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DOT Cuts Community-Endorsed Harlem Pedestrian Space for Double Parking

DOT crews at work yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller
DOT crews yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller
DOT crews at work yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

A big new pedestrian space next to a busy Harlem park, installed last summer as part of a community board-backed traffic calming plan, is being scaled down by the agency that created it. Why the change? DOT says it’s responding to complaints that the original design created too much space for pedestrians, and not enough for double-parked drivers.

For years, Mount Morris Park West offered a wide, four-block straightaway with sharp curves at either end. Drivers heading south on Fifth Avenue often raced around the turns, creating dangerous conditions for Harlem residents walking to and from Marcus Garvey Park. Occasionally, drivers speeding at the southern turn left the roadway and crashed into homes along West 120th Street.

Beginning last year, the Mount Morris Park West Community Improvement Association worked with DOT to develop a traffic calming plan for streets around the park. The proposal, which significantly increased pedestrian space, tightened curves and trimmed travel lanes from two to one, was unanimously supported by CB 11 in February [PDF]. After DOT made the changes in August, a group of angry residents at the board's September transportation committee meeting demanded the city bring back the old, more dangerous roadway [PDF].

“We want the city to pull this thing up. We want these things gone,” resident Chet Whye told the Daily News. While the design isn't gone, the more-space-for-cars crowd will be glad to hear that DOT, which had already adjusted the street's traffic light timing to ease backups, is now shaving away sidewalk space.

"This updated design is in response to concerns expressed by some neighborhood residents that the roadway space is too narrow, and the painted sidewalk is too large," DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote in an October 31 letter to Community Board 11 [PDF]. DOT will narrow the painted sidewalk by five feet to widen parking lanes and add painted buffers on either side of the street. "The wider profile will provide a larger area for motorists who wish to double-park," Forgione wrote, "while still allowing room for unimpeded traffic movement."

DOT is adding a stop light at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street, which currently has a flashing red signal and stop sign. It will also study traffic signals at 121st and 123rd Streets on Mount Morris Park West. More changes could be on the way: Forgione said that eliminating plaza space is "laying the groundwork for potential future modifications."

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