CB 9 Stands by Morningside Road Diet, But DOT Does Not

Council Member Mark Levine, left, and CB 9 support the Morningisde Avenue road diet, but DOT is coming up with a second plan because Council Member Inez Dickens, right, and members of CB 10 oppose removing car lanes. Borough President Gale Brewer, center, who appoints CB members, has not weighed in. Photos: NYC Council
Council Member Mark Levine, left, and Manhattan Community Board 9 support the Morningisde Avenue road diet, but DOT is coming up with a second plan because Council Member Inez Dickens, right, and members of CB 10 oppose removing excess car lanes. Borough President Gale Brewer, center, who appoints CB members, has not weighed in. Photos: NYC Council

A plan to improve pedestrian safety on speeding-plagued Morningside Avenue in Harlem, supported by one community board but stalled by another, is on track for months of additional meetings as DOT goes back to the drawing board.

The current plan, which would remove excess car lanes to create space for turn lanes and pedestrian islands, received a vote of support from Community Board 9 back in November. Earlier this month, Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat urged DOT to move ahead to prevent crashes on a 10-block stretch that had 102 injuries from 2007 to 2011 according to city data. But many members of CB 10, which also covers the area and, like CB 9, plays an advisory role on the issue, are vociferously opposed to removing car lanes — the central safety measure in the plan.

So far, DOT has allowed CB 10 to block the traffic safety plan. This week, the agency said it’s preparing “additional design proposals” to present to both boards in the coming months.

“They’re going to come up with an alternate plan,” said Jonathon Kahn, a steering committee member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, which requested action from DOT after its members expressed concerns about the danger of crossing Morningside. “I expect pretty vigorous discussions once the alternate plan is out.”

Kahn said that, in his discussions with DOT, it did not appear that the agency was completely scrapping its design, but instead coming up with a second proposal that could incorporate CB 10’s objection to removing car lanes.

DOT did not respond to questions about what its new plan will include, but North Star, which will be holding a meeting to discuss Morningside Avenue in about a month, wants the focus to remain squarely on pedestrian safety. “We definitely want to see measures that slow traffic,” Kahn said. “We would also like to see more safe opportunities to cross the street.”

Earlier this month, Kahn said that CB 10 members had been narrowly focused on the ability of drivers to navigate quickly around Harlem, but he is hopeful that attitude will shift. “The vast majority of people that are their constituents are pedestrians more than drivers,” he said. “I think that CB 10 is beginning to consider pedestrian concerns.”

“Changes need to be made,” Kahn said of safety conditions on Morningside Avenue. “We very much want to have a constructive dialogue with CB 10 members.”

Kahn noted that CB 10’s transportation committee and full board have not met since Mayor de Blasio announced his Vision Zero agenda two weeks ago. “That de Blasio has expressed concern about situations like Morningside Avenue is crucial,” he said. “I think this community board has a lot of respect for the mayor and his plans.”

Even as DOT altered course under pressure from CB 10, neighboring CB 9 reaffirmed its support for the road diet, rebuffing an attempt by CB 10 members to weaken November’s resolution backing the plan.

Last month, acting CB 10 transportation committee chair Karen Horry contacted Carolyn Thompson, her counterpart at CB 9, with a request: Would she amend CB 9’s already-passed resolution so that it asks DOT to “identify alternative measures to lane reductions”? Thompson agreed to the change, and it was added to the committee agenda. Supporters of the road diet were caught by surprise.

But, as DNAinfo reported last Friday, the proposal to walk back CB 9’s support of the road diet has been taken off the table. “There will be no changes,” Thompson said in an e-mail to Streetsblog this week.

Levine, who as a council member makes recommendations for appointment to CB 9, praised the group for sticking by its resolution. “I commend CB 9 for its already-established support of the Morningside Avenue safety plan and am glad that they have decided to stand by it without additional amendments,” he said in a statement.

Council Member Inez Dickens, who also represents the area and recommends appointments to CB 10, said through a spokesperson that “some effort needs to be undertaken to encourage motorists to slow down” but refused to support the road diet or suggest other traffic calming interventions. “Traffic slowed to a virtual crawl” after DOT implemented a (since rolled-back) road diet on Mount Morris Park West, the spokesperson claimed. Dickens and the community board “don’t want to impede traffic,” he continued. “We don’t feel the need to press the CB to have a resolution.”

Borough President Gale Brewer, who makes appointments to all Manhattan community boards, did not respond to questions about Morningside Avenue. Tonight, she is hosting a meeting with community board district managers to discuss traffic safety after asking them to identify locations in their districts that are dangerous for pedestrians. Streetsblog asked both CB 9 and CB 10 for their list of dangerous places to walk but has not received a reply.

