Manhattan Community Board 11’s transportation committee voted in favor of a slate of safety improvements along the Harlem River waterfront last night, a project that will give New Yorkers better access to the underutilized Harlem River Park. Changes like pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalk extensions, and leading pedestrian intervals got a thumbs up from committee members, but they put on hold a plan to reverse the direction of a service road along 135th Street. DOT’s full plan is available for download in this PDF.
This edge of Manhattan is dominated by automobiles speeding on or off the Harlem River Drive or the untolled Madison Avenue Bridge. It’s a danger zone for both pedestrians and drivers, with both groups suffering high rates of injuries in traffic collisions, according to NYC DOT stats. Meanwhile, the beautiful Harlem River Park sits unused, separated from residents by unsafe streets and the hard-to-cross highway. Last month, a man was killed as he tried to sprint across the highway at 135th Street.
For years, residents and the Harlem Community Development Corporation have been calling for a solution, and Transportation Alternatives has advocated for safety fixes here since 2007. The state-run Harlem River Drive and the traffic-inducing free bridge crossing are beyond the city’s control, but a set of DOT-proposed improvements have the potential to calm traffic and begin to reconnect the neighborhood to its waterfront.
For example, at 142nd and Fifth Avenue, DOT plans to extend the sidewalk, expand an existing pedestrian island, and paint a new crosswalk for people walking to the intersection from the south. Parking will be removed from the area in front of the pedestrian bridge across the highway, increasing visibility. “That’s really going to calm traffic coming off of the Harlem River Drive, and really highlights the entrance to the park,” explained Transportation Alternatives’ Julia De Martini Day, who’s worked closely on the project.
DOT also plans to improve the intersections where Fifth Avenue crosses 139th and 138th, and to put Fifth Avenue between 135th and 132nd on a road diet. New medians, crosswalks and pedestrian refuge islands are all part of the plan. Overall, 3,000 square feet of space would be reclaimed from the automobile.
CB 11’s transportation committee voted last night to approve all of these improvements. There were a few abstentions and one or two no votes, according to Day. She said DOT expected to start implementing the plan this fall and to finish next summer.
One piece of DOT’s plan is on hold for now, however. The plan for 135th and Madison called for reversing the direction of a service road along 135th, in addition to creating more pedestrian space at the intersection. In the hurried meeting last night, there was only time for one public comment, said Day, and it was in opposition to this piece of the plan.
The committee responded by asking DOT to do a walk-through of the intersection with the board and the tenants association at the adjacent Riverton Houses. “They’re not completely opposed to the improvements,” said Day, “but they’re concerned that the medians and pedestrian islands are too large and will make driving to this access road difficult.”