Residents say Liberty St. sidewalks too cramped

[media-credit name=”Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
Steven Abramson, a resident at 114 Liberty St., explained his frustration over the lack of sidewalk space on Liberty Street at a C.B. 1 meeting on Oct. 17.
BY ALINE REYNOLDS | The section of Liberty Street facing the World Trade Center site is “besieged” with pedestrian traffic, causing some area residents to have trouble getting to and from their own homes.

Ongoing construction at Tower 4 is the main culprit behind the cramped sidewalk space on Liberty Street between Church and Greenwich Streets, according to Howard Steinberg, a resident of 114 Liberty St., an apartment building that faces the construction site. At Community Board 1’s Oct. 17 World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee meeting, Steinberg requested that the building-out of Tower 4’s southern façade be completed as quickly as possible.

“We’ve got the 9/11 Memorial traffic, we’ve got the Tribute [W.T.C. Visitor] Center traffic, and… we don’t see any end to what is chaos right now on the street,” Steinberg said.

The northern part of the sidewalk is blocked off to construction, Steinberg noted, while its southern part is covered by a sidewalk shed, which Silverstein Properties set up last June for safety reasons — leaving an inadequate amount of room for pedestrians, according to Steinberg.

And, while the shed is intended to protect passersby, it is creating another potential safety hazard by exacerbating congestion. “We basically have half [the southern] sidewalk,” said Steinberg. “If you’re there with construction from 11 to 2 p.m., something’s gotta give.”

“I have to be honest and say, I don’t think there was a lot of planning in terms of when the [9/11] Memorial opened and how people traffic was going to move through there,” echoed Steven Abramson, another resident of 114 Liberty St.

Dara McQuillan, senior vice president of marketing and communications of Silverstein Properties, the developer of Tower 4, indicated that little could be changed with respect to the rate of construction of the tower.

It would be logistically unfeasible to complete the building’s southern façade before its other facades, according to McQuillan. “The challenge is, the way buildings are physically constructed… all four sides have to go up at the same time. It’s physically just not possible to keep on going [with façade construction] until the steel, concrete and fireproofing is up.”

McQuillan also reminded the committee that the sidewalk shed was something that C.B. 1 requested, and noted that Silverstein Properties commissioned artist Maya Barkai in August to design the shed in attempt to make it more lively.

“Nobody loves sidewalk bridges, because they create a dark atmosphere,” said McQuillan in sympathizing with the Liberty Street residents.

“But I think we’d all agree that, at the W.T.C., safety trumps virtually everything. There have been other projects in the neighborhood that haven’t been so successful [safety-wise], and we don’t want to make those mistakes.”

The sidewalk shed can be removed, McQuillan said, once the curtain wall fully encloses the building in late 2012 or early 2013.

McQuillan nevertheless acknowledged the residents’ concerns, calling Liberty Street a “perfect storm of insanity” with ongoing construction next door at the W.T.C. and the 24-hour encampment of Occupy Wall Street at the nearby Zuccotti Park.

“You’re a resident of Downtown, so you’ve stuck through this project thick and thin for a very long time,” McQuillan told Steinberg. “It hasn’t been easy, and there’s nothing worse than having an impediment to get in and out of your own front door.”

After the meeting, McQuillan invited Steinberg and Abramson for a tour of Tower 4 and offered to follow up with them about their concerns.

“The impression I got was that they want their pedestrian experience to get back to normal,” said McQuillan. “We’re going to work with them and do our very best.”

Apart from the Tower 4 tour, Steinberg plans to meet with Silverstein Properties and Tishman Construction engineers to discuss the feasibility of expediting the work of the building’s southern façade.

Despite McQuillan’s reply, Steinberg said, “I’m hopeful that we can stave off at least weeks, if not months.”