DOT Proposes Traffic-Calming Redesign for Deadly Adam Clayton Powell Blvd

Converting the left lanes of Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard into turn lanes would allow for the installation of median extensions at intersections, shortening crossings for pedestrians. Image: NYC DOT

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 to improve safety for all users of the street.

The need to redesign Adam Clayton Powell is pressing. Since 2006, ten people have been killed in traffic crashes on the boulevard, according to DOT, compared to two on nearby Frederick Douglass Avenue and three on Lenox Avenue. The victims, all pedestrians, were mostly senior citizens close to home. Their average age was 62, and nine of ten lived within a block of Adam Clayton Powell. “Seniors are tough and resilient,” said DOT Planning and Operations Coordinator Naomi Iwasaki, “but we all know they’re our most vulnerable street users.”

The problem is rampant speeding. During the morning rush hour, the average speed on the street is 36.8 miles per hour heading southbound and 39 miles per hour northbound, according to DOT Bike Program Coordinator Hayes Lord. After 8:00 p.m., when traffic is lighter, average speeds spike to 52 and 49 miles per hour: highway speeds on a neighborhood street, far exceeding New York City’s 30 mph limit. The speeds reflect the interstate-like design of the street — three 12-foot wide moving lanes in each direction.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard is a deadly speedway with lanes wide enough to meet standards for interstate highways. Under a DOT proposal, the lanes would be narrowed and the medians extended to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.

In response, DOT proposed converting the left-most lane in each direction, where most of the deadly crashes took place, to left turn lanes. At intersections, this would free up space for pedestrian medians to be widened with paint and planters or flexible posts, reducing crossing distances. And by moving through traffic out of the left lane, the change is expected to reduce dangerous weaving and help prevent the most common kind of crash on the boulevard, rear-end collisions.

Where drivers can’t make left turns because of one-way cross-streets, pedestrian space can be extended on both sides of the median using the same materials. This would further shorten crossing distances at those intersections, a particular boon for the large number of seniors and children who live in the neighborhood.

At all intersections, the paint-and-planters treatment would be used to extend the median into the intersection, providing more protection for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Traffic lanes would be narrowed to 10 feet for left-turning traffic and 11 feet for through traffic.

The plan is not DOT’s most ambitious street redesign, particularly given the extremely dangerous conditions on the street today, but it adds significant space for pedestrians. Previous efforts to change Adam Clayton Powell have fallen short at the community board. In 2009, the full board of CB 10 overturned its transportation committee and voted against a proposal to replace traffic lanes with buffered bike lanes.

At a workshop held last September, many participants argued for preserving the speedway conditions on Adam Clayton Powell. “As a driver, I like that,” said board chair Henrietta Lyle at the time.

This plan, too, drew skepticism from many board members. “On Sunday mornings, if we have double parked cars, that’ll mean we’ll have just really one good lane going down,” worried Lyle, who also praised the plan on safety grounds. “You’re taking a boulevard and turning it to one functional lane,” echoed board member Barbara Nelson. “We have a bad asthma rate because of the congestion.” Among members of the public who attended, more than one said that most pedestrian fatalities were probably the fault of jaywalkers.

But support for the plan was strong, particularly among Harlem’s leading community organizations. “Our seniors were highly concerned about the issues on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard,” said William Hamer, director of senior services with the Abyssinian Development Corporation. “It’s important for us to take a proactive position.”

“I think the improvements are great for Seventh Avenue,” said Jael Sanchez of the Harlem Children’s Zone. “I struggle to cross the streets. There’s not enough time for me as a 32-year-old to get across.”

The committee ultimately decided to draft a resolution incorporating support for the overall concept and some of the criticisms raised at the meeting — in particular, worries that planters couldn’t be maintained properly — and bring it to the full board in June.

  • Eric McClure

    “After 8:00 p.m., when traffic is lighter, average speeds spike to 52 and 49 miles per hour: highway speeds on a neighborhood street, far exceeding New York City’s 30 mph limit.”

    This kind of blatant disregard for the law wouldn’t occur if only drivers were licensed and had to register their vehicles.  Oh, wait…

  • Mike

    Why is DOT’s Bike Program Coordinator working on a project that doesn’t add [much-needed] bike lanes?

  • J
  • J

    The proposal is a step in the right direction, but there is work to be done in the future. For bikes, the 13′  wide parking lane will act as a defacto bike lane. That is why the bike guy was there, and it will certainly be better than the current situation for bikes. However, until they actually deal with curb-usage issues, there will be rampant double parking and the defacto lane will be mostly useless.

    From a pedetrian perspective, this plan is great. Lots of extra space for pedestrians to wait and much shorter crossing distances. Plus, removing a lane will greatly reduce speeding and unsafe passing. 

    For drivers, the left-turn lanes will prevent a lot of aggressive passing, and will reduce pressure on left-turning vehicles. This will do much to prevent the accidents that hurt drivers, pedestrians and bike.

    In the long term, though, I would prefer that the extra space which is now reserved, be used for protected bike lanes, in which case I don’t want to see the center medians built out right now, only to be ripped up later. However, if this is not possible in the future, then DOT should build out the medians as soon as possible.

  • Guest

    @2a15ea2c09af9bca9fa0232039062265:disqus The project was initiated a few years ago as a bike project; the bike lanes were dropped from the plan, but the same team kept working on it.

  • Anonymous

    If double-parked cars are blocking traffic, blame it on the people who double park, not on  pedestrians or on the DOT for trying to save pedestrian lives. I don’t see these complainers suggesting anything to fix the double parking problem.

  • Zulu

    I’m not an expert but I think ACP is plenty wide for a protected bike lane in both directions. It will also serve as a better traffic calming device than the proposed changes. Are these changes edged in stone? Is it too late to promote the bike lanes instead. Bike use has grown considerably since I moved to the area four years ago. Although the extra wide parking lane looks beatiful on paper, in reality it wil just be a glorified double park lane.

  • G. Kelly

    Will Rosanna Scotto be able to turn her car after this design is installed?

  • J

    @ebb4035fe30f2d00466ce7ea0b9e7e07:disqus DOT proposed buffered bike lanes in 2009, as stated above, but they were shot down by the CB for not being very effective for bikes due to double parking, not benefitting pedestrians much, and for taking away a travel lane. I actually think that protected lanes might make some headway here, but I think DOT is even more timid about bike lanes now than they were in 2009. It seems they definitely don’t want to spend the money or political capital on protected lanes outside the inner core bikeshare area. I understand this logic, but I still find it frustrating.
    CBs can’t approve quality bike lanes if DOT doesn’t propose them. I don’t really support bike lanes that are de facto double parking lanes either.

  • Eric McClure

    Maybe what we need are more CB 10 members with a 2012 mindset, rather than one rooted in the 1950s.

  • John Wirtz

    They need to be careful with the offsets on left turn lanes.  If they don’t line up, it will be hard for left turners to see opposing oncoming traffic because opposing left turners will block their view.

  • Nick

    Don’t trust the NYCDOT!! They will stick you with more bike lanes whether you want them or not. Commissioner Sadik-Khan is a crazy woman!!!!