CB12 Transpo Committee Avoids Action on Dyckman, Everything Else

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Proposed Dyckman Street redesign, presented by citizens to the CB12 Transpo Committee last February

For the third time this year, residents of Inwood and Washington Heights Monday night presented the Community Board 12 Traffic and Transportation Committee with a vision for a traffic-calmed Dyckman Street. One with a separated bike lane connecting the Henry Hudson
and Harlem River bike paths, sidewalk bulbouts, leading pedestrian intervals, and street trees. A destination corridor where people can shop, stroll and mingle without constantly feeling under siege by untamed auto traffic.

And
for the third time this year, the committee asked these
residents to come back when they have a better idea of what they
want.

Members of Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets were hopeful that an audience with Paimaan Lodhi, urban planner with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, would help the case for the Dyckman Greenway Connector. But after distributing copies of "Sustainable Streets" guidelines to committee members (it was hard to tell if any of them had heard of the DOT program), Lodhi deflated those hopes. Any action by Stringer’s office, he said, would require consensus from CB12.

Just how likely is consensus to emerge that an innovative, people-friendly design for Dyckman, similar to the Ninth Avenue bike path, would be a boon to Upper Manhattan, where just 20 percent of households own a car? To get an idea one only has to tune in to Jim Berlin, the most outspoken member of the transpo committee, if not the whole of CB12. Last night a neighborhood mom told the committee that she feared a pedestrian bridge over Dyckman at Tenth Avenue, used by students at her child’s elementary school, was unstable. Berlin, minutes after declaring that any plan to alter Dyckman should not impede auto traffic, agreed that the condition of the bridge is a concern, as it "keeps kids away from a ridiculously dangerous intersection where a school should never have been built in the first place."

In other words, to Berlin and other CB12 members, Dyckman Street is already a connector — between the West Side Highway and the FDR. Its function as a neighborhood street, used by school children and hundreds of thousands of other non-driving Upper Manhattanites, is purely incidental.

But uptown livable streets advocates have two things working in their favor. One is that Dyckman Street is already slated for new bike lanes, which will presumably connect existing lanes on its east and west ends. Another is that, according to DOT’s Josh Orzeck, an unrelated study of Dyckman intersections is currently underway, which Orzeck said would "greatly affect" any redesign plans. Committee members lit up at the mention of the study (which, oddly, Orzeck had apparently not referenced before), for it gave them the perfect opportunity to put off the Greenway connector plan until at least next spring.

Which brings us to another CB12 transpo committee trait. To be fair, chairman Mark Levine — who is far and away the most enlightened member when it comes to livable streets issues — had to leave the meeting early, but there was barely a single issue discussed Monday night on which the committee did not delay, defer
or deflect. ("Have you spoken with the precinct?" "Isn’t that up to DOT?"
"Shouldn’t the parks/safety/some other committee be involved in this?" "Asking the MTA/NYPD for anything is useless.") Granted, I have
only covered CB12 for a short time. But I’ve attended enough board,
commission and committee meetings to recognize a do-nothing body when I
see one, and I have to say the CB12 Traffic and Transportation Committee bears a striking
resemblance to a do-nothing body.

If the Dyckman Greenway Connector and September’s Greenmarket fiasco, which originated with the transpo committee, weren’t enough evidence, consider last night’s deliberations concerning Bennett Avenue. A handout circulated by Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets highlighted seven issues that contribute to dangerous conditions on Bennett, which runs parallel to Broadway for approximately a dozen blocks north of 181st Street in Washington Heights. Among those issues was poor visibility at intersections, where drivers park close enough, sometimes illegally, that other drivers and pedestrians have trouble seeing oncoming traffic.

Berlin, having already given a confounding speech about how infrastructure should not be used to accomplish what the police should be (but, conveniently, are not) doing, allowed that DOT may want to "daylight" intersections on Bennett to improve safety, rather than installing what the committee deemed to be prohibitively expensive bulbouts. However, he said, daylighting would be a "problem" — particularly at night — as it would eliminate on-street parking spots. After a modicum of back and forth, mostly regarding the hopelessness of accomplishing much of anything, the committee handed Bennett Avenue off to Orzeck with no clear direction or recommendations.

