Council Member Pushes Back on Reopening Plans That Ban Public Transit
The New York Stock Exchange partially reopened on Tuesday, but banned employees who use public transit to get there.
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) partially reopened on Tuesday, after a hiatus triggered on March 23 by the discovery that several employees were infected by the pandemic coronavirus. In a controversial decision aimed the mitigating the risk of further infections, the NYSE banned from its reopened headquarters staff members who travelled to the iconic Broad Street building via public transit — a policy that may become a model of other large offices, as they contemplate resuming normal operations. (The Exchange is also implementing other safety measures, including temperature checks and mandatory social distancing.)
This has inspired multiple concerns among Lower Manhattan community leaders, and elected officials, among them City Council member Margaret Chin. In a May 21 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, she wrote, “while I commend the NYSE for including temperature checks and a social distancing policy as part of its plan, its decision to ban public transportation has raised serious questions about how Lower Manhattan streets will be impacted, as well as deep concerns about the precedent it sets for other companies who are also eager to reopen.”
Ms. Chin continued, “not only does a public transportation ban send a message of exclusion, it is unclear what kind of public health rationale, if any, was involved in this decision. Moreover, little clarity has been provided on what is being done to mitigate a likely surge in vehicular traffic in the Downtown area. This pandemic has compelled New Yorkers to reimagine the future of public transportation and how to safely and responsibly share our streets. In Lower Manhattan, we have welcomed a steady increase in bike utilization as a safe and reliable way of moving around, and look forward to the continuation and expansion of the ‘Open Streets’ program as the days get warmer. The return of traffic congestion will not only negate these positive outcomes, but will also worsen air quality, which has been increasingly linked to COVID-19 exposure and transmission.”
The NYSE’s decision about transit raises complex issues about Lower Manhattan’s streetscape. The NYSE employs more than 3,000 people. Perhaps a few hundred of them live within walking distance of the Financial District. But if only half of that overall complement returned to work yesterday, it is unclear how most of these 1,500 people were supposed get to the Financial District without using buses or subways — unless they drove. (Even shared mobility devices such as Citi Bike, or the newly ubiquitous Revel scooter service are impractical for staffers coming from more than a few miles away.)
City Council member Margaret Chin: “Not only does a public transportation ban send a message of exclusion, it is unclear what kind of public health rationale, if any, was involved in this decision.”
Regardless of whether such employees took personal cars (and parked them nearby, utilizing a discount program with local garages that the NYSE arranged) or for-hire vehicles, this scenario raises the prospect of flooding Lower Manhattan streets with many hundreds of additional vehicles. This hypothetical is rendered more troubling by two complicating factors. First, Downtown’s narrow, winding street grid was largely laid out in the 1600 and 1700s, when Lower Manhattan was a village, where traffic consisted of single lanes of horse-drawn wagons. And second, the area surrounding the NYSE’s landmarked headquarters has been closed to most traffic since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, following which a 3,000-feet security perimeter (which encloses 19 acres and dozens of square blocks) was erected.
Finally, as Ms. Chin noted, a de facto demand that employees take cars to their offices almost necessarily precludes staff members without the financial means to own (or hire) vehicles from showing up to do their jobs.
If companies such as the NYSE were to be guided by advice Mayor de Blasio offered in a recent press conference, and create their own transit services (using privately contracted shuttle buses, for example), how this option would be any less likely than public transit to expose riders to the pandemic coronavirus remains far from obvious.
What does seem clear is public transit ridership will take a long time to recover. An analysis by the highly regarded online newsletter, StreetsBlogNYC, notes that multiple studies (including one by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees public transit) project that between 40 and 50 percent of bus, subway, and commuter rail riders will not return to the system before the end of the year.
As StreetsBlogNYC point out, this shortfall amounts to more than three million daily bus and subway riders, along with hundreds of thousands of commuter rail patrons. If even ten percent of these workers switch to automobiles for their rides to work, that additional load could be expected to overwhelm existing infrastructure throughout New York, and particularly in Lower Manhattan. The related question of whether already-struggling businesses could shoulder the added burden of employees demanding to be compensated for their own higher costs (imposed by congestion pricing) continues to defy prediction.
