"The WTC site does not resemble 'a walled city' at all" under the plan, state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan wrote, though she added that the security checkpoints and vehicle-screening areas were "somewhat uninviting."
A lawyer for the neighbors, Daniel l. Alterman, said they were reviewing the judge's decision and would consider next steps. Lawyers for the city had no immediate comment on the ruling, which concerns a security system that will take years to complete.
The dispute reflects both the legacy of fear left by the Sept. 11 attacks and the city's success in getting people to return to the area. Over the last 13 years, the residential population of the 1.5-square-mile area that includes both Wall Street and the trade center has more than tripled, to roughly 65,000, according to the area's community board.
Several hundred people live within the area that would be encompassed by the $40 million security system, which envisions barriers, guard booths and sally ports, or double-barrier systems creating areas to check vehicles for dangerous materials.
The city says the system is necessary to protect a site that terrorists attacked twice and that will include the Sept. 11 memorial, a transit hub and several skyscrapers peaking in the symbolic, 1,776-foot 1 World Trade Center.
"This is the plan for public safety for one of the most sensitive sites in the country," city attorney Amy McCamphill argued at a court date last month. Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to move about freely, and barriers will be a relatively modest 3 feet high, not huge eyesores, officials say.
But residents said their neighborhood would become a gated community plagued by traffic jams and pollution from tourist buses.
"The Trade Center will effectively be turned into a walled fortress, devoid of any local traffic and accessible only to those willing and able to get through guarded checkpoints," said their suit, filed in November. They argued the plan didn't undergo a proper environmental review.
The judge said the review process was proper.