Harlem CBs Look to Weaken Safety Plan; Levine: DOT Should Move Ahead

CB 10’s transportation committee chair is against a road diet on Morningside Avenue, and she wants to bring CB 9 along with her — even though CB 9 already voted in support of the traffic safety plan. Photo: DOT

A 10-block road diet proposed for Morningside Avenue in Harlem continues to face resistance from Manhattan Community Board 10. In the latest development, it seems the transportation committee chair of CB 10 is trying to convince neighboring Community Board 9, which contains the west side of the avenue, to amend its vote in favor of the road diet and fight against it instead. Meanwhile, Council Member Mark Levine says DOT has heard more than enough input from the community boards and urged the agency to move ahead with the project.

Tonight, CB 10’s transportation committee, which has a history of failing to support street safety projects, is set to continue its discussion of the Morningside Avenue proposal, after the full board refused to take action on the matter last week. CB 10’s committee has been discussing the project since at least as far back as September, with members regularly blasting the road diet. Tonight’s committee meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the third-floor conference room of the Harlem State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street.

CB 9 passed a resolution in support of the plan in November [PDF], but board staff and transportation committee chair Carolyn Thompson tell Streetsblog that the committee will reopen the matter at its next meeting on February 6. Under consideration: An amendment that would ask DOT to “identify alternative measures to lane reductions.”

Reducing the number of through lanes from two to one in each direction is the central component of the Morningside Avenue safety plan, imposing order on an excessively wide street that currently encourages a majority of drivers to speed, according to DOT counts. The road diet also creates space for a center median with concrete pedestrian islands and left-turn pockets. Vehicle flow would essentially not be affected, since left-turning vehicles already occupy an entire lane in the current design, except to become safer and more predictable. These features, common in other traffic calming plans throughout the city, have reduced injury-causing crashes 40 percent on Gerritsen Avenue in Brooklyn, which like Morningside borders a park.

The push against the road diet appears to have originated in CB 10, which has fought against traffic calming elsewhere in the neighborhood. Karen Horry, acting chair of CB 10’s transportation committee, said last month that she contacted Thompson, the CB 9 committee chair, to express her surprise that CB 9’s resolution didn’t ask DOT to eliminate the road diet.

“It was agreed between both boards that there will be no lane reduction… CB 9 forgot to put that part on their resolution,” CB 9 staffer Hleziphi Zita told Streetsblog. “So that is why they had to do an amendment.”

Brad Taylor, a CB 9 member who wrote the resolution supporting DOT’s plan that passed in November by a 23-4 vote, with one abstention, was confused why Thompson is now moving forward on an amendment against the road diet. “I don’t see why the two [resolutions] need to be identical, frankly,” he said. “If CB 10 has issues, let them express them.”

Horry told DOT last month that “the community has a great deal of concern about the lane reductions,” but the community group that requested the traffic calming plan doesn’t see it that way.

“There’s been nothing so far that’s been raised at the community board meetings in opposition to these plans that indicate that the lane closures will be a problem,” said Jonathon Kahn, a steering committee member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, which requested the traffic calming plan after its members said they felt crossing Morningside to access the park was dangerous. “North Star very much wants to work with CB 10 to figure out a solution. So far the conversation from our perspective has disproportionately been focused on traffic concerns and parking,” he said. “We’d like to see the conversation be more balanced.”

There were 102 injuries along this ten-block section of Morningside Avenue from 2007 to 2011, according to DOT data. With this in mind, Council Member Mark Levine urged DOT to move forward on the plan. “Time actually matters here. Every day we delay is a risk of new injuries, so I feel some urgency,” he told Streetsblog. “There’s been a significant amount of public consultation so far, by my count eight or nine meetings between Community Boards 9 and 10. A significant opportunity for community input.”

Update: Levine, along with State Senator Adriano Espaillat, sent a letter to incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today asking DOT to move forward with the project. “We would like the DOT to err on the side of the residents who have placed a priority on safety,” they wrote [PDF]. “We are ready to support the implementation of this popular plan.”

Streetsblog’s requests for comment from Council Member Inez Dickens, who also represents the Morningside Avenue project area, were not returned.

Oddly, even as the boards are working against the road diet, they say they want bike lanes, which DOT left out of its design. A dedicated group of community members have consistently shown up at CB meetings, urging DOT to include bike lanes in its plan.

Area resident J.P. Partland has created an online petition for bike lanes on Morningside, and the advocacy has paid off: CB 9 staff told Streetsblog that the board’s transportation committee will also consider an amendment asking for bike lanes next month. Even Stephanie Howze, a CB 10 committee member who opposes the road diet, said last month that the committee should honor the request and include a recommendation for bike lanes in its resolution on DOT’s proposal.

While CB 9 and CB 10 deserve credit for listening to the bike lane activists, a position for bike lanes but against the road diet doesn’t make much sense. In order to claim the necessary space for bike lanes without eliminating parking lanes, you need to implement a road diet.

