Downtown Tour Guides Worry About 9/11 Memorial Bus Plan
By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Downtown residents aren't the only ones worried about the millions of visitors expected to pour into lower Manhattan once the 9/11 memorial opens this fall.
With less than six months to go before the much-anticipated opening, local tour guides are also worried about the city's preliminary plans to manage the influx of tourists.
"I'm concerned about the lack of preparedness," said Lee Gelber, co-president of the Guides Association of New York City. "The tenth anniversary [of 9/11] is not that far away."
The city Department of Transportation has presented preliminary plans, including routing tour buses through New Jersey and having tourists take ferries to the World Trade Center site, but the details are still fuzzy.
Gelber said he has heard from many guides who are upset about the idea of remote drop-off points for tourists in New Jersey.
"It's going to be more expensive to do tours [starting in New Jersey] and it's very inconvenient for the tourists," Gelber said.
Stan O'Connor, a city tour guide for over 15 years, said he usually picked his groups up in a bus outside their midtown hotels, and then he took them to several locations around Manhattan. That would be all but impossible using public transportation and starting from New Jersey, he said.
Joyce Gold, a Manhattan tour guide for more than 20 years who has published two guidebooks, said she would have to charge more for her tours if she had to travel 45 minutes just to get to the drop-off point.
"That could make the cost prohibitive for some people," said Gold, a Chelsea resident.
Gold added, though, that she could see advantages to the city's plan as well. Perhaps once tourists made the trek into the city from New Jersey, they'd decide to spend more time in lower Manhattan to make the trip worthwhile, she said.
But Clive Burrow, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Marketing Association, said he had spoken to many local business owners who were worried that tourists would start avoiding downtown altogether, which could hurt the area's economy. He had also heard from downtown property owners who were concerned about the increased traffic, which would cripple businesses that rely on efficient black-car service.
"I have heard people being very nervous," Burrow said. "The nervousness is born of the fact that nobody knows what the plan is."
Burrow is working on what he calls a "God's eye view" of the situation, incorporating the needs and concerns of all the major stakeholders, including the residents, building owners, tour guides, the 9/11 memorial, the Port Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the NYPD and the DOT.
"We're going to try to come up with a simple analysis of the positions so other people can see different points of view," Burrow said.
Downtown's elected officials, too, are trying to get more information and bring all the parties together.
A group led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wrote a letter to city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan earlier this month, calling the city's ideas "vague and inadequate." They invited the DOT to an April 15 meeting to present better, more detailed plans.
As of Thursday, the elected officials had not yet received a response from the DOT, a spokesman for Silver's office said.
A Department of Transportation spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency would continue meeting with all involved parties to hear their concerns.
While Burrow continues to hope for a comprehensive plan, he knows it will more likely happen by trial and error.
"There's one absolute certainty," Burrow said. "Lots of mistakes will be made."