To the editor:
Who remembers the Transit Strike in April, 1983?
No one could use mass transit, and obviously, everyone could not drive themselves to work. NYSE should take a page from the book of many employers of that era.
We chartered buses to bring employees to work. My downtown law firm (800 employees) developed bus routes that would accommodate the majority of personnel, from Mid-Town down to Wall St., through Brooklyn to Manhattan via the Battery Tunnel, as well as car pooling in NJ to PATH. This task was accomplished without the help of computers, using lists of addresses and using personal knowledge to consider possible pick up points along the way.
NYSE: if you are afraid of our mass transit system, then please organize transportation for your essential staff and don’t create a safe streets problem. This is no way to start a Come Back!!
Maryanne P. Braverman
Refugees Don’t Produce Refuse
Less Trash and Fewer People May Explain Why Downtown Avoided the Worst
Two statistical indicators are pointing toward a demographic shift that may help explain why Lower Manhattan has been largely spared the brunt of pandemic coronavirus, which has exacted a much heavier toll in other communities throughout the five boroughs of New York City.
The first of these is 2.89 million fewer pounds of household garbage being produced during the month of April, compared to the same period a year earlier. In an analysis researched and reported by The City (an online, independent, nonprofit news outlet), Community District 1 — a collection of neighborhoods encompassing 1.5 square miles, bounded roughly by Canal, Baxter, and Pearl Streets and the Brooklyn Bridge — produced 1,445 tons of household trash for pickup by the City’s Department of Sanitation in April. This amounted to a 28.6 percent drop from April 2019, when the same catchment area produced 2,025 tons.
More Than 60 Downtown Residents Die of Coronavirus, But Confirmed Case Numbers Continue to Drop
A total of 64 residents of Lower Manhattan have died of the pandemic coronavirus, according to data released by the City’s Department of Health (DOH), which, on May 18, disclosed mortality numbers indexed by zip code for the first time.
These statistics show that the only two zip codes (among 178 residential districts) throughout the five boroughs have registered no deaths at all from COVID-19 (the disease caused by the pandemic coronavirus), and both are located Downtown: 10280 (southern Battery Park City) and 10006 (the Greenwich South neighborhood).
Click here to view a list of Downtown restaurants compiled by the Downtown Alliance that are open and serving takeout and delivery.
Sharing Joy and Hope
A few weeks ago, as the pandemic was raging in Manhattan, Bob Townley, executive director of Downtown Community Center, called Susan Kay, the ceramic program director and special events coordinator, to say, “let’s use our storefront windows to share some joy and hope with our community!”
They decided to offer free art materials to families. The idea was that you’d make art out of whatever you found in the Downtown Community Center bag, and then bring it back for display. About 100 families and kids showed up on two successive Saturdays to retrieve the materials, and within days returned to drop off art work that is now in the windows of the Community Center at 120 Warren Street.
Gratified by the response, Ms. Kay said, “The joy, gratitude and love with this exchange is just reaffirming of much of a community we are. We were all so happy to see each other and to remember what’s important. Through art and our children we can share that communication and hope, knowing that we will get through this and land on our feet.”
Onetime Presidential Contender and Liberal Firebrand Endorses Lower Manhattan Candidates
Progressive icon and prospective vice-presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren waded into local politics on Wednesday when she endorsed two elected officials representing Lower Manhattan in their bids for reelection.
In the U.S. Congressional race for the Tenth District, she announced her support for Jerry Nadler, saying, “his record shows that he doesn’t just know how to fight, he knows how to win. I’m honored to call Jerry a friend and someone I continue to work with on important legislation.” As chairman of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, Mr. Nadler was one of the leaders of the effort to impeach president Donald Trump last fall.
