Wednesday night, Manhattan Community Board 10 in Harlem continued to obstruct a street redesign that could save lives. A safety overhaul for speeding-plagued Morningside Avenue, requested by local residents and developed by DOT, has been stalled as the board refuses to back any plan that includes a reduction in the number of car lanes. In a near-repeat of a board meeting in February, CB 10 sent the issue back to committee, where it has languished since last September. Meanwhile, the board has established a Vision Zero task force, even as it opposes street safety measures.
Key board members are convinced that road diets on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Mount Morris Park West have been failures. Last night, CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle described those streets as having “extreme problems” and “hazardous conditions” as a result of the road diets. In fact, a study of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard found that speeding was reduced, travel times improved, and crashes dropped by nearly one-third after the road diet was implemented [PDF].
Lyle claims that she wants DOT to move ahead with improvements for Morningside Avenue, just not the plan that’s on the table. “We need them to take some action now,” Lyle said. “We don’t want DOT to use anyone as a scapegoat for why they’re not fixing the problem.”
The problem is that the board has ruled out the kind of redesign that has been proven to prevent injuries and save lives on similar streets. CB 10 wants speed humps and traffic signals, not a road diet. DOT says the road is too wide for speed humps and traffic volumes too light to justify traffic signals — which can make a street more dangerous anyway.
Community Board 9, which also includes Morningside Avenue, has already backed the road diet plan, but DOT is bending to CB 10’s opposition and developing an alternative plan to be presented in the coming months.
“An alternative plan that doesn’t include lane reductions, doesn’t include traffic lights, and doesn’t include speed humps? Sure, I’d like to see that,” said road diet supporter Elise Merrow, who lives on 114th Street near Manhattan Avenue and along with her neighbors has gathered more than 1,000 signatures from neighborhood residents calling for the road diet.
CB 10 is not monolithic. While the stalemate continues on street safety redesigns, a Vision Zero task force is taking shape within the board, comprised of the heads of the health, transportation, education, economic development, land use, and housing committees.
The task force also has the ability to advance resolutions to the full board. Using measures passed by CB 7 as a model, task force chair Maria Garcia is drafting resolutions in support of bills in Albany to set a 20 mph default speed limit, now supported by State Senator Bill Perkins and Assembly Member Keith L.T. Wright, and grant the city home rule over automated enforcement.
“The police cannot be expected to be doing all of this without help,” Garcia said of speed cameras at the task force’s kick-off meeting last week, which attracted a small group of board members, area residents, street safety advocates, and the executive officers of central Harlem’s two police precincts.
With a borough-wide pedestrian safety workshop coming to Harlem next month, Garcia is hoping the neighborhood can create its own list of traffic safety priorities. “We need to motivate the community to be part of this process,” Garcia said. The task force is hosting Harlem-specific Vision Zero workshops on May 13 and 27.