  • Jeff

    Wouldn’t that be cute? Two lanes for moving traffic and one lane for parked cars in each direction, with a nice little door-zone bike lane so that the CB can pretend it’s for progressive street designs, which maintaining what would essentially be the status quo.

  • Eric McClure

    Newly elected Councilmembers Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal, and newly elected Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, can do the residents of the Upper West Side who’d prefer not to get run over by speeding drivers a huge favor by thanking the recalcitrant members of local Community Boards for their service and replacing them with people whose thinking is more Jane Jacobs and less Robert Moses.

  • Thank god for Streetmix:

  • JK

    I’m a constituent, and I’m going to write Mark Levine, thank him, and encourage him to push hard, and speak with Gale Brewer about these CBs.

  • Peter

    As a senior who lives with his wife, also a senior, on Manhattan Avenue, one block east of the stretch of Morningside Avenue for which the traffic calming measures are proposed, and who has two 2-year-old grandchildren living across the street, I’m dismayed that CB9 is considering any modification to the DOT plan to improve safety on Morningside. The many small children, like our grandkids, who cross that street almost every day to reach the two wonderful playgrounds at 116th Street and 123rd Street, plus all the students from the Hugo Newman School and other schools near the park who use it for sports and recreation, plus all the seniors who love to use the park for exercise and relaxation must traverse the Morningside Speedway to reach the park. The accident levels on the street are simply too high and have been for years. The greater safety provided on other streets by measures similar to those proposed for Morningside Avenue show that these unacceptable levels can be simply and rather inexpensively be reduced without impeding the flow of traffic. According to the figures I’ve seen, 85% of the residents of our community are not car owners. It’s up to the CB members to protect the safety of the large pedestrian population that uses Morningside Park ahead of the interests of the few who are motorists.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Ben,

    What I like about your design is that this kind of park-side two-way bike lane has been proven on Prospect Park West and should now be rolled out adjacent to major parks all over the city: Morningside Park and Central Park, Van Cortlandt Park, Sunset Park, and many others.

    Can we send along this great proposal to CB9 and DOT? CB 10 won’t like it but they don’t seem to be in favor of any street changes meant to improve traffic safety for cyclists or pedestrians.

    Ben

  • Sure. I shouldn’t get credit though. I’m not sure how this design got into my Streetmix cache, but it wasn’t my doing.

  • Daphna

    The vote at the full Board of CB9 in November was 23 in favor, 4 abstentions and 1 opposed. (It was mis-reported in the article.) There was no demand at CB9 to have a caveat in the resolution supporting this traffic calming to restrict the lane reductions. Althought CB9 staffer Hleziphi Zita made this statement to streetsblog, it is untrue. CB9 did add three items to the resolution for DOT to study and incorporate into the plan if possible based on feedback from the public forum on this plan. The idea of gutting the whole plan by not supporting the lane restrictions was not raised by Transportation Committee members, not raised by full Board members and not raised by members of the public attending the meetings held in Sept, Oct. and Nov. or at the public forum held in October. If Carolyn Thompson did propose such an amendment, it would get voted down by the Transportation Committee she chairs (that is if that committee ever had a quorum and could even ever vote – unlikely!) and would get voted down by the full Board of CB9. It is a travesty when a paid staffer such as Hleziphi Zita is making false statements and by doing so pushing the Board she works for in a bad direction, when Hleziphi Zita should be serving CB9 in a truthful and professional manner instead. Carolyn Thompson did not support this plan but she was in the minority and was out voted by the vast majority on CB9. It is unfortunate that she seems now to be working with CB10 to undo the positive resolution that her Board passed near unanimously.

  • Daphna

    It would be great if the road space could be divided this way instead!!!! That would be fantastic!!!! However, Harlem residents love to double park so you need the 13′ or 14′ wide bike-friendly and double-parking-friendly curbside parking lanes. Until there is the political will to charge more for curbside parking ensuring sufficient turnover and lessening demand for double parking, those wide parking lanes are needed. Also, south of 113th Street Morningside Avenue is too narrow for a bike lane and so that is why bike lanes were not part of this plan – because the lane would be an isolated lane, not part of a network.

  • millerstephen

    @disqus_erYUyDEUHh:disqus I reported 23-4-1, not 23-1-4 as you say above, because that’s what CB 9 reported as the tally in its letter to DOT after the vote — Also linked in article: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CB9ResoReMorningsideAveSafety11-26-2013.pdf

  • Harlem resident

    Everyone should call Inez Dinkins office. Her staffers were unaware of the issues…this council member needs to go and as resident of Harlem I can’t believe this women was reelected at all.

  • M

    She’s a joke

  • J.P.

    call her legislative office 12-788-7397. Also fax her there 212-442-2732

  • JP

    212 788-7397

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