C.B. 1 committee talks dirty phone booths and dirty streets


BY Aline Reynolds

A pair of phone booths on Warren Street in Tribeca has been giving Shimon Zlotnikov’s nightmares since the mid-2000s. In the coming months, his wish to have them removed might finally come true.

Zlotnikov, 35, said he spends his mornings cleaning up the litter-trashed booths in front of his business, Shimmie’s New York, a retail outlet at 28 Warren Street he runs with his family, which owns the five-story commercial building. The payphones, which stand side-by-side, pose a major safety concern, said Zlotnikov at last Thursday’s Community Board 1 Quality of Life Committee meeting. He said the booths have become an evening hub for drug users and binge drinkers.

“Then there’s the issue of people urinating, defecating and having sex,” added Zlotnikov.

The booths do not have lights and are only partially cloaked by metal. Visitors of the yoga studio above Shimmie’s are afraid to leave the building at night, Zlotnikov reported, for fear of being mugged by a perpetrator lurking in the booths.

To compound matters, the payphones have been without a dial tone for four or five years. “These things were really, really good a couple of years ago, when not too many people had cell phones,” Zlotnikov said of the payphones. “I don’t see the usefulness of a phone that doesn’t work.”

He has complained about the booths previously, but said that the parties involved kept on passing the buck, and that nothing was accomplished.

City law requires that pay phone booths be removed from their locations after three months of malfunction, and that the company’s franchise license be revoked after six months, according to Zlotnikov.

“These guys fix it just in time for that three-month mark, and [the problem] starts all over again,” Zlotnikov said. He spotted Verizon workers fixing the problem at 4:30 a.m. last Wednesday, the day before the C.B. 1 meeting.

“We’re happy to look into the situation and help resolve any issues in regard to these phones,” said John Bonomo, a spokesperson for Verizon. He wasn’t able to confirm Zlotnikov’s account of the pay phone problems by press time.

To Zlotnikov’s relief, Allen Chapman, director of payphones for Titan, the transit advertising company responsible for operating and maintaining the Warren Street booths, said the company is open to moving the payphones, so long as they locate another Downtown site where they can be placed.

“To relocate a problem phone [booth], it would have to stay within the community board [district], and meet all the siting guidelines,” explained Patrick Fergus, the payphone coordinator for the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the agency in charge of supervising phone booth installations.

The D.I.T.T. would also require the permission of the landlord whose building will face the telephone booth, along with a letter from the First Precinct commanding officer confirming that the booths are a public nuisance and a haven for illegal activity.

There are currently 300 phone booths in C.B. 1, half the number the district once had, according to Fergus. He said he hopes to see more police presence in the area to deter illegal activity in booths Downtown and citywide.

Zlotnikov said he and Chapman are “on the same page now,” and that he looks forward to seeing the booths moved as soon as possible.

Underutilized enforcement

A representative from a citywide traffic and sanitation enforcement unit of the New York Police Department said his team feels held back from being able to do their jobs.

James Huntley, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1182, believes his agents aren’t being properly utilized. The crew, he said, feels “handcuffed” from performing their day-to-day duties, which include catching illegal pedestrian, driver and biker activity. He asked the Quality of Life committee to contact Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to recommend that he more frequently assign the traffic agents to catch violators.

Huntley introduced himself to the committee and explained the functions of the C.W.A., founded in 1968. Approximately 70 agents patrol the C.B. 1 area in the mornings and evenings.

Agents ensure that vehicles come to a standstill while pedestrians enter intersections or are at crosswalks, and can issue violations to drivers that disobey the law. “We make sure that our agents are mindful and sensitive to the needs of the community,” Huntley told the committee.

C.W.A. Local 1182 assists in emergency situations, such as when a pedestrian is hit by a car. The agents also tow derelict vehicles parked in front of hydrants and other illegal spots, issue summonses to excessively large trucks and direct traffic near construction projects.

Committee member Diane Lapson, who lives in Tribeca, told Huntley that owners not curbing their dogs is a major problem on West Street, in particular, and that she never sees the perpetrators caught. “If someone talks to these people,” she said, “maybe they’d think twice about it.”

Huntley said that failing to curb ones dog is indeed a violation, and that enforcement agents are on the lookout for violators.

The C.W.A. recently met with Transportation Alternatives, a citywide bike advocacy group, to discuss stricter law enforcement on cyclists that bike on sidewalks and run red lights and stop signs. The unit has also been in discussions with Transportation Alternatives and city Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, about mandatory insurance and licensing for bikers. The requirements, Huntley said, would “keep the public in safety mode, and make the cyclists responsible for their actions.” They would also prove useful, he said, for documenting car-bike collisions.

Marva Craig and other committee members agreed that licensing bikes could be a deterrent of these and other bike violations.

His agents can catch speedy bikers before they enter City Hall Park, Huntley said, but have no control over their actions in the park, which is operated and policed by the city Parks Department.

L.M.C.C.C. update

Downtown projects are forging ahead as planned, barring inclement weather, according to Robin Forst, director of community relations at the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, who provided a construction update to the committee.

A host of construction trucks hauled away pieces of the tower crane from the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty this week and last week. The tower is scheduled for demolition by the end of January, but wind and snow might delay the process, according to a spokesperson for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the city-state agency that owns the property.

Starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Broadway at Fulton Street will be shut down to one moving lane of traffic to make way for a tower crane that will be used to excavate the site for the Fulton Street Transit Center. As a result, Forst said, all pedestrian traffic on the east side of Broadway will be diverted to the west side of Broadway, between John and Dey Streets, and to Fulton Street.

Traffic enforcement agents will be manning the effected streets throughout the weekend.

Broadway at Fulton Street, according to Forst, will also be shut down until 10 a.m. Sunday, and traffic will be diverted to Ann Street.

The sidewalk shed construction at 180 Broadway, erected to protect the construction project there, is now complete. The 24-story building construction project at the site, the future home of a Pace University dormitory, will be presented to the C.B. 1 Financial District Committee meeting in March. The project is slated for completion in 2013.

Chambers and Hudson streets, meanwhile, are moving ahead as planned. The city began the $24.5 million overhaul of Chambers Street, between West Street and Broadway, last summer, which entails replacing a water main, updating outdated utilities and rebuilding the roadway, curbs and sidewalks. New traffic signals and shrubbery will also be installed, according to the L.M.C.C.C.’s website.