DOT’s lack of resolve in the face of CB 10 opposition to the road diet leads Kahn to believe the current plan will get watered down to some degree. “Whatever plan we come up with is probably going to require compromise on everybody’s part,” he said.

“DOT continues to work with Community Boards 9 and 10 on this safety enhancement, and will present additional design proposals to both in the coming months,” an agency spokesperson said in an e-mail. “After that, the agency will review any resolutions we receive and then determine the next steps.”

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg officially started work on Monday. “We’re hoping to build the same sort of relationship we enjoyed with the last administration,” Dickens’ office said.

  • BBnet3000

    Why not build what CB9 wants in CB9, and allow CB10 to choose their own design? Is there some minimum distance the road has to maintain the exact same profile?

    Its too bad CB10 wants to put their constituents lives at risk, but why punish CB9 in the same way by compromising the plan?

  • Bolwerk

    People like Dickens are why the Democrats are the U.S. political party with the bona fide conservatives. Her constituents are mostly too poor to own cars, and have some of the shittiest transit in the city. They also have some of the most dangerous traffic in the city.

    Now, a lane reduction may slow her down a little. Or not; it may speed her up. But, either way, does it stop her from driving? All she is really doing is defending the status quo without a second thought.

  • Bolwerk

    It really belies the absurdity of this hyper-local community board planning system. It derails dedicated bus lanes too.

    DOT is wrong in this case, but in general it should just be allowed to do its job without letting the NIMBYs in community boards monkey things up.

  • valar84

    Another example of car drivers’ time being prioritized over pedestrian and cyclist safety. In the minds of many of those in government, people don’t matter unless they’re in a car.

  • r

    One of the central tenets of Vision Zero is that safety is prioritized over all other objectives of the transportation system, including convenience, mobility, and parking. This can’t be hammered home enough.

    One month into the new administration’s term, perhaps the split between these two community boards should be a test of the mayor’s commitment to that principle.

  • BS

    One sir of Mongingside Ave is CB 9 while the other is CB10. the road would look strange if each board got their way:)

  • MK

    CB 10 Thinks Morningside Ave in not really Harlem anymore due to the new population. The majority of the board is black and the see it as a white issue. They are clowns and should be relived of their duties.

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t entirely agree. I think they’re wrong, and maybe some of the board appointments should be reconsidered, but I think it’s understandable that they associate some of these changes with wealthy whites gentrifying the neighborhood and pricing them out. They aren’t being jerks so much as hanging onto what they know, which is that their rents could be made higher.

    Dickens, a council member with access to research about this, not to mention a secure power base, should know better, however.

  • BBnet3000

    Oh, thanks for the clarification. I should have looked at the CB map before posting. That is really too bad. CB9 likely will have to pay for CB10’s attitude toward safety then.

    Actually, given the CB’s fairly large role in transportation decisions nowadays, it seems like its a huge mistake to have the boundaries drawn so that streets are overlapped like this.

  • Albert

    “Dickens and the community board ‘don’t want to impede traffic.’”

    God forbid anyone should ever impede traffic. For any reason—
    for instance, because people are being killed & maimed.

    Enfuriating.

  • Mk

    I guess they want to hang on the the memory of the Morningside Park infested with addicts:) As a kid we Never went to that part of Harlem.

  • BS

    You are correct.

  • Bolwerk

    They probably want to keep a roof over their head they can sorta afford and stay in a neighborhood they know. I understand them being trepidatious about changes associated with gentrification.

    Hell, I’ll go so far as to to say these changes will make their neighborhood more desirable and will drive prices up. I don’t think that’s a reason to not make positive changes, but I think we sometimes need to deal with the consequences of those changes better.

  • mk

    im willing to bet a vast majority of the board don’t live in the Morningside ave area, most have been on the board a long time. They are set in their ways and do not like change. The Comparison between Morningside and 5th Avenue is BS. 5th Ave has significantly more traffic and a bus route along it.

  • Harlem resident

    Issue that Inez Dinkens doesn’t return phone calls from constituents, or email correspondence. Good luck reaching out to Rep. Charles Rangels office where his Chief of Staff, Geoffrey Eaton also doesn’t return phone calls or emails, Then you got Assembly Member Farrell’s staff who all also refuse to address the safety concerns right in front of their noses in front of their district office and surrounding neighbor. Let’s not forget Bill Perkins who’s chief of staff was contact numerous times regarding street safety, also, and doesn’t return phone calls or emails. Then you got the 125th Street BID and what do they do???? When it comes to street safety….nada. Then you got the useless Harlem Chamber of Commerce who doesn’t realize safe walkable streets and bike lanes would lead to more foot traffic to store owners.

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