Workshop Offers Few Strong Ideas for Deadly Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard is a wide-open speedway with lanes wide enough to meet standards for interstate highways. Despite the death toll on the street -- nine pedestrians who have been killed there since 2006 -- many influential participants at a safety workshop this week said pedestrian conditions don't need major improvements.

Big ideas were in short supply at a workshop held Wednesday night to develop a badly-needed safety plan for Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard. This year alone, three pedestrians have been killed in traffic crashes along the 100-foot wide avenue, but many of the workshop participants seemed focused on making it easier to drive through Central Harlem, not on saving lives. In an area where fewer than a quarter of households even own a car, more voices need to be brought into this discussion.

Between 2005 and 2009, 830 people were injured in traffic crashes on Adam Clayton Powell. That puts the street in the most dangerous 10 percent of streets in Manhattan, according to DOT. Crashes have claimed the lives of nine pedestrians since 2006; their average age was 62.

ACP Boulevard is among the most dangerous streets in New York City. Map of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths: CrashStat

The avenue is dangerous in large part because it is a speedway. Its 12-foot wide lanes — three in each direction, separated by a planted median — are as wide as standard highway lanes. Between 20 and 66 percent of drivers on the street are speeding, depending on the time of day, according to DOT.

Wednesday’s workshop was the beginning of a community process jointly sponsored by the Department of Transportation, Community Board 10 and the Manhattan Borough President’s office to develop safety improvements for Adam Clayton Powell. Roughly a dozen DOT officials were in attendance, including Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione, Bicycle Program Director Hayes Lord and Assistant Commissioner for Education and Outreach Kim Wiley-Schwartz.

DOT officials briefly presented statistics showing the need for safety on Adam Clayton Powell and laid out the toolkit of safety devices that could be employed. Participants then broke into four groups to discuss particularly dangerous locations and what could be done to fix them. Pedestrian countdown clocks are already slated to be installed on the street this year, but the department was looking for additional suggestions from the community.

In those groups, however, the appetite for effective interventions to improve pedestrian safety was weak.

“I’ve never had a problem crossing Adam Clayton Powell,” claimed Richard Toussaint, a former chair of the Riverton Tenants Association, in defiance of the demonstrably unsafe conditions. Toussaint admitted that he mostly drives to get around. His major proposals were to make Third Avenue two-way so that it’s easier to drive south off the Third Avenue Bridge, and to cut more streets through Harlem’s superblocks.

Henrietta Lyle, the acting chair of Community Board 10, repeatedly spoke in favor of maintaining high-speed conditions. When Thomas Lunke, the director of planning for the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said that “the lights are timed to make it a speedway,” Lyle responded, “As a driver, I like that.” Lyle also claimed she found it frightening and unsafe to drive at 20 miles per hour. Lyle primarily called for the addition of turning lanes and signals on area streets.

Harlem residents discuss safety on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, one of Manhattan's most dangerous roads. Photo: Noah Kazis

That isn’t to say that no participants were interested in improving safety. “As a city, as a borough of Manhattan, we’re supposed to be the most walkable,” said Deputy Borough President Rose Pierre-Louis. “We need to be sure that for seniors, for children, it is.”

Enmanuel Rosario, a police officer with the 28th precinct, called for a simplification of the triangle intersections created along the length of St. Nicholas Avenue, which he called confusing and dangerous for pedestrians. Most people supported extending the existing median, which currently ends just short of crosswalks, to serve as a pedestrian refuge island at intersections.

One of the four breakout groups called for neckdowns where Adam Clayton Powell intersects with major streets like 116th or 135th. That same group was also the only to endorse a DOT suggestion to narrow the traffic lanes to less than 12 feet, but even they specifically said that removing a lane would not be acceptable.

Hanging over the discussion, at times, was DOT’s last proposal for traffic calming on Adam Clayton Powell, a buffered bike lane that would have replaced a traffic lane. Though that lane earned the unanimous endorsement of CB 10’s transportation committee, the full board voted against it in 2009.

Bike lanes were not part of the toolkit presented by DOT, though they’ve been clearly shown by the department to improve pedestrian safety. When a Harlem CDC employee brought them up on her own, the DOT facilitator cut off the discussion as off-topic.

