By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — When the 9/11 memorial opens this fall, it will draw millions of visitors, who will likely arrive in thousands of buses and cars.
In response to concerns that the influx of vehicles will choke the neighborhood's narrow streets, city and memorial officials offered a first glimpse of their long-anticipated plan to handle the traffic at a Community Board 1 meeting Monday night.
The key to the plan is that visitors to the memorial will have to reserve a free, timed ticket in advance. The memorial will control these tickets and will only give them to tour companies that agree to certain conditions, like dropping visitors off at remote sites and having them take public transportation to lower Manhattan, said Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
"You'd better follow what is beneficial to the community…to have access to our tickets," Daniels said of the museum's stance toward tour bus companies.
The tour companies will likely have to leave visitors in Long Island City or at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, where they can take a ferry, the PATH train or the subway to get to the World Trade Center, Daniels said.
Statue Cruises has already expressed interest in ferrying the tourists across the Hudson River, said Luis Sanchez, lower Manhattan borough commissioner for the city Department of Transportation.
"Our primary objective is to minimize the footprint — or better yet, tire tracks — of tour buses in lower Manhattan," Sanchez said. "There's limited space. You need to use mass transit."
Still, Sanchez acknowledged that the city would not be able to prevent all tour buses from entering lower Manhattan, especially if the tour companies decide not to provide their guests with 9/11 memorial tickets. To keep traffic flowing, the city plans to enforce strict 15-minute drop-off and pickup limits within a few blocks of the Trade Center site, Sanchez said. Many of the buses will drop off on Church Street and Trinity Place, he said.
Another possible drop-off location is Zuccotti Park, but several residents spoke against that plan because it would wall off one of the only green spaces in the area.
The buses will also need a layover spot they can use until the underground parking garage at the World Trade Center site opens in early 2014, Sanchez said. The city is considering curbside spaces from Warren Street down to the Battery and from Broadway over to the middle of Battery Park City.
Everyone who wants to visit the memorial, which is opening to the public on Sept. 12, 2011, will have to use an online timed reservation system, but 9/11 family members will always have first priority, Daniels said. The memorial foundation also hopes to give some form of priority to lower Manhattan residents, first responders and members of the military, but the details on how that process would work are not yet clear.
The memorial will be open from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, hours that will change based on the weather, holidays and adjacent construction, officials said. Daniels expects the memorial will be able to accommodate about 80 percent of the demand, depending on how long visitors decide to stay on the plaza.
Several Community Board 1 members said Monday that they were concerned that the city's bus management proposals are not specific enough to solve what they see as a looming safety hazard and quality-of-life fiasco.
"If we don't have a plan in place very shortly, we're going to have a problem," said Tom Goodkind, a Battery Park City resident. "And I don't see that plan as yet."
The city agreed to appoint a community representative to their weekly working group on 9/11 memorial access.