Since 2009, Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval and Bronx Community Board 7 have been asking DOT to improve pedestrian safety and access to the Norwood neighborhood’s central public space. Most intersections surrounding the park don’t have crosswalks, and sections of the road surrounding the park are also missing sidewalks. Now, after years of requests from neighbors, DOT has proposed changes that would make it safer to get to the park.
Williamsbridge Oval, also known as Reservoir Oval, had 15 pedestrian injuries and 22 motor vehicle occupant injuries from 2006 to 2012, according to DOT. Over the same period, there were no bicyclist injuries, while four of the motor vehicle occupant injuries were serious.
DOT’s proposal [PDF], presented at a meeting co-hosted by CB 7 last Wednesday, would reduce the speed limit on the oval from 30 mph to 20 mph and add signage alerting drivers to speed humps and curves in the road. It would also add painted curb extensions and crosswalks at the intersections of Holt Place, Reservoir Place, and at a park entrance near the tennis courts between Wayne Avenue and Bainbridge Avenue.
While painted curb extensions are now a common tool DOT uses across New York, unlike its counterparts in other cities, the agency doesn’t normally suggest striping crosswalks where there are no traffic signals or stop signs.
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” said Jay Shuffield, a member of both CB 7 and Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval. Shuffield thanked DOT’s pedestrian projects group for the change in tone, since advocates felt they were stonewalled by the agency’s Bronx borough office. “They suddenly dropped their resistance to common-sense solutions here,” he said.
The proposal also adjusts the oval’s two high-traffic intersections with Bainbridge Avenue. At the avenue’s intersection with West 208th Street, the proposal adds a painted pedestrian island, and at Van Cortlandt Avenue East, it shifts parking to create a painted sidewalk that connects to a park entrance.
Nine additional parking spaces would be added on Reservoir Place as it approaches the oval to calm traffic coming from East Gun Hill Road, and parking spaces are being shifted to accommodate the painted curb extension on the oval at Holt Place.
The plan does not modify the intersections of Putnam Place, Tryon Avenue, or Wayne Avenue, nor does it modify the street at the park entrance between Bainbridge Avenue and Holt Place near the recreation center, which Shuffield said is a low-traffic location. It also does not add a sidewalk on the inside of the oval, adjacent to the park.
Most strikingly, there is a gap in the existing sidewalk on the outside edge of the oval between Holt Place and Reservoir Place, where the street runs atop a retention wall along the backyards of nearby houses. As a result, the oval does not have any sidewalks for about one block. At last week’s meeting, according to Shufield, DOT said it wasn’t clear that the city owned the retention wall supporting the street, and that it could not build a sidewalk there.
“[There are] small towns all across the United States that have figured out how to put in sidewalks,” Shuffield said, adding that he understands the project would likely be a longer-term capital project for DOT. “So for New York City to come back to us and tell us they can’t figure out how to put in a sidewalk, it almost seems like an insult, that they’re not going to try.”
Some residents want DOT to add stop signs to some of the proposed crosswalk locations, though it may not be likely. “I know the DOT is generally reluctant to add stop signs,” Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz told Streetsblog. “Anything we can do to make it safer is obviously something we should be doing.”
DOT will install the planned signage and additional parking sometime this spring, followed by a repaving and striping of Reservoir Oval beginning in July. The project is expected to come up for a community board vote next month; CB 7’s transportation committee next meets on May 9.
In addition to the park access upgrades, a coalition led by Dinowitz and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj is applying to DOT for a Slow Zone to reduce the speed limit to 20 mph and introduce traffic-calming measures on streets bounded by Bainbridge Avenue, East Gun Hill Road, and Webster Avenue.
Dinowitz’s office has collected letters of support from Moshulu Preservation Corporation, Montefiore Medical Center, Friends of Williamsbridge Oval, St. Brendan’s School, Council Member G. Oliver Koppell, and the 52nd Precinct Community Council. CB 7’s transportation committee has already voted to support the Slow Zone application; Dinowitz’s office is waiting on letters of support from the full board and NYPD’s 52nd Precinct. The deadline for Slow Zone applications is May 31.