September 13, 2005

Big summit challenge for New Yorkers: hail a cab

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As 150 world leaders gather at the
United Nations to make the world a better place, New Yorkers
have more mundane challenges on their minds -- like hailing a
cab and getting to work on time.

Traffic hell is expected to engulf New York this week when
the U.N. World Summit and Fashion Week coincide in Manhattan.

The United Nations boosts New York's economy by billions of
dollars but when thousands of diplomats and politicians come to
town, some New Yorkers are thinking more about traffic jams and
long commutes than money.

The presence of designers, models, stars and paparazzi in
nearby Bryant Park for Fashion Week only adds to the mess,
making the business of hailing a cab a serious art.

"U.N. meet to be hell on wheels," said a New York Post
headline, warning of road closures and delays for the duration
of the three-day, 60th anniversary summit that starts on

Streets will be closed. Armored motorcades will glide by as
commuters sit fuming in stationary traffic. Reservations at a
good restaurant will be like gold-dust and snipers on roof-tops
will remind New Yorkers that they are a constant target.

The U.N. launched a big advertising campaign last week to
persuade the people of New York that the summit would be worth
it, with posters such as: "Everyone's a delegate because the
outcome affects us all."

Local television channels urged New Yorkers not to take
that too literally. "Avoid the area" was the main message.


Jerry Niforatos, a Greek-born New Yorker who runs a diner
frequented by U.N. staff on Manhattan's East Side, said the
increased security and warnings to the public to keep away
meant business was not seeing much of a boon from the summit.

He was also skeptical about the value of the gathering.

"They're going to talk and they're going to go," he said
with a shrug. "Every year the same thing."

Jimmy Konkowski, 34, a truck driver for a removal company,
was making the most of the quiet before the storm.

"I think it'll get worse tomorrow," he said on Tuesday,
adding that he was more concerned about rising gas prices than
anything the politicians were discussing at the U.N.

"I have no idea what it's about," he said of the summit.

U.N. officials say the organization's presence contributes
$3.2 billion to the economy of New York, but that has not
stopped tensions over everything from unpaid parking tickets to
plans for building a new headquarters.

Fawad Wahab, a street vendor who recently visited his
family in Kabul for the first time in 18 years, was optimistic
about the summit. "The traffic -- as long as they're doing good
stuff it doesn't matter, it's for three days," he said.

With so many diplomats, designers, celebrities and
journalists in town for the week on expenses, high-end
restaurants in Midtown Manhattan can expect a bumper week.

Food critic Steven Shaw, author of "Turning the Tables:
Restaurants from the Inside Out," said it was one of the worst
weeks to get a reservation but gourmands shouldn't give up.

"No-shows are a huge problem. A restaurant can get 30 or 40
percent no-shows in a week like this because there's a lot of
out-of-towners," he said, advising diners to turn up and wait.

"It's definitely worse than usual but nobody is better than
New Yorkers at getting hard to get reservations," Shaw said.