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July 6th, 2004

Schumer to Lower Manhattan: Keep On Truckin’

by Carl Rosenstein

Forty years after Robert Moses was thwarted from bulldozing Broome Street (some say by the mob in Little Italy) to create the lower-Manhattan Expressway, cross-town traffic still remains a contentious geo-political matter.

Using the 1970’s as a departure point, life along the Canal Street corridor has shifted dramatically. Sally Lindsay, longtime resident of a loft on Broadway recently recollected how life in her airy 10th floor loft was seemingly bucolic during the pioneering days of SoHo. Then came 1986.

“I remember returning to Broome Street one evening from upstate and the traffic was backed from the Holland Tunnel up past Lafayette Street.” The Verrazano Bridge toll had been doubled outbound from Brooklyn to appease Staten Island residents who were upset that there was a traffic backup at the toll plaza on the Staten Island side. The initial six-month trial balloon became a permanent fixture when then Governor Cuomo became the first in a line of politicians to sell out lower Manhattan and North Brooklyn by pandering to Staten Islanders who would never vote for them. The Verrazano Bridge is the only crossing in the country that is regulated by the Federal government.

The reverse toll added an additional 10,000 automobiles and thousands of truck trips daily onto Broome, Watts, Canal, Houston and Walker Streets and god knows how many tons of air pollution annually. The E.P.A. has long designated the area in violation of The Clean Air Act.

In the early 1990’s I discovered that Broome Street was a Local Truck Route and the hundreds of heavy rigs blasting through SoHo daily were actually violating local law. I then discovered there were length (55′) and weight (forty tons) restrictions as well. From that point a core group of activists that used the moniker Trees Not Trucks began to demand enforcement by the NYPD and DOT. Critical TV and newspaper reports led to enforcement and new signs. Permanent patrols were established to summons offending trucks. Slowly things improved on Broome, Watts and Canal Streets.

1998, enter Chuck Schumer. After 18 dismal years of Pothole D’Amato as our Senator (can you believe it) Congressman Schumer, looking for support addressed a group of Downtown Independent Democrats at Lucky Strike spelling out what we wanted to hear: that he’d fight to rescind the one-way toll. Less than a year later the Chuckster stated, “I support keeping the one-way toll. We should alleviate traffic congestion but not on Staten Island’s back.” Say what!!!!#@*! Schumer has well earned the ratfink of the decade award for that sell-out. The same D.I.D. recently declined to endorse Schumer this year in his re-election bid and anyone in lower Manhattan who votes for him should have their head examined after their lungs biopsied.

For reasons beyond local politics, matters have improved a great deal in the past three years. The tragedy of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism shut the out-bound Holland Tunnel to all truck traffic for two years. Although we still contend with horrific backups to the tunnel and the acrid taste of diesel still wafts in the air thanks to the buses.

Last year the tunnel was re-opened by the Port Authority to box trucks but the ban remained on the big rigs. Ironically it is Senator Schumer’s wife, Iris Weinschall, who as the Commissioner of the D.O.T. who has helped lower Manhattan in an off-handed way. The D.O.T. has banned all truck traffic from the Williamsburg Bridge channeling all trucks onto the Manhattan Bridge, steering them onto Canal Street. Trucks formerly using the Williamsburg crossing would end up either on Houston or Broome, or Watts Streets. What remains to be done, besides a regime change at home that would bring about a Democratic Congress, to rescind the Verrazano toll structure are the following:

The tolling of the East River Bridges using advanced EZ Pass technology as championed by Mayor Bloomberg …but shot down by the City Council including Margarita Lopez. Her position runs contrary to the interests of her lower East Side and Chinatown communities where asthma is endemic. She also supports the disastrous West Side Stadium proposal. I guess selling out your constituency is requisite for her Borough President aspirations. Council Member Alan Gerson, who represents SoHo, is currently awaiting the results of a study promised by the government before the next Ice Age arrives.

Adding “congestion pricing” to the tolls as has been done on the inbound Holland would further reduce traffic and reduce travel times for essential and commercial trips.

Hi-tech roadbed scanners to prevent over-weight and over-length trucks from penetrating the City and a return of truck enforcement lost since 9/11 is necessary.

Buses must be re-routed off of Watts Street and onto Canal Street, immediately. Lower Manhattan must have continued vigilance and resistance by community groups and activists to make sure the politicians do the right thing.

Carl Rosenstein

*Editor’s Note: Bloomberg and Pataki have stalled The NYMTC study, which has been on the back burner for years. This is not surprising, considering their fealty to the Molinari Republicans of Staten Island. Having delivered the votes to elect two consecutive Republican Mayors in a Democratic town (Giuliani and Bloomberg) these politicians ?ɬ Schumer, Pataki, Bloomberg and Giuliani – would obviously prefer the we in lower Manhattan get lung cancer than allow lines to form near the Staten Island toll booths at the Verrazano Bridge. Alan Gerson comments that he is “extremely angry” at State and Federal officials for dragging their feet on this NYMTC study.

Filed Under: Articles | New York | Politics

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