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Mayor Adams Admits He Was Going to Just Reopen Park Row to Cars Without Any Discussion

That explains why the city almost reopened Park Row to god-awful cars.

12:00 AM EDT on August 17, 2023

Park Row has remained closed to private vehicle traffic since 9/11. Photo: Kevin Duggan

Mayor Adams was ready to reopen Park Row to personal vehicle traffic without a chance for the public to weigh in, until local politicians intervened and asked for more outreach to residents, Hizzoner revealed recently. 

Adams told a town hall audience in Chinatown last Thursday that the area’s Council Member Chris Marte had asked him to allow cars back on the Lower Manhattan strip that has barred most automobile traffic since 9/11, and that they had already worked out a deal with cops and court officials.

“The councilman [Marte] came to me, we had a date when we were opening Park Row to vehicle traffic, we had a date locked in, and we already sat down and spoke to the Police Department, the judges, the federal courts — we spoke to everyone — and we said, ‘Listen, this is the date it’s going to be open,’” Adams said during the Aug. 10 community meeting.

But then other local electeds stepped in, telling Adams, "Eric, we don’t want it open," Adams said, so he ordered the local pols to draw up a consensus plan.

“If you guys figure it out and want it open, I’ma open it. If you guys figure it out and say you want it closed, I’ma close, if you want it partial open, partial open," Adams said. "I’m not trying to get into the middle of your fight. You tell me what you want and I will implement it."

A spokesperson for the area's congressman, Rep. Dan Goldman, pushed back on Adams's assertion that the lawmaker and other local colleagues wanted to stop Park Row from reopening, but confirmed that the pols asked the Department of Transportation on March 17 to hold public engagement sessions.

The mayor's comments pulled back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes discussions that led up to the bizarre incident on March 31, when NYPD set up a digital sign on Park Row Street stating that the road would reopen to non-commercial car traffic on nights and weekends — the first time in 22 years.

NYPD set up a sign Friday, March 31, saying the street would reopen on nights and weekends. Photo: Kevin Duggan

The change came without any public announcement or engagement by city officials — unlike other city street space reallocation projects that take months or years to go through the bureaucratic morass of design workshops and community board approval.

City Hall reversed course after some residents objected to the restoration of car traffic. At the time, City Hall spokesman Charles Lutvak told Streetsblog that the sign "was mistakenly activated.” But given Adams's comments last week, that statement did not tell the full story about the the mayor's prior plans to reopen the road to cars.

The Adams administration has developed a pattern of intervening in street safety projects on behalf of powerful interests lobbying behind closed doors.

The mayor's senior adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin has stalled at least two major street redesigns on McGuinness Boulevard and Ashland Place at the behest of influential local businesses, and she last year temporarily got DOT to dismantle the popular Willoughby Avenue open street.

Adams also nixed a busway on Fordham Road in the Bronx, bowing to local pols rallying against the transit upgrade behind the scenes.

One longtime Park Row resident said the city should give locals a real chance to weigh in.

"We live here and no one said anything to us. All we want is a voice," said Lucy West who lives in the Chatham Green development along Park Row and is a member of the Park Row Alliance, a civic group.

Marte and a group of Chinatown business groups and civic organizations sent Adams a letter days after the false start in March urging the mayor to bring cars back without going through extensive studies. 

The downtown Manhattan pol told Streetsblog at the time that since ambulances, buses, and sometimes government vehicles drive on Park Row, reopening it to all cars was “pretty much not changing the use of it.”

The Department of Transportation this summer started hosting workshops to gather feedback from Chinatown residents on the future of Park Row and adjacent Kimlau Square, both of which could benefit from $20 million in funds as part of Gov. Hochul’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. 

After the September 11 attacks, the police sealed off Park Row and other nearby streets to car traffic, citing security concerns. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to spruce up Park Row with a tree-lined walkway and lawns back in 2008, but those proposals never got past the NYPD's opposition.

Traffic has remained limited to emergency services and MTA buses, and in 2018, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio added a two-way bike lane and more pedestrian space, providing a safe short-cut for cyclists and a passageway from the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian path.

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