DOT Cuts Community-Endorsed Harlem Pedestrian Space for Double Parking

DOT crews at work yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller
DOT crews yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

A big new pedestrian space next to a busy Harlem park, installed last summer as part of a community board-backed traffic calming plan, is being scaled down by the agency that created it. Why the change? DOT says it’s responding to complaints that the original design created too much space for pedestrians, and not enough for double-parked drivers.

For years, Mount Morris Park West offered a wide, four-block straightaway with sharp curves at either end. Drivers heading south on Fifth Avenue often raced around the turns, creating dangerous conditions for Harlem residents walking to and from Marcus Garvey Park. Occasionally, drivers speeding at the southern turn left the roadway and crashed into homes along West 120th Street.

Beginning last year, the Mount Morris Park West Community Improvement Association worked with DOT to develop a traffic calming plan for streets around the park. The proposal, which significantly increased pedestrian space, tightened curves and trimmed travel lanes from two to one, was unanimously supported by CB 11 in February [PDF]. After DOT made the changes in August, a group of angry residents at the board’s September transportation committee meeting demanded the city bring back the old, more dangerous roadway [PDF].

“We want the city to pull this thing up. We want these things gone,” resident Chet Whye told the Daily News. While the design isn’t gone, the more-space-for-cars crowd will be glad to hear that DOT, which had already adjusted the street’s traffic light timing to ease backups, is now shaving away sidewalk space.

“This updated design is in response to concerns expressed by some neighborhood residents that the roadway space is too narrow, and the painted sidewalk is too large,” DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote in an October 31 letter to Community Board 11 [PDF]. DOT will narrow the painted sidewalk by five feet to widen parking lanes and add painted buffers on either side of the street. “The wider profile will provide a larger area for motorists who wish to double-park,” Forgione wrote, “while still allowing room for unimpeded traffic movement.”

DOT is adding a stop light at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street, which currently has a flashing red signal and stop sign. It will also study traffic signals at 121st and 123rd Streets on Mount Morris Park West. More changes could be on the way: Forgione said that eliminating plaza space is “laying the groundwork for potential future modifications.”

  • Jeff

    “Motorists who wish to double-park”

    …you mean people breaking the law?

  • I am not from that area nor do I have occasion to visit it, so I have no personal stake nor knowledge. Much as I hate to see pedestrian space go back to the cars, isn’t that possibility the point of JSK’s low-cost temporary approach to these plazas?

  • JK

    Exasperating. Exactly how many people need to show up and complain to get a pedestrian plan trashed? Does it matter how loud you scream? If 50 safe streets advocates show up to three CB meetings in a row, can they reverse this decision? How about 100? Who says and why? What is the friggin process here? Lastly, is it DOT’s official policy to facilitate illegal parking? If not, than on what basis is Forgione issuing this decision?

  • MrMook

    “Double parking of passenger vehicles is illegal at all times, including Alternate Side Parking Regulation days, regardless of location, purpose or duration.”

    Source: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/parking-rates.shtml

  • red_greenlight1

    Don’t you know the 28th amendment to the constitution guarantees people the right to double park wherever they damn well please?

  • Tabloid Reader

    Congrats, Gersh Kuntzman and Simone Weichselbaum, for amplifying the voices of this small group of NIMBYs over the hard work and years of advocacy of countless other community members! With the Daily News’ help, the status quo is safe for now.

  • Jonathan R

    Wider sidewalks would provide a larger area for pedestrians and area residents to do whatever they want. Wider parking lanes can only be used for motorists to park their cars.

    Pushback is likely from park neighbors who don’t want homeless people hanging out on the newly expanded sidewalks.

    And of course, from the perspective of someone who has been waiting years for Margaret Forgione’s DOT to make minimal safety improvements in his own neighborhood, it’s heartwarming to see how responsive DOT can be to folks who want to remove safety improvements.

