By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Imagine a Canal Street with less traffic, wider sidewalks and a free public bus.
Those are just a few of the ideas in the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s comprehensive study of Canal Street, released late last month.
The council has been looking for ways to reduce congestion and improve quality of life on Canal Street since 2002. Some of their short-term solutions, like clearer crosswalks and a high-occupancy vehicle lane on the Manhattan Bridge, have already been implemented.
Now, the council has turned its attention to the long term and looked for ways to permanently make Canal Street a safer, more pleasant place to travel. The council hopes the city Department of Transportation will implement the proposals during a planned reconstruction of Canal Street, which is expected to begin within the next several years.
"This is an opportunity to re-envision a major corridor that is a lifeline to lower Manhattan," said Lisa Daglian, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Council.
Without any changes, traffic delays on Canal Street and in the surrounding neighborhoods will increase by up to 50 percent in the next 20 years, the council said.
To ease that congestion, the council suggested banning left turns at many of the intersections along Canal Street, which would keep traffic flowing more smoothly and increase pedestrian safety. The council also wants to reconfigure intersections that have a history of accidents, including Canal Street and the Bowery, and suggested bumping out the curbs on Canal Street to give people more room to walk.
The council said the Department of Transportation had agreed to use the findings of the report as the basis for the future reconstruction of Canal Street.
A DOT spokesman said only that the agency would review the study.
Additional proposals in the report include extending the Downtown Alliance’s free Downtown Connection bus route along Canal Street; adding ferry service to serve Canal Street and Chinatown; creating remote parking sites; and installing more red-light cameras.
One of the biggest problems on Canal Street today is that the sidewalks are nearly impassable, because they are clogged with vendors making deals, shoppers stopping to admire merchandise and tourists looking at maps.
As a solution, the Metropolitan Transportation Council suggested shutting down a small side street off of Canal and putting all the vendors there, creating an outdoor market that doesn’t block traffic on the thoroughfare.
One of the best solutions to the vehicular traffic on Canal Street would be a two-way toll on the Verrazano Bridge, because the current one-way toll encourages drivers to cut through lower Manhattan via Canal Street. However, the council did not consider changes to the tolls, because that would require federal action.
One option the council weighed in its report but did not recommend was to make Canal Street one-way eastbound and nearby Grand Street one-way westbound. The change would have increased traffic in Soho, so it should not be implemented, the report found.
The Metropolitan Transportation Council is holding two public meetings on the proposals Jan. 19. The first is at 3 p.m., 199 Water St., 22nd floor, and the second is at 7 p.m., P.S. 130, 143 Baxter St.