Lost in translation: CM Marte pushes for bilingual street signs in Chinatown

Councilmember Christopher Marte is pushing for legislation that would keep the language of Chinatown in the streets.

Dubbed the “Keep Chinatown on the map” bill, the push comes after a New York Times report that bilingual street signs have been replaced with English-only signs. Marte and supporters argue that the loss of these signs not only make it more difficult for non-English speakers to navigate their own neighborhood, but it also causes Chinatown to vanish from the maps.

“We have to stop that,” Marte said at a press conference on May 4. “What we have seen in the past decade is that they have taken down 155 bilingual signs and now in Chinatown we only have around 100. We are going to change that.”

Marte’s bill looks to both protect existing bilingual street signs while also adding additional signs. Marte adds that this initiative would also be implemented across all five boroughs.

“The way it is going to work is that every council member can recommend up to 15 signs in their district and DOT has to put 250 bilingual signs in per borough, per year. DOT claims they want to bring equity and inclusion to New York City, but what’s more symbolic than street signs when it comes to the Department of Transportation? There is nothing more symbolic to our city than that,” Marte said.

According to Marte, the bill would also require removed signs to be replaced. Chinatown Business Improvement District Executive Director Wellington Chen told amNewYork Metro that he supports the proposed legislation for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being ease of navigation. Chen gave an example of a phone call he received in which a person was lost and not being able to read English couldn’t find their way to his office.

“Now, that is a clear illustration of why they need help,” Chen said. “Chinatown is off the grid and people are constantly lost,” explaining that it can be hard for English speakers at times, let alone those who do not have signs in their language to navigate by.

In addition to safety and navigation concerns, Chen also said it is an extra comfort to have amidst the dark times of anti-Asian hate.

“We don’t want you to get lost,” Chen added.

According to a DOT spokesperson, the agency has a plan to replace signs that were removed in Chinatown containing Chinese and English street names, and tells amNewYork Metro that they look forward to working with Council Member Marte on this issue.