D.O.T. tour bus plan set for 9/11 Memorial opening

The Dept. of Transportation has finalized a plan for the influx of tour buses expected to accompany the opening of the National Sept. 11th Memorial and weeks following. Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  After months of meetings, the NYC Department of Transportation has come up with a concrete plan to manage the influx of tour buses expected to arrive Downtown starting next month for the opening of the National Sept. 11th Memorial.

Lower Manhattan is anticipating a notable increase in tour buses once the 9/11 Memorial opens to the public on Sept. 12. The goal of the transportation plan is to reduce vehicular congestion in the neighborhood’s busy streets, prevent buses from idling on curbsides, and otherwise allow for smooth pedestrian traffic flow.

“It’s important to keep tour buses to the designated streets so they’re not clogging up these very crowded neighborhoods,” said Financial District resident Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of the Community Board 1 World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee. Hughes attended an Aug. 5 stakeholders meeting organized by NY State Senator Daniel Squadron, NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin, along with the D.O.T., the Police Department, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and other elected officials.

In order to regulate bus parking Downtown, the D.O.T. will be issuing single-use permits to buses that have registered their visits with the 9/11 Memorial, which will allow them to park in designated, metered spots along Barclay and West Streets. Twenty-two visitation time slots Mondays through Fridays will be available to the memorial’s partnering bus companies, according to Michael Frazier, a spokesperson for the memorial.

Tour buses that haven’t arranged visits to the memorial and plan to park in the area will pay $20 per hour for a maximum of three hours at designated muni-meter spots along Greenwich and South Streets.

Buses that seek to shuttle passengers to the memorial and then park outside of Lower Manhattan, meanwhile, will be able to pick up and drop off their passengers at Trinity Place, Vesey Street and South Street in the Financial District, as well as Battery Place in Battery Park City. Tour buses that measure more than 33 feet in length will be prohibited from accessing the area via streets east of Broadway, north of Whitehall Street, west of Water and Pearl Streets, and south of Park Row and Frankfort Street. Buses will also be banned from parts of Fulton, Dey, Cortlandt, Thames, Rector and Whitehall Streets, among others.

The D.O.T. also plans to install no-idling signs in the area, though specific locations have yet to be determined, according to department spokesperson Nicole Garcia. The agency, she said, will be working closely with partnering agencies such as the N.Y.P.D. and the D.O.I.T.T. to enforce traffic and parking regulations.

Passersby can also help the city crack down on violators by calling 3-1-1 and reporting infractions when they see them. Illegal parking and idling complaints will be routed to local police precincts for non-emergency follow-up, while calls about odor or fumes from idling vehicles will be directed to the Department of Environmental Protection, according to Nicholas Sbordone, external affairs director at the D.O.I.T.T.

“Calls will be taken and routed as appropriate, and all information available to the public will be [on the 3-1-1 Online Service Request Map],” said Sbordone.

The department, Sbordone said, will also be training 3-1-1 call takers on these services. “There about 4,000 services we offer,” he said. “We want to make sure that, if we’re expecting an increase of calls of a particular topic, that we reinforce to call takers the agencies they should direct the calls to.”

Local elected officials are in favor of the plan thus far. The end goal of the initiative, according to Chin, is to encourage as many visitors as possible to use mass transit. While she endorses the D.O.T.’s undertakings, Chin stressed the importance of tracking their immediate results. “We can plan all we want, but we don’t know yet what will happen,” she said. “It’s good to have a plan in place that we’ll be able to make adjustments to as we go along.”

Concerning the initial monitoring of the buses, Speaker Silver said, “While the measures being taken to limit bus traffic and congestion on local streets are encouraging, I will be closely monitoring their effectiveness once the 9/11 Memorial opens. It is crucially important that adequate enforcement personnel be deployed to make sure all buses are complying with the rules.”

“The question to monitor is whether we’ve gone far enough,” echoed State Senator Daniel Squadron, a strong advocate for minimizing the number of tour buses that frequent Lower Manhattan.

Squadron is pushing for other transportation measures to be implemented, such as a dispatch system that would inform bus companies of area parking availability ahead of time, so that bus drivers would be ensured a spot before coming into the neighborhood. The Senator would also like to see a “satellite” parking system in place that would direct the buses to Harrison, New Jersey and other dedicated parking spaces outside of Lower Manhattan after dropping off passengers at the memorial. The hope, he said, is that out-of-towners would patronize Downtown businesses and visit other attractions in the area besides the memorial before heading home.

While Downtown residents generally approve of the plans, some still worry about the negative impacts added bus presence will have on their daily lives.

Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City committee, is concerned that the buses won’t abide by the rules—as is the case, he says, on South End Avenue in B.P.C.

“They clog up the regular bus stops, and although sometimes traffic enforcement agents give them tickets, I’ve seen many occasions where agents drive directly by them doing nothing,” said Galloway.

Bus idling, Galloway said, causes pollution, safety hazards for pedestrians and cyclists, and diminishes the neighborhoods’ quality of life.

While the permitting process is a good strategy, he said, it isn’t enough to deter buses from idling on wide curbs. “You have to do more than just provide appropriate places [for the buses to park]. You need to take steps to make it uninviting and impractical for buses that are going to violate the plans—cause, plain as day, they’re going to be there,” he said.

Ticketing by cops, Galloway said, is also insufficient enforcement. Buses that defy the law, he said, should be removed from the streets altogether. “A hundred or two-hundred-dollar tickets is the cost of doing business,” he said. “You tow these buses away, and they won’t lay over anymore.”

For more information about the Downtown transportation plans, visit www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/ferrybus/charterbus.shtml.