9/11 Memorial reaches visitor milestone

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  The National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum reached a milestone this week, boasting half a million visitors from more than 100 countries worldwide since its grand opening just over two months ago.

While many Downtown residents feel proud to have an international landmark in their backyard, many of them fear of ever-increasing vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the already jam-packed streets of Lower Manhattan.

James Connors, executive vice president of operations at the 9/11 Memorial, assured members of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee that the organization is making efforts to minimize congestion resulting from the influx of tourists to the site.

More than 90 percent of 9/11 Memorial visitors are arriving as individuals or families as opposed to groups, whose visits by bus can lead to added congestion Downtown, according to Connors.

“Less than 2.5 percent are coming via charter [bus], translating to about four charter buses a day for Memorial-specific purposes,” Connors told the committee. Those that do come via bus often arrive during off-peak hours, he said.

At the same time, the Memorial staff is ramping up its reservations and queuing system with the goal of achieving maximum occupancy at the plaza, or 1500 visitors. The current system only permits up to 800 visitors on the site at a given time.

Staff has already improved the reservations policy so people can reserve same-day visits to the Memorial, in addition to visits for a week, a month or six months ahead of time. “It really made a big difference in making it easier for people to make [reservations] who don’t plan well in advance,” said Connors.

The Memorial has also made strides to encourage the use of public transportation to the site, according to Connors — by, for example, partnering with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to create wayfinding and other forms of advertising.

“I commend you for really promoting public transportation on your website,” said Committee Chair Catherine McVay Hughes. “I was really thrilled to see you really were promoting mass transit.”

The Memorial’s community evenings, meanwhile, are continuing as planned on Sun., Dec. 4 and Sun., Jan. 8. The last evening, on Nov. 6, received a relatively low turnout compared to the previous evening in October, Connors noted.

No elected official is scheduled to host the next community evening, he pointed out. “It’s your evening, so we’d love to work with you to make it what you think it should be,” he said.

Committee members such as Bob Schneck inquired about the large security presence at the site. “Is there ever going to be a time like before 9/11, when you could stroll down and wander under the [plaza] trees at night?”

“You’re mostly referring to Police Department presence on the site,” replied Connors. “Eventually, limitations on the site will go away when most of the surrounding construction of streets and sidewalks is finished. But that is, I think, a three-year period.”

While the ceremony commemorating the 11th anniversary of 9/11 has not yet been fleshed out, the Memorial is in the process of organizing a “recovery worker day” for sometime next year, according to Connors.

Connors also notified the committee that the names of 9/11 first responders and others who, according the NYC Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, die from exposure to Ground Zero toxins, will be added to the parapets that line the sides of the Memorial’s reflecting pools.

In part due to the booming turnout at the Memorial, local residents are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate the area surrounding the W.T.C. site.

Cedar Street resident Mary Perillo, for one, complained about the pedestrian bottleneck at the intersection of Greenwich and Albany Streets. Barricades in the area also slow down pedestrians heading from east to west or vice-versa, she said.

Perillo and others also complained about the Memorial’s small signage on Liberty and Trinity Streets, and about the crowds of tourists that stand idle in front of the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site.

“We’re going to work together with the N.Y.P.D. in terms of whatever enforcement needs there are, to see how we can make the situation a little bit better than it is right now,” said Connors. “We want to continue to be as good a neighbor as we can be.”