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Big summit challenge for New Yorkers: hail a cab

September 14, 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 Wednesday. 

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. 

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT? 

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. 

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