And thus, the circuit of inaction was again completed.

  • JK

    Brad thanks for reporting on this. It’s very important that Sblog readers understand how difficult it is to win changes in the 3/4ths (4/5ths?) of community boards that prefer traffic dysfunction over any and all change. It is cowardice for the city councilmember (Robert Jacksonson?) to defer to the unelected community board. Ask him to take a stand on this issue.

  • da

    I’d be willing to bet that the car ownership rate of the CB12 Transpo Committee is closer to 100% than it is to 20%.

    I know the Community Boards try to reflect the diversity of their districts. Shouldn’t that extend to car ownership as well?

  • JK

    DA — You’re right, it should, but lets be careful about assuming car owners are benighted and non car owners enlightened. That’s often not the case. If Bloomberg gets elected for a third term, I think we are going to see DOT looking at alternative public approval processes. For instance if DOT or the mayor gets a petition from 5000 people asking for a greening of Dyckman, it probably won’t matter what the CB thinks. The real problem with the CBs is that the City Council members empower them so they won’t have to deal with anything controversial. NYC clearly needs a new community level consensus mechanism since most CBs are woefully ineffective when it comes to any streetscape or transportation changes. They cling to a 1950’s, car in every pot, traffic mentality.

  • Wikipedia: “Borough Presidents appoint the voting Community Board members, with half of the appointees nominated by council members representing the district.”

    Perhaps the best way to deal with a community board that’s tone-deaf to livable-streets issues would be to complain directly to the borough president and council members. CB members are not subject to term limits, but their terms are only two years.

    Apply pressure where it counts. If that doesn’t work, let the electeds know they need to clean house.

  • As one of the community activists who has been championing the livable streets makeover of Dyckman to CB 12, I am deeply frustrated that neither DOT’s nor the borough president’s representatives (both of whom have been present at these meetings) are seizing the idea and championing it to their bosses (even though, for example, DOT has pledged to add 15 new miles of protected bike lanes by 2010). Instead, we are stuck with a complete deference to CB 12, who then feels free to obfuscate, defer, and reject our proposals. It’s as if we’re not an important enough community to warrant the livable streets makeovers that Midtown and Chelsea are getting.

    As an indication of how bad the current situation is, we were told in September to come back with a petition signed by neighborhood stakeholders. At this meeting, we were told we should wait until DOT releases a traffic study of Dyckman in April 2009.

  • JF

    Perhaps the best way to deal with a community board that’s tone-deaf to livable-streets issues would be to complain directly to the borough president and council members.

    Which is why it’s so frustrating that there was a representative from the Borough President’s office at the meeting in question, but:

    Members of Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets were hopeful that an audience with Paimaan Lodhi, urban planner with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, would help the case for the Dyckman Greenway Connector. But after distributing copies of “Sustainable Streets” guidelines to committee members (it was hard to tell if any of them had heard of the DOT program), Lodhi deflated those hopes. Any action by Stringer’s office, he said, would require consensus from CB12.

    Stringer appointed the community board members to represent the community. They are not doing their job, but rather than call them to task for it, Lodhi defers to them. Stringer would have to have more backbone for your strategy to work, Mark – or else he’d have to hear from a lot of activists.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Stringer didn’t appoint the CB members to represent the community. He appointed them to keep them off his ass and deflect their limitless yenta energy. The CBs become a sounding board for people with too much time on their hands who will pester the electeds if they are not appointed. Almost all of the good planning decisions made in New York City come from city hall and have the needs of the entire city placed ahead of the jeremiads of the mentally ill who go to the CB meetings. Empowering the CBs is the death of New York City, it will become a parody of the balkanized New Jersey planning described above.

  • Paimaan Lodhi

    I just wanted to clarify that the Borough President’s office supports local efforts to improve transportation conditions along Dyckman St, as he has supported numerous livable streets initiatives in Manhattan. I did not mean to imply that the Borough President’s Office would not support a plan without complete Community Board consensus, but I did suggest that the CB be involved and consulted throughout the process. I distributed copies of the DOT Sustainable Streets Plan in order to keep board members and advocates informed of the options that DOT is willing to pursue in terms of street improvements and to help guide the process of developing a specific proposal. I’m looking forward to continuing to help with that process.

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