Pre-tour bus anxiety

Maybe it’s just us, but as the pages of the calendar continue to turn, bringing us one day closer to the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, we feel as if we are already seeing more tour buses on Lower Manhattan streets. In actuality this is probably not the case, but is perhaps a manifestation of the anxiety we are all experiencing when we think about the influx of tour buses coming to our community.

This week the Dept. of Transportation released a final plan to deal with the inevitable problems that are going to arise when the National Sept. 11 Memorial opens. On that day, Sun. Sept. 11, 2011, the impacts will not be fully recognized since only family members will be allowed to attend the commemoration ceremony and get an up close and personal look at the memorial. But on Monday, there is no one who can predict just what will happen, just how many people will cruise into Lower Manhattan on tour buses originating from all over the country. The people are not the problem. It’s the buses we’re concerned with.

For months the D.O.T. has been holding closed-door meetings, for “stakeholders” only. This group has included the National Sept. 11th Memorial, elected officials like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Margaret Chin. Members of Community Board 1 have been invited, as have operators of tour bus companies and owners of local businesses.

In the meantime the D.O.T. has appeared at C.B. 1 meetings to update the board on the proposed plan. Often they received negative feedback and were put on the defensive.

This no doubt was the case because Lower Manhattan residents who might not qualify as “stakeholders” certainly need to know exactly what is happening behind the scenes, especially when their quality of life is at stake.

The plan as it exists today must not be set in stone. Sen. Squadron said he was happy with how far the plan has come and C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin said the same. Both however said the plan could still be improved and that the D.O.T. needs to continue to listen to the community. Simply stated, this plan cannot be the permanent solution. The tour buses will continue to come year after year. Learning how to deal with them will be an iterative process.

We have been assured by the D.O.T. and other participants that more meetings will take place after the deluge that the tenth anniversary will bring slowly recedes. Currently at least two more meetings are planned for the fall. The D.O.T. has integrated a system of checks and balances that can be analyzed in order to see what worked and what didn’t in the intermittent months.

But when the next round of planning occurs, we hope everyone who lives in Lower Manhattan are considered “stakeholders” and are invited to offer their suggestions and solutions to this issue.

We ask the D.O.T. to start exploring other avenues, and not the type of avenues where tour buses can park. Mass transit has to be a more important part of the plan. Sen. Squadron’s idea, which he proposed in this paper over a year ago, to have buses park in New Jersey and have tourists travel via the PATH train or by ferry, must become a reality.

But most importantly, since we are now on the precipice of the tour bus invasion and little will change before the anniversary, moving forward the planning process has to be 100 percent transparent and 100 percent community-oriented.