by Stephanie Gaskell, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) Curious onlookers have clamored to the World Trade Center site viewing platform in such overwhelming numbers that the city will issue tickets for scheduled times, in hopes of reducing the crowds, city officials said Tuesday.
The free tickets will be available beginning Wednesday at the South Street Seaport Museum's ticket booth, about seven blocks from the trade center site, according to officials from the Office of Emergency Management. The tickets will allow up to 250 people on the platform for each half-hour from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. People without tickets will be turned away.
"There were just too many people who couldn't get on the platform. They were waiting shivering in the cold," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "We're just trying to do something to make it easier for people who are trying to pay their respects."
The 13-foot-high wooden viewing platform at Fulton and Church streets, in lower Manhattan, gives visitors a view of the site where the twin towers stood until Sept. 11.
The platform opened on Dec. 30 and is the first of four planned along the perimeter of the 16-acre site. City officials are close to determining the locations of two more, OEM Director Richard Sheirer said.
The decision is complicated, he said, because of the many factors that have to be considered. Sheirer said officials must take into account the needs of the rescue workers and heavy machinery that is being used in the cleanup effort. He also cited public safety concerns, such as the amount of vehicular traffic near the first platform, where the line of people often flows into the narrow streets.
"These tickets are to limit the number of people at the platform at any given time," Sheirer said. "The whole point is to ensure that people can pay their respects and do it safely."
Despite bitter winter weather in recent weeks, thousands of people line up every day and wait up to five hours to view the devastation.
The ticket booth will open at 11 a.m. daily to issue same-day tickets for half-hour slots from noon to 8 p.m. When those run out, tickets for the following day will be distributed for time slots beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 11:30 a.m. After those run out, people wanting tickets will have to return the next day.
There will be a limit of two tickets per person. Viewers will not be able to choose a time but will be given tickets for the next available half-hour.
Officials acknowledged that people still will have to wait in line, but they said the ticket line at the museum would move faster and wouldn't interfere with traffic because it is located at a pier on the southern tip of Manhattan.
At the platform's opening, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani acknowledged concerns it would make the area too touristy, but he said he believed the majority of visitors would be respectful.
"They want to come here for the right reasons," Giuliani said. "It would be like denying people access to Gettysburg or Bunker Hill or Normandy. This belongs to all of us."
Stephen White, who waited in line to enter the platform on Tuesday evening, agreed.
"I don't see it as a tourist site," the West Kingston, R.I., resident said. "It has a tourist aspect, but that's not the point. We're here to come and pay our respects and go home."