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Canal Park: The Re-Emergence of a Park!

Richard Barrett talks about his community's struggle to rebuild Canal Park, a task deemed impossible by New York City's Department of transportation.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>All:</i> [00:08] Five, four, three, two, one, cut. The park is open.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [00:17] This area had a park once, but it had disappeared about 80 years ago when the Holland Tunnel was built and was never rebuilt, and the area, as it became more industrialised, spawned more traffic, more and more traffic lanes, more and more air pollution. We, Tribeca Community Association had been identifying green triangles around the neighbourhoods for years and were advocates of having them replanted in green, whether it’s green streets or more parks. This was one of the parcels we had identified when we got a grant from National Endowment for the Arts in the early ‘80’s. We did not realise at the time that it actually was mapped park land. So what happened is the fact that it had of been mapped park land became our silver bullet and the lawsuit that we eventually we filed with the city. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Adrian Benepe:</i> [01:10] Sometimes the city is unhappy to lose lawsuits, the city’s unhappy to lose lawsuits. I can say on behalf of the city that this is a lawsuit we were happy to lose. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [01:18] The outcome of that lawsuit through settlement was to build this park. We ended up taking half of the street for a new park, rather than the total park for more lanes of traffic. All of these things we were told originally were impossible, couldn’t be done. But as we stand and breathe here in this very lovely site, it happened and it’s a tremendous improvement and the community now has a park. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [01:46] So when you spoke to DOT at the beginning, they said that building a park like this was impossible.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [01:51] Impossible. Anywhere in the city when you’re advocating green, especially at the expense of moving traffic and goods through the city, you’re going to get the first response that it’s impossible. But the lesson here is that it’s not. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Adrian Benepe:</i> [02:06] It’s not often that a park gets recovered after having disappeared for 80 years. And this is a very, very special moment in the history of this neighbourhood and the history of the parks in the city, as very much a tribute to the people sitting in front of you and with you in the audience. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Barbara Siegel:</i> [02:20] Eight years ago a miracle began. Four neighbours who live on the border of Canal Street care very, very strongly for our neighbourhood, and discovered quite by chance that this triangle had been a park in the 19<sup>th</sup> century.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Adrian Benepe:</i> [02:42] We have extended the park, it’s doubled in size, it’s gone from a third of an acre to two-thirds of an acre and it enabled us, and this was the other big fight, which was to keep the street from going through on the east end, to bring the park all the way up to the point here.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [02:55] One of the critical issues here was configuration of Canal Street and movement of traffic, especially because the bias had been in favour of simply moving the traffic through the neighbourhood into the tunnel, rather than people and pedestrians just crossing the street. What we were very, very concerned with is to see that the traffic configuration was actually an improvement. And one of the problems was all the converging traffic here, and we were advocates of extending the park through the intersection of Washington Street because that was a very, very dangerous intersection. There were a number of pedestrian crashes. It was a no-man zone. The intersection was actually 160 feet wide. And I actually have some footage of that upstairs I can show you, conditions before the park were put in which were not just dangerous, but was ludicrous. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[watching footage]</font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [03:58] So it becomes so unbearable momentarily that people get out of their cars in traffic and [unintelligible 04:06] situation. Yeah, yeah. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [04:10] Gosh. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[watching footage]</font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [04:14] This guy’s pretty good. I don’t know, I don’t know where he got his talent from.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [04:22] Wow, that’s really… I mean it’s just a huge improvement there now. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [04:28] The area where we’re standing is… it is the area where you saw the footage of conditions in 1998 is where all the traffic met, right in the centre here. If you look south, also on that same footage was where the lanes, the many lanes of traffic were coming trying to get through this area to go both north and east. And this is the DOT plan for Canal Street pre-settlement. The width of the street here is about 163 feet, one of the widest in Manhattan. So you can see the absurdity of the plan, where you would cross two lanes of traffic, this is a small traffic island, cross two more. At this point you would have to cross two more to get to this island which is in the middle of the south side of Canal Street and then cross once again. Three more lanes. The Sam Schwartz plan, which was part of the settlement agreement, envisioned a much simpler plan. We would start here, cross to the pedestrian refuge and then cross one more time over.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Rebecca Lepkoff:</i> [05:40] My name is Rebecca Lepkoff and I have been crossing these streets since 1980 and there was no light and there was no intersection on the park. And so when you were in the middle of the street the light changed to red and the traffic would start to go and I would be worried if I was going to get run over or what. That was the conditions then. I’m very happy to have this island in the middle because it helps me to cross safely from the north side to the south side of the street. We have a right to our bodily safety crossing the street. That’s simple. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Sam Schwartz:</i> [06:20] In the original plan in, to get across the street from one part of Canal to the other part required crossing five crosswalks at five different signal cycles. Now traffic engineers are not known to be the most caring or enlightened, and I’m one of them unfortunately in that group. They typically are very good at building highways, building wide roads, and to the chagrin of many in communities, they often overlook the community that they’re supposed to serve. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [06:54] What did you think about dealing with the DOT engineers over the years? </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Richard Barrett:</i> [06:58] At first it was… it was definitely a stand-off, for lack of any better… because by the time the community sees plans, they’re almost etched in stone, no matter what is… lip service is given for community participation. The DOT has their plans, they’re drawn up, but most things are strictly pro-forma. But in this case what happened is we had a traffic engineer, Sam Schwartz, who was brought in, who very familiar with city DOT work, since he was the Deputy Commissioner. I think that he was able to articulate that what we were proposing was a possibility, so an enlightened approach prevailed, which is not usually the case.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [07:42] I think it’s worth pointing out that again the DOT engineers said that this sort of traffic configuration was impossible. But the result is much quieter traffic on some neighbouring streets. And once you have a more pedestrian friendly environment, you see the entire neighbourhood starts to transform itself from a zone where people didn’t want to be to a zone where developers feel comfortable going in and putting up fancy new high-rise buildings. And that’s the sort of thing that can happen if you’re willing to re-envision a space as being people oriented rather than car oriented. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i> [08:17] Here you go, are you ready? </font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <a href="http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/">Transcript Divas Transcription Canada </a>
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