  • qrt145

    The letter actually says “to double park in order to drop-off and pick-up passengers”. That’s technically not “parking”, but “standing”.

    The traffic rules actually allow double standing for commercial vehicles “while expeditiously making pickups, deliveries or service calls” with some restrictions.

    Of course, plenty of non-commercial drivers double stand, and even double park, all the time…

  • Driver

    The traffic rules allow double parking for commercial vehicles, although the traffic agents circumvent that by writing the ticket as “traffic lane” whether the vehicle is impeding a traffic lane or not.

  • JamesR

    Not to be ‘that guy’, or a purveyor of narrow interests, as I am usually 100% for reclaimed street space – but the pedestrian island configuration reduced the roadway width so much that it would have made the annual Harlem Criterium bike race impossible to run. This was/is a great event – nationally televised at times – and has been running for decades, is a great way to promote cycling, and has had a presence by Transportation Alternatives in recent years. Here’s hoping that the race can still happen next year despite all of the elements of the redesign that remain in place.

  • Jeff

    I forget… is that before or after the one about cheap gasoline?

  • kew gardens

    In kew gardens the traffic cops refuse to ticket commercial vehicles. They say even if the vehicles are obstructing traffic, they would have to stand and witness the vehicle not moving for 30 minutes before they could give a ticket. And the cars that drive onto the sidewalk on Grosvenor Lane off metropolitan avenue to not block vehicular traffic, but forcing pedestrians into the street? No ticket for them either. Every day.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    Sorry, but an everyday street design that prioritizes the safety of pedestrians while improving safety for everyone everyday will do far more to promote complete streets than a single annual event that focuses on a narrow segment of cyclists.

  • qrt145

    To be fair to the cops, they didn’t make up the 30-minute rule. Here’s what the law says:

    “expeditiously making pick-ups, deliveries or service calls” shall mean that any period of inactivity at the pick-up, delivery or service-call location does not exceed 30 minutes. However, such definition shall in no way limit the discretion of the Department of Finance Adjudication Tribunal to determine whether a violation of this paragraph has occurred.

    I’m not sure what to make of the “however” clause.

  • J

    This is perhaps my #1 problem with the DOT right now. JSK has been great and we need her vision to be continued, but DOT has been VERY shy about touching parking regs in most areas. This drives me crazy. If an area has a double parking problem, then the parking regs need to be modified so some curb space is available for deliveries and drop-offs and the like. This can be done with parking permits, meters, etc.

    However, instead of actually addressing the cause of the double parking, DOT is now designing streets to accommodate it. This is especially galling today, when DOT just put out a report touting mantras such as “Look beyond the (immediate) problem”, and “Make the street easy to use”. How does providing space for double parking mesh with either of these principles?

  • kew_gardens

    Wouldn’t be surprised if you’re right, and the traffic cops know what isn’t worth their time. The guys who double park on the sidewalk on Grosvenor wouldn’t be allowed though would it?

    Annd for the commercial vehicles – Lefferts north of metropolitan ave needs to lose a few parking spots on some blocks for a no standing except trucks loading/unloading between whatever hours sign. They’re slowing the Q10 buses way too much the way it is now.

    The recently reelected councilwoman Koslowitz has done nothing on this or street safety in her district. She’s a political hack who needs to go.

  • Guest

    Great.
    And Margaret Forgione is on the short list for DOT Commissioner?!

    Anybody think we’re not totally screwed?

  • tyler

    Unfortunately, the DOT must modify their designs to accommodate the NYPD who refuses to do their job…

  • tyler

    Unfortunately, the DOT must modify their designs to accommodate the NYPD who refuses to do their job… It would be a beautiful thing if that weren’t the case.

  • Actually, the amendment reads thus:

    “Reasonably-priced gasoline, being necessary to the pursuit of happiness the right to double-park vehicles, shall not be infringed.”

    Everybody’s puzzled why the commas are where they are and it’s causing a world of trouble.

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