New York sets strict standards for cars entering southern Manhattan; cites security and traffic concerns
NEW YORK (AP) – Mayor Rudolph Giuliani outlined tough new restrictions Wednesday on cars entering Manhattan, citing both security reasons and a need to ease traffic jams since the World Trade Center attack.
At the Trade Center, city officials began tours for family members wishing to see their loved ones’ final resting place.
Beginning Thursday, Giuliani said, no driver will be allowed to take most bridges into southern Manhattan between 6 a.m. and noon unless they have at least one passenger. Officials hoped the restriction would reduce traffic jams that have clogged the city since stop-and-search points were set up this week.
The ban includes some of the busiest commuter pathways in the country, including the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and four bridges linking Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. The ban takes effect Friday for the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey, the only tunnel into the area not included in the Thursday ban.
Two other tunnels near the disaster site, the Holland and Battery, remained closed Wednesday.
Drivers will be able to leave the city at any time without carpooling. Giuliani said the city will decide after using the new rules Thursday and Friday whether they are working.
”This is a trial-and-error thing,” the mayor said.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the ban would be enforced, though police said there would be checkpoints to make sure drivers were carpooling. It was also unclear whether offenders would be fined, ticketed or just turned away.
Security in the city was increased Tuesday shortly before Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress that terrorists may be planning an attack using a truck carrying hazardous chemicals. Asked about reports that specific threats had been made against the city, Giuliani said: ”Sometimes they’re credible, sometimes they’re not.”
The traffic rules were the most stringent imposed in New York City since 1980, when an 11-day transit strike forced officials to declare an even larger section of the city off-limits to non-carpooling motorists, said Sam Schwartz, a former transportation commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch. Those measures dramatically reduced traffic.
At the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel between Queens and Manhattan at midday Wednesday, more than a dozen vans and trucks were lined up waiting to be searched by police while other traffic was at a crawl.
At the same tunnel entrance, a Port Authority police officer stopped a bus and demanded to see the driver’s license and bus company identification. The officer warned he would ”turn the bus around” if the driver couldn’t produce the two forms of identification.
”We’re in heightened alert … and we think that these checks are prudent,” said Joseph Esposito, chief of the New York Police Department.
There were no reports of explosives or other potentially dangerous cargo found, police said.
At the scene of the trade center ruins Wednesday, crews continued dismantling one of the most striking symbols of the disaster, two jagged sections of steel roughly 15 stories tall. Some pieces were being preserved for a possible memorial.
”It’s real slow because whenever we find a body part, we’ve got to stop and let them come in and investigate further,” said Wayne Fallon, a heavy equipment engineer.
Officials said crews were just one-10th of their way through the ruins.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it had estimated that 1.2 million tons of steel, concrete and glass remained of the twin towers. Less than a 10th – 115,756 tons – had been removed from the site as of Wednesday, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The number of bodies recovered from the still-burning wreckage rose by 13 to 300, but only 232 have been identified. The number of people missing remained at 6,347.
At a city office Wednesday, 120 lawyers began helping families of the missing apply for death certificates so they can collect insurance benefits and workers’ compensation, and gain access to bank accounts. Some families are receiving grants of up to $30,000 from the American Red Cross to help with short-term expenses.
Families also were asked whether they wanted to visit the trade center site. On Wednesday, a group of about 50 went, staying for a few minutes and leaving offerings of flowers and stuffed animals, said Rosemarie O’Keefe, head of the city’s Family Assistance Unit.
She said three or four tours were planned for Thursday, all in groups of about 50.
Also Wednesday, people hoping to photograph the wreckage were warned that cameras and video equipment were forbidden and could be confiscated. Giuliani issued the order Tuesday, saying the site is a crime scene.
Police Officer Michael DiFrancisco, standing guard at a barricade, said the ban was ”out of respect for the families and all those concerned.” The ban did not apply to news photographers.
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