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

12:13 PM EST on January 30, 2014

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.

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