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Tonight: Tell Manhattan CBs That Harlem Needs a Safer Morningside Avenue

3:56 PM EDT on October 23, 2013

Community Boards 9 and 10 in Harlem will again hear from DOT tonight on a plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue [PDF]. The proposal was developed in response to a request from the North Star Neighborhood Association, and though there is general agreement that speeding drivers are a major problem on Morningside, the community boards have so far failed to endorse the city's plan to make the street safer.

City Council Democratic primary winner Mark Levine wants the boards to move forward with the proposal, but as usual Council Member Inez Dickens, whose neighboring district encompasses most of the project area, has not indicated her support.

The plan would revamp Morningside from 116th Street to 126th Street from two lanes in each direction to a narrower single lane in each direction, with a center striped median, concrete pedestrian islands and left turn lanes. Parking lanes on each side would be widened, allowing space for cyclists and double-parked drivers. At entrances to Morningside Park, on the west side of the avenue, DOT has proposed painted curb extensions in the parking lane. The proposal does not include bike lanes.

The plan resembles existing traffic-calming measures on Macombs Road in the Bronx and on St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, and has some similarities to the plan for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

DOT presented the proposal in September to the transportation committees of both boards. The CB 10 committee, which has a history of inaction and opposition when it comes to livable streets projects, asked DOT for more data. CB 9 voted 18-15 to table the project, according to The Uptowner. Board members said the proposal needed more vetting, despite committee meetings and positive comments from the public.

Which brings us to tonight's forum, where DOT will again present its plan and answer questions.

"I don't think there's much objection to the substance of the proposal," says Levine. "The more I talk to people, the more they think it's a good idea."

Levine expects a CB 9 vote from the full board soon. "It would really send a powerful message to DOT if we got affirmative votes on both boards," he said.

Dickens staffer Lermond Mayes has said the council member is supportive of traffic-calming on Morningside, but she has not signaled approval of the DOT plan. "We haven’t exactly seen how effective it will be,” Mayes told Streetsblog last month. Mayes said other traffic-calming measures in Harlem have caused congestion. "You also end up creating obstructions to traffic flow," he said. "To hear from her boards is very helpful."

Levine is optimistic, but said he wants action before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office. "It's possible the plan could be shelved, or we could go back to square one," he said, "and I don't think anybody wants that."

A strong turnout tonight would show community board members that the public wants a safer Morningside Avenue. The forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at The Fortune Society, 630 Riverside Drive.

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