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April 29th, 2003

Community Focus & Environment

by SoHo Journal Staff

The most irritating aspect of living in Soho is the mindless attitudes of those who do not pay attention to our surroundings. Tourists can be excused because it is not their home; it is their playground. Politicians have an excuse, because it is the nature of their jobs that they constantly hear complaints from constituents. But for those among us that operate businesses in SoHo and for residents who proudly describe where they live, there is no excuse. So, here we go again. These are some of the issues that MUST be addressed if we are to save the essential art and the international flavor of this community.

There is progress being made by the new head of the Department of Buildings, Commissioner Lancaster, in the effort to control illegal AND legal billboards in our area. Recent proposals include hearings held on Rule 49, a new additional application process that would require all existing signs and any new signs file for a permit ?ɬ one that would be on top of existing permits already in place. Previous regulations were most recently enacted in 2001 with Local Law 14, under Peter Vallone’s City Council leadership.

In other words, whether the sign is legal or illegal, whether it conforms to the previous or current filing laws, this application would be a requirement. It would have the effect of cutting through the red tape and smoking out all of the “self-certification” permits previously issued and has the effect of locating every sign or billboard for the Department of Buildings for thorough review by the new administration. There will be fines and also enforcement, something that has been sorely missing up to now. And the previously slow and tedious process of enforcement that used to be handled through the Criminal Court system is now on a fast track through the Environmental Control Board.

It is a testament as to how nervous the sign companies have become over these new proposed regulations that, at the two hearings held thus far, the audience has been packed with highly coiffed “suits.” Even the CEO of Van Wagner was present at the hearings. His company is most responsible for the horrendous visual pollution in SoHo. The sign company contingent has arrived in force because they are concerned that they will stand to lose the money they make by exhibiting their offensive building covers and sexually suggestive billboards in SoHo. If you have a complaint to file about a billboard or offensive sign, due to its size or structure (not its content), the number to call is 227-7000.

The new head of the Sign Enforcement Unit is Carol Post, a knowledgeable and businesslike person, unlike the people who were vague and unhelpful during the previous administration. She also has a reputation for being very helpful and informative to community leaders. The current inspector who knows more about the legality of signs currently defacing our buildings is Robert Iulo and he can be reached through the Department of Buildings, now at 280 Broadway. We will keep you informed about the advances being made on this issue. Several approaches are being investigated as our local leaders become more adept at dealing with billboards. Lawsuits by local organizations are in the planning stages, enforcement is an issue that is being planned through the Department of Buildings, and both the City Council and Community Board #2 is expanding its review process.

Those developers or building owners who want or need zoning variances for their property or development may now need to consider whether its current or future use ?ɬ especially billboard placement ?ɬ are offensive to the community. Pay close attention and watch for signs coming down in the coming year. FYI, the web site for
keeping posted on this issue is NYC.Gov/Buildings (click on Resources.)

Public Art

A disappearing part of our SoHo heritage is the public art that is known as Guerrilla Art. The Bob Bolles sculptures that were ripped up and carted away by the Parks Department were part of the history of our community. And that event was neither forgotten or forgiven ?ɬ litigation over that travesty is in the pipeline. But more important for SoHo right now is the fact that there is still public art that we need to be concerned about. The AASC is conducting a project that will memorialize all of this original work from 14th street to the Battery, and that is expected to be completed by next summer. In SoHo there are several locations where there are still wall paintings. They are in danger and in need of preservation. Contact the City Council and make your opinion known on this issue (Alan Gerson can be reached at 788-7722).


There is no mystery about this problem in lower Manhattan. There are too many vehicles trying to use our SoHo streets. One reason for this can be fixed. The one way toll on the Verrazano Bridge needs to either be reversed so cars and trucks pay as they come into New York, or the two way toll needs to be reinstated. Barring that (which would require an act of Congress thanks to the Molinari politicians in Staten Island), we should install a toll system for vehicles leaving Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel.

It is interesting to note that Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senator from New York, made a commitment to those who helped him get elected in lower Manhattan. That commitment, to help us reverse the toll on the Verrazano and help reduce our traffic and diesel pollution, was ignored once he became Senator Schumer. Keep this in mind during the next Senatorial elections (even Republicans get elected in New York City). We would ask you this: Which is more important ?ɬ breathing cleaner air, being able to cross the street with your children, or strictly adhering to a political philosophy? We will return to this on a future day.

In the meantime, another of the traffic problems that CAN be fixed is the crosswalks dillemma in SoHo. Certain intersections defy description. Whether you are a tourist or a resident the following locations are a nightmare: West Broadway at Broome and Watts; Avenue of the Americas at Watts Street; Grand Street at Avenue of the Americas; Thompson Street at Watts Street; and Varick Street at Watts Street. The intersection at West Broadway and Broome Street is never policed. It is a location that is the center of SoHo, yet is dangerously ignored. Police cars must use their sirens just to be able to poke a space in the gridlock and get through the traffic. Imagine what luck pedestrians have against this mass of angry people trying to get to the Holland Tunnel. They scream at pedestrians who must weave in an out of moving cars with two or three inches of space between them ?ɬ often having to push a baby carriage through an exhaust pipe spewing carbon dioxide on one side and an agitated driver pushing ahead on the other.

There are absolutely no police and no crosswalk markings at Watts and Thompson Streets. It is a mass of streaming cars who let no one through on certain days. No lines indicate where the crosswalk should be and there are no signs to give pedestrians even the philosophical right to space between the cars in crossing this intersection. Nothing but scowls and epithets greet the foolish person who asks a driver to make room to cross. We need a traffic light at this intersection for the safety of our residents.

The crosswalks at Avenue of the Americas and Grand, and at Watts are a study in Police Science. It is a basic law known to New York’s Finest, that pedestrians have the right of way ?ɬ regardless of the color of the light. Well, those guardians of the public trust in SoHo may not have taken this course. The order of the day at these two locations are: Buses go first, cars go second, people (maybe) go last. It is a routine occurrence for police on duty to stand by and watch pedestrians trying to weave in and out of cars and buses that are blocking the crosswalks and are stopped behind other cars at the light. This is not a joke. Not only do the police pay little attention to pedestrians at this location, they clearly get annoyed when people slow down their waving on of buses. This is when police are present. When there are no police, those two locations are a free for all.

Finally, we have Varick Street and Watts. This location is truly bad for your health. Police pay no attention whatsoever to the fact that crosswalks are routinely blocked ?ɬ requiring pedestrians to walk out into oncoming traffic from Varick Street, simply to cross the street. The police ignore the problem.

Of all of the locations in SoHo and surrounds, these are the most dangerous. Crosswalks have a purpose and it is symptomatic of our New York City culture that some things are simply ignored or taken for granted in everyday life. Well, rangers, this should not be one of them. We need enforcement of the laws in SoHo. If people have to get to New Jersey a few minutes late, so be it. Stop for the people crossing the street, or don’t drive through our streets.

And to our political leaders we say this: Let the police know that we expect them to enforce the law ?ɬ they must ticket the lawbreakers, arrest them if necessary, and give us full time supervision of our neighborhood streets and crosswalks. Install cameras that issue tickets, install speed bumps along Watts Street, create a crosswalk on Thompson and Watts streets assign traffic enforcement agents to ticket crosswalk blocking vehicles, and wave drivers off of the Tunnel lines if they violate our laws. We need action. And, we need it now, before any more people get hurt.

Filed Under: Articles | New York | Politics





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