By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Pleas by the community to reopen a crosswalk near the World Trade Center site to compensate for a deteroriating pedestrian overpass have been shot down by the city.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan wrote Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a two-page letter last week — three months after he asked for the Vesey and West street walkway to be reopened — saying it would be too dangerous to do so because of the number of construction vehicles entering and exiting Ground Zero.
The site has been a hive of activity in the countdown to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, most recently drawing international attention during President Barack Obama's visit in the wake of Osama Bin Laden's death.
"The dense patchwork of construction fencing, construction vehicles, and machinery at work in this zone, combined with the curve in the roadway … prevents motorists traveling northbound on West Street from being able to adequately see pedestrians walking across their path in time to react safely," Sadik-Khan wrote.
"The limited visibility, combined with the high speed and heavy volume of traffic on West Street, makes an at-grade pedestrian crossing at this location an unacceptable risk to public safety."
People crossing West Street's eight lanes of traffic at Vesey Street would put a damper on trucks being able to enter and exit the World Trade Center site, which could delay the construction there, Sadik-Khan said.
"Opening the crosswalk would have the potential to cause considerable delays to work on the 1 WTC tower and the Fulton Street Underpass," Sadik-Khan added. "Given the national significance of progress on One WTC, we do not consider this to be an appropriate course of action."
The corner also has to be kept clear because it will serve as an emergency exit from the 9/11 memorial when it opens this fall, Sadik-Khan said.
Silver said in a statement that he was "disappointed" by Sadik-Khan's response.
"While I understand there are safety concerns, I believe those concerns can be addressed in a responsible way that permits this important thoroughfare to be returned to our community," Silver said.
Silver recently arranged for crossing guards to help adults and children cross several other West Street intersections and said he would be happy to do the same for Vesey Street.
Downtown residents have been advocating for years for the city to reopen the Vesey Street crossing. Those who want to cross the street now have to either go several blocks out of their way or use a pedestrian bridge that often has broken elevators and escalators.
The ultimate solution to the crossing problem will come when a pedestrian tunnel under West Street opens at the end of 2012, Sadik-Khan said.