  • Mike

    Why was Hayes Lord there if bike lanes are “off-topic” (despite being needed)? An Allen/Pike style treatment would work well here.

  • Mike

    Why was Hayes Lord there if bike lanes are “off-topic” (despite being needed)? An Allen/Pike style treatment would work well here.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “frightening and unsafe to drive at 20 miles per hour”  and safer to drive at higher speeds?

    I am used to hearing political claims that are transparently untrue, but this is worse than most. 

    Hasn’t she heard about the studies that show people are less likely to be killed or seriously injured in accidents at 20 mph than at 30 mph? Even if she is ignorant of the studies, the point is obvious.

  • Annamay23

    cut new streets through the super blocks in exchange for making ACP 4 lane boulevard, maybe…

  • Annamay23

    cut new streets through the super blocks in exchange for making ACP 4 lane boulevard, maybe…

  • J

    Wow. This is atrocious. The “leaders” of the community, such as Richard Toussaint and Henrietta Lyle, are condemning those who walk and bike in the area to continued injuries and death. And for what, the need to maintain highway-width driving lanes? Who gives a crap about how wide the travel lanes are? There is nothing historic or grand about 12′ travel lanes. Do we really want put the ability of drivers to comfortably drive 40mph above the ability of a person to cross the street without being injured or killed? 

    Nor is there anything sacred about three travel lanes in each direction. Put simply, speeding is due to too much capacity. DOT should toss out nonsensical arguments like these from the public discourse. If a business is concerned about deliveries, fine. If drivers are worried about delay, fine. But these arguments just don’t make much sense. Lyle and Toussaint should be mandated to attend the funerals of every single person killed on this street, as a result of their selfishness.

    Also, advocates need to get people out to these meetings. Where is TA on this one? A ped safety meeting where 75% of the people there are primarily drivers is not a ped safety meeting at all.

  • Anonymous

    The DOT is turning into the battered wife of city agencies.  Too much bad press and now whenever says they don’t want a bike lane they cower and say, “Yes, dear!”

  • I’m all the more surprised because Richard Toussaint has been a tireless and effective advocate for Harlem River Park, including (I believe) the recent traffic calming and pedestrian access measures in the vicinity of the park.  I can’t understand why he wouldn’t get the point here that a dangerous ACP keeps Harlem residents away from their parks.

  • krstrois

    CB members, community leaders and the ubiquitous “local business owners” who “admittedly drive everywhere” should be obliged to walk across streets like this holding the hand of a three year old child. Or pushing a wheelchair. That is all. 

  • Anonymous

    What is the point of this process?  Is it some doomed attempt to get community “buy-in” on safety improvements because the Marcia Kramers and Vaccas of the world would have us believe that communities hate safety?  I find it hard to believe that a room full of amateurs with zero training or expertise working for a few minutes at card tables will suddenly come up with some amazing engineering solutions that the DOT engineers would never come up with at their jobs all day.  This whole exercise sounds like a huge waste of time, especially if bike lanes are automatically off the table because they’re too politically radioactive at this point.  I wonder how many preventable deaths will be ultimately be caused by Neighbors Being Bastards and Liars and their solipsistic grandstanding.

  • I agree with the comments you made

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    I once pleaded with DOT Commissioner JSK directly, “Please don’t give up on bike lanes in Harlem,” two years ago, when I lived in Harlem up near City College. Her reply – “The last time we tried, they ran us out of town with pitchforks.” So, I guess that Sadik-Khan believes that based upon an unsuccessful attempt to put protected lanes   on ACP a few years back, this area will never get bike safety treatments in the future. Result:  more people will get killed in Harlem until DOT steps up and puts in real traffic calming and safe bike lanes.  

  • Eric McClure

    Six 12-foot-wide lanes, plus two lanes of parking? ACPJ Boulevard is crying out for a major road diet, and bike lanes would be a perfect complement.

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After more than three years of delay and debate, safety improvements may finally be coming to one of Harlem’s deadliest avenues. Under a plan tentatively okayed by Manhattan Community Board 10’s transportation committee last night [PDF], Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard will get wider medians, shorter crossing distances, and narrower traffic lanes in an attempt […]