Ideas aired on safer Chinatown streets and sidewalks

By Robert Voris

Curb extensions. Timed traffic lights. “Daylighting,” or moving back all parking spaces from intersections to increase visibility. These were some of the solutions to Chinatown’s notorious traffic offered by a few concerned New Yorkers at a forum sponsored by the East Side Streets Coalition held at M.S. 131 Tuesday night.

New York traffic is legendary, but Chinatown’s is particularly bad. Just outside M.S. 131 on Hester St., for instance, construction was taking place in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, trucks honked as they exited the Manhattan Bridge, deliverymen rode bicycles on the sidewalk, pedestrians jaywalked across the narrow streets and drivers navigated around Orchard St., which was shut down to automobile traffic. The air was hectic, noisy and inconvenient.

The East Side Streets Coalition, a project masterminded by Transportation Alternatives, a bicycle advocacy group, aims to reduce the pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries from vehicle crashes by 50 percent from 2009 to 2019. Alison Laichter, a community planner with Transportation Alternatives, said that many of the ideas presented for Chinatown were already in place in other parts of the city, could be cheaply installed, and had already been proven effective.

“Take curb extensions, for instance,” Laichter said. “They just play off New Yorkers’ natural instinct to step off the curb to wait for a light to change. We do it to reduce the amount of time it takes to cross and to see any cars that might turn. They work, so why not do them everywhere?”

The impetus for the meeting was the recent announcement that dedicated bus lanes would be installed along the length of First and Second Aves., extending through Chinatown and the Financial District along Water St.

“We figured with such a big project in the works for the East Side, why not jump on that momentum,” said Julia de Martini Day, another advocate. “That and the success of the West Side redevelopment were the catalysts.”

According to statistics from the Department of Transportation, bicycle commuting in the city has increased by 45 percent in the three years ending June 2009, with the West Side leading with a 57 percent increase.

But the East Side has lagged behind, said Lisa Zwick, 27, a census taker who lives in Chinatown.

“We don’t have any real infrastructure for bicycling on the East Side,” she said. 

This was echoed by others at the forum. One group presented a plan to redesign the intersection of Allen and Delancey Sts., site of more than 50 accidents in the past 10 years. They said that drivers exiting the Williamsburg Bridge were in a “highway-type mindset” and had to be forced back into city driving. They proposed eliminating curbside parking and extending the sidewalks, expanding the traffic median from the bridge further along Delancey and adding a bicycle-only turning lane.

But not everyone has been delighted with the Bloomberg administration’s trend toward more space for pedestrians and cyclists, however. Nancy Linday, 60, who lives in Chatham Towers on Park Row, said that the mayor’s policy had encouraged cyclists to become more aggressive. 

“I simply couldn’t believe the number of bicycles on the sidewalk and the way the behavior of the bicyclists deteriorated,” she said. “How are we going to have a multi-generational city?”

The Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.