By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Residents are pushing the city for a better way to cross an eight-lane highway near the World Trade Center.
Now, the only way to cross West Street at Vesey Street is a pedestrian bridge, but the bridge's elevators and escalators frequently break down, making the crossing more difficult for everyone and impossible for those with wheelchairs and strollers.
"For people like myself, it's a big problem," said Linda Belfer, chairwoman of Community Board 1's Battery Park City Committee, who uses a wheelchair.
Through the community board, Belfer is urging the city to reopen the street-level crossing at Vesey and West streets, so she and others who cannot climb stairs have a more reliable way to get across the busy road that separates Battery Park City from the Financial District.
The State Department of Transportation, which maintains the bridge, has studied the intersection and believes it is safe to reopen, said Joe Brown, director of SDOT's Route 9A project.
"[The intersection] provides handicapped access at grade and improves the safety [of the crossing one block north] at Murray Street, which is very crowded," Brown told CB1 last week.
However, the city Department of Transportation, which has the final say, believes the crossing would be too unsafe because of construction at the World Trade Center site, a city DOT spokeswoman said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wrote a letter to City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in February pressing her to reopen the crossing. Sadik-Khan never responded, but Silver will continue to work on the issue, his spokesman said.
Brown said the Vesey Street bridge's elevators and escalators have been breaking down even more this year than last year, because the bridge, which was only supposed to remain in place until 2009, is getting old.
"It's been pressed into service longer than anticipated and longer than we were told it would be needed," Brown said.
The ultimate solution is a new pedestrian tunnel underneath West Street, which will eventually allow people to travel underground all the way from the Fulton Street subway lines to the World Financial Center in Battery Park City. The first section of the underpass is scheduled to open at the end of 2012.
Many people using the Vesey Street pedestrian bridge recently said the city ought to open the street-level crossing as soon as possible.
"I'd like to have a choice," said Janice Higgins, 49, a Queens resident who works in Battery Park City. "It may not be faster — but it's a choice."
During nearly every light cycle, a handful of people skirted the metal barricades at Vesey Street and crossed West Street even though bright orange signs warned them not to do so.
"It's too much work to go through the bridge," said Carlos Duarte, 19, a Washington Heights resident who was on his way to Battery Park City for work. "This is easier."