Downtown Alliance Expands Aid to Lower Manhattan Small Businesses
The Downtown Alliance is broadening the criteria for its Small Business Rental Assistance Grant, which aims to give away $800,000 in grants to help to local shops struggling with the economic contraction triggered by the pandemic coronavirus. Originally launched in April, the Grant program is funded with contributions from Brookfield Properties, Silverstein Properties and the Howard Hughes Corporation, as well as $250,000 from the Alliance itself.
The expanded criteria for this second phase of the program include eligible businesses with gross annual revenues of up to $3 million, and which employ up to 30 employees. (The first round was capped at $1.5 million and 20 employees.) It will now also accept applications from storefronts within an expanded geographic catchment, covering everywhere south of Chambers Street. This is notable in that is exceeds the boundaries of the Business Improvement District (BID) that the Alliance oversees (roughly from City Hall to the Battery, between West Street and the East River), and to which it usually confines its initiatives.
Pursuant to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive orders 202.17 and 202.18, all people in New York are required to wear masks or face coverings in public, including when taking public or private transportation or riding in for-hire vehicles.
Check Your Screen to Get Screened
State Launches Online Map Showing Local Testing Facilities
On Sunday afternoon, the State Department of Health launched on online map specifying the locations of more than 700 facilities throughout New York where testing for exposure to the pandemic coronavirus is available. These testing sites can process up to 40,000 patients per day, and are currently operating well below their capacity.
The Downtown Alliance’s Downtown Connection bus is New York City’s only free circulator bus service, and it’s still running every day during the New York City pause. Serving 36 stops around the perimeter of Lower Manhattan, the Downtown Connection runs in both directions between Battery Park City and the Seaport District. The bus will return to its normal route along Warren Street when construction is completed in June.
To adhere to social distancing guidelines, all bus capacities have been reduced 50% and all passengers are required to wear face masks to board. The bus is being kept extra clean with deep cleanings at night and regular wipe-downs during the day. Downtown Connection Driver Carlisle Gibson (pictured) takes pride in helping riders take care of their needs during a difficult time. “You see a lot of folks fending for themselves,” he noted. “They appreciate us.”
If you need to get out of the house to run necessary errands, the free bus — which you can spot easily with its bright red color — is here to help. Hop on and off as often as you’d like — just remember to wear your mask. Buses run from 10a to 7:30p, with an average of 10-minute intervals on weekdays and 15-minute intervals on weekends. To see the route, click here.
Eyes to the Sky
May 18 – 31, 2020
Summer stars rise as winter stars set. Venus and Mercury meet this week
One month before summer solstice, which occurs on June 20, we find two of summer’s brightest stars rising above the east-northeast skyline as twilight deepens.
Foretelling the summer season, Vega, third brightest star in northern skies at 0.00 magnitude, rises in the northeast while less bright Deneb, 1.25 m, appears to the lower left of the blue-white beacon. (The brighter the star, the smaller the number.) Deneb is the furthest star from Earth visible with the unaided eye. About two and a half hours after sunset, Altair, 0.75 m, rises in the east, joining Vega and Deneb to complete the Summer Triangle, one of the most prominent star patterns in northern skies. To read more…
Essential Workers photo: Dorothy Lipsky
Click here to watch the new family of Falcons living high above 55 Water Street. We watched as lunch was served right around noontime
‘The Doctor Told Me My Chances Were 50-50’
A Widely Admired Community Leader Recalls Her Life-and-Death Battle with COVID-19
Daisy Paez, a Lower East side activist who has served for years as a local District Leader, is a universally revered matriarch among Downtown’s political and community family. She recently returned from more than a month of hospitalization, during which she nearly died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the pandemic coronavirus.
“It felt like somebody just snatched me from my life and threw me into this horrifying ordeal,” she recalls. “In the beginning, I remember hearing how people would get really ill, and that if you had a cough or a high fever, you needed to see a doctor. But I was fine. Then, in the last week of March, I started feeling sick. I went to the CityMD urgent care facility on Delancey Street, and they gave me a flu test, which came back negative. They also gave me a test for COVID-19, and told me the results would be available in about five days.”