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9/11 Memorial Tourists Overwhelming Downtown, Residents Say

By Julie Shapiro | October 7, 2011 3:18pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — The thousands of 9/11 Memorial tourists who pour into lower Manhattan each day are clogging the sidewalks, overcrowding public restrooms and inconveniencing residents, dozens of locals said this week.

Esther Regelson, 52, who has lived on Washington Street for nearly three decades, said she is tired of elbowing her way through a crowd just to get to her home.

"The tourists are totally unaware that people live here," Regelson said. "We need some respect."

She spoke alongside many of her neighbors at a meeting with city officials Thursday night at Charlotte's Place on Greenwich Street, near Carlisle Street.

Everyone at the meeting agreed that the previously tranquil area just south of the World Trade Center site has seen a major influx of tourists since the 9/11 Memorial opened last month.

The sole access point to the memorial is at Greenwich and Albany streets, meaning that thousands of additional people each day are flooding the surrounding streets and sidewalks, lounging on front stoops and halting the traffic flow to take pictures, residents said.

Linda Belfer, a Battery Park City resident who uses a wheelchair, said after the meeting that the sidewalks around the World Trade Center have become so crowded that she is often forced into the street.

"It's very dangerous for me, but I have no choice," said Belfer, who described riding along gutters and dodging cars. "So many people are piled up that I literally can't get through the crowd in my wheelchair."

Many residents also complained about the garbage that has been building up along Greenwich Street, especially outside the entry point to the 9/11 Memorial.

"There are thousands of people in our neighborhood, and there are no garbage cans," said John Gomes, a resident of 120 Greenwich St., near Albany Street. "It's chaos. It's just not organized."

Pauline Yu, who does community outreach for the mayor's office, said the city removed the area's trash cans before the 9/11 Memorial opened because they were considered a safety hazard.

Other unpopular changes the city recently made to facilitate the 9/11 Memorial's opening included reversing the direction of traffic on Cedar Street, adding metal barriers to funnel pedestrians to the site and moving FDNY parking spaces to Liberty Street, where they block residential entrances.

An FDNY representative at the meeting said he would direct the Ladder 10/Engine 10 firehouse to leave about 10 feet of open space in front of 114 Liberty St., so residents can pull up to unload groceries. But the metal barriers and Cedar Street direction change will remain in place.

The Rev. Anne Mallonee, vicar at Trinity Church, said the house of worship has seen use of its public restrooms jump 50 percent in the past month, because the 9/11 Memorial does not offer any bathrooms.

"Who is watching this?" Mallonee asked city officials at Thursday's meeting. "What is the plan?"

The 9/11 Museum will have bathrooms when it opens next fall, but in the meantime several residents suggested that the city bring in portable toilets.

However, Yu said temporary bathrooms were not an option, both for safety and aesthetic reasons.

"A bomb can easily be placed in a Porta-Potty," Yu said, adding, "We don’t want Downtown to become one giant Porta-Potty."

To ease some of the pedestrian congestion, Lee Ielpi, founder of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center on Liberty Street, said he recently started having the center's tour groups meet inside, rather than on the sidewalk. Ielpi is also ordering headsets for the tour groups, so guides do not have to use amplification, which residents said is disruptive.

City officials at the meeting also said they would look into managing the pedestrian traffic flow so that it does not inconvenience or endanger residents.

But that won't come soon enough for some who say they have already been through enough over the past decade.

"It's impossible," said a resident of 114 Liberty St., who did not give his name. "It's as intrusive as can be."

Yu said that she was aware of the community's concerns and would look into what could be done to mitigate the situation.