Over Street Closure Downtown
By Joshua Brustein
Park Row, which served as the connection between Chinatown and
its neighbors to the west until September 11, 2001, is the only
major road that remains closed after the attacks. Police say that
a terrorist threat makes it necessary, but Chinatowns residents
and business owners say that its the closure itself that is
The police department created a large security zone around Police
headquarters after 9/11. The restricted zone, which is larger than
the World Trade Center site, is designed to keep possible attackers
too far from headquarters to do any harm.
But closing the streets, especially Park Row, the major East-West
artery in downtown Manhattan, is not without consequences in Chinatown,
where business owners and residents continue to struggle through
hard times after 9/11. The east side of lower Manhattan is now a
maze of slow detours as traffic is forced down the narrow side streets
that are the only available alternatives.
Traffic is clogged as cars are forced to take alternative routes.
City buses have been rerouted. Taxis often refuse to come into the
area. Grey Line, a company which runs sightseeing bus tours, has
cancelled its Chinatown visits. To visitors from the Wall Street
area, who found Chinatown to be a popular lunch destination, the
area suddenly seems very far away. These losses have all taken their
toll on Chinatowns economy.
Unless this problem is addressed, says Paul Lee, "Lower Mott
Street will die, just fade away. Its happening now."
Lee owns 32 Mott Street General Store, the oldest shop in Chinatown.
He points to neighboring stores on Mott Street. that are moving
away or closing China Handicrafts, Chu Shing.
Early one morning in July, a fire on Mott Street destroyed the
Cantonese restaurant Sun Lok Kee. When the restaurant re-opened,
it did so in Flushing. The spot has been vacant since summer. Even
Lees store, which has been on Mott Street since the late 1800s,
is struggling. "I make no guarantees on how long were
going to last," he says. "The tourism side is dying."
But it is not only business that is hurting, according to Dr.
David Goldschmitt, head of New
York University Downtown Medical Centers Department of Emergency
Medicine. With the new traffic patterns in place it is hard
to get to the Medical Center, the only hospital for fifty blocks.
"The closure diverts out ambulances, but that is actually
the smallest part of the problem," he says, adding that many
local patients come to the hospital by private car or taxi, which
now get tangled in slow moving traffic. The trip is often more of
a headache than a minor health problem, meaning that some people
are staying away from the hospital until their health concerns become
more severe, and harder to treat.
Citing these concerns, local residents, business owners, and elected
officials have been calling for Park Rows reopening. They
have not been completely without success. The area was reopened
to pedestrian traffic in August. This allowed Chinatown residents
access to the Lexington Avenue subway line, the closest in the area.
But requests to open the area to vehicular traffic have fallen
on deaf ears. Local groups have tried to open a dialogue with the
police department, but say that they have been told that details
of security issues cannot be discussed in todays dangerous
atmosphere. The police department did not send a representative
to a hearing on the issue called by Council Member Alan
Gerson and Community Board 3 in mid-December.
"When it comes to security they dont explain anything,
they dont answer anything," says Danny Chen of the Civic
Center Residents Coalition, a group of local residents that
is mobilizing around the issue. Chen acknowledges that security
is an issue, but believes that what the police department really
hopes to secure is more parking for its officers.
Where police officers park has long caused tension in the area,
and recent events have only aggravated the problem. A new Counter
Terrorism Bureau is bringing many new employees to Police headquarters,
with over 900 people now working on the terrorism issue. Their cars
line the sidewalks of Chinatown, and fill the closed streets of
security area. Chen, whose group has quarreled with the police department
over parking before, sees the closure as another attempt by the
police department to take space that doesnt belong to them.
"As residents directly across from Police headquarters, we
have come to see this as a land grab," he says.
The police department did not return calls for comment.
Security threats have not kept other potentially vulnerable targets
from operating normally, says Chen. This makes the continued closure
of Park Row all the more questionable. "No one wants to throw
security out the door," he says.
"But the question everyone is asking is why can the
UN operate normally, the Empire State Building area operate normally,
and our area cannot?"
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