that the redesign is a pure win for them.   DOT spent decades lying to communities all around town, telling them that any change to the streets would lead to traffic Armageddon and a complete economic collapse.  It will take a great deal of work on the part of DOT (and others) to dispel the effects of all of these lies.   

    In the mean time, there are enough neighborhoods that want these improvements that DOT has plenty of room to fix NYC’s streets without having to slow down while the communities who still think this is 1950 catch up with the times.

  • Just Call Me Sad

    Sadly they really blew it.  They won’t have another chance at making their streets more peaceful for decades. And now the $$$ will leave the area.   Next time someone is injured or dies in this area, they can look to the opponents.

  • krstrois

    Jan Lee and his colleague in 2009, following the death of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez:

    Two members of the Civic Center Residents Coalition spoke unhappily about the city’s lack of initiative regarding the area: Jan Lee said, “The lack of cooperation between the city and Chinatown has been a real frustration,” while Jeanie Chin explained, “This community has been a dumping ground for traffic.  The Brooklyn Bridge reconfiguration is going to bring thousands of vehicles needlessly through Chinatown.  The city and DOT have been studying Chinatown traffic for years, with little result.  We need stronger measures.”

    I guess they’re cool with rapidly moving thru-traffic, though. Pretty despicable. 

  • Mark Walker

    As I said in a different thread, I actively avoid dining and shopping in this area because the street design is so hostile to pedestrians. It surprises me that certain merchants would not consider this a problem. Oh, and I misread your head because my browser broke it before the final word: “Here’s the Chinatown Intersection Where NIMBYs Killed a Pedestrian [Overhaul].”


    Congratulations to Jan Lee for putting an end to the plans of the bully boys at DOT and the whiners on this blog.

    Good job, Jan.  Don’t let the mosquitos get under the skin of a dedicated activist who loves his community and defeats the agenda of these hypocrites!

    What hypocrites you ask?

    How about Ian Dutton, who condemns cars in Chinatown, yet owns and drives a car of his own in the Village, when he is not polluting our atmosphere and our ozone layer on a daily basis when he flies his Jumbo jets.

  • Tsuyoshi

    Very interesting. Chinatown sucks for pedestrians by design. All this time I thought it was an accident!

  • moocow

    This intersection went through a renovation in 2000? something like that. It was even worse, if imaginable, then.  The neighborhood elders needlessly kowtow to the influx of out of towners that literally and figuratively pollute the area with their cars and inability to drive sensibly.
     Since the NYPD won’t police the area, and prevent infractions nor illegal placards, the area is choking on traffic.  Delivery trucks blocked by unlicensed, panicked drivers and placarded cars sitting in “No Standing Zone”s all day. If the Police won’t enforce, then you must redesign, and here, a vibrant, very unique neighborhood loses out.

  • Alan_static

    F off

  • Ian Dutton

    It’s Sean Sweeney. *shrug*

  • Anonymous

    A shame. I tutor down there, and the way I avoid most of it, is by walking along the closed off Park Row.


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