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Goldman Sachs, American Express Join Fight for Crosswalk Near WTC

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — Goldman Sachs, American Express and other corporate giants are throwing their weight behind the downtown community in a battle over a crosswalk near the World Trade Center site.

The companies, which employ thousands of people in Battery Park City, are urging the city to reopen the West Street crossing, at Vesey Street, which has been closed for safety reasons.

"We all have an important stake in Lower Manhattan and believe that reopening the Vesey Street pedestrian crossing — a vital thoroughfare for the thousands of employees, residents and soon-to-be [9/11] memorial visitors travelling in this area each day — is a crucial part of its recovery," the executives said in a June 28 letter to Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Pedestrians who want to cross the busy highway near the WTC now have to use a pedestrian bridge with elevators that frequently break down, which is not a tenable solution, the executives said.

Many Goldman workers currently use the Murray Street crossing, which is jam-packed with pedestrians, creating a safety hazard, residents say.

The other signatories to the letter include Brookfield Office Properties, Silverstein Properties, Deloitte & Touche and the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association.

The letter followed a months-long push by downtown residents and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to get the city to reopen the crosswalk, but the DOT has repeatedly said it would be unsafe for pedestrians to cross West Street's eight speeding lanes of traffic so close to the World Trade Center construction.

"We're trying to protect pedestrians from themselves," Luis Sanchez, DOT's Lower Manhattan borough commissioner, told Community Board 1 Tuesday, referring to people who would dash across the highway against the light.

Sanchez said the Vesey Street pedestrian bridge doesn't just stop pedestrians from getting hit by cars — its metal roof also shelters them from any debris that might fall off of the rising One World Trade Center.

"As Tower 1 is going up, there will be some [debris] that falls off the tower," Sanchez said. "The bridge provides some protection."

In response to the renewed push from residents and the corporate executives, Sanchez said DOT would study the intersection again this fall, after the 9/11 Memorial opens.

The current plan calls for the Vesey Street bridge to stay in place until a pedestrian tunnel beneath West Street opens at the end of 2012, Sanchez said.

Linda Belfer, chairwoman of CB1's Battery Park City Committee, who uses a wheelchair, told Sanchez she is tired of not having a safe, convenient way of crossing West Street.

While Belfer thinks reopening the Vesey Street crosswalk makes sense, she said it's important for the city to ensure it is safe, perhaps with traffic-calming measures or crossing guards.

"Nobody wants you to open it up if people are going to get killed," Belfer said.