Levine Stands Up for Riverside Drive Road Diet Under Attack By CB 9

A road diet for the speeding-plagued Riverside Drive viaduct is already missing bike lanes. Community Board 9 members want DOT to scrap the road diet, too, but Council Member Mark Levine backs it. Image: DOT [PDF]
A plan to calm traffic on a speeding-plagued stretch of Riverside Drive in West Harlem would be gutted if Community Board 9 members get their way, but Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the area, wants DOT to move ahead with the safety plan.

“It’s all really sensible stuff that’s been succeeding in other parts of this district and this city,” Levine said. “I certainly value all the community input, and it needs to go through all the steps on the community board, but… I think DOT should move forward.”

Council Member Mark Levine.

The proposal features a mix of curb extensions and pedestrian islands on Riverside Drive between 116th and 135th Streets. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 20 serious injuries on this stretch of Riverside, including one pedestrian and 19 motor vehicle occupants [PDF].

The most dangerous section, according to DOT project manager Dan Wagner, is the Riverside Drive viaduct, which runs from just north of the General Grant National Memorial to 135th Street.

The average speed on the viaduct is 36.5 mph, according to DOT, with 79 percent of drivers clocking in above the posted 30 mph limit. In December, Levine and fellow Council Member Helen Rosenthal asked DOT to bring Riverside’s speed limit in line with the citywide 25 mph default [PDF].

DOT says it will do that, but only if the street is also redesigned to reduce speeds. Under the agency’s proposal, the viaduct from the Grant Memorial to 135th Street would be slimmed from two lanes in each direction to one, with the remaining space used for wide striped buffers. (Though Riverside is already a busy cycling route, DOT has refused to propose bike lanes.)

The road diet also creates space for new sidewalks and crossings near bus stops at the north end of the Grant Memorial. If two lanes are retained over the viaduct, DOT says there will not be enough room for the pedestrian space.

Last night, the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee held its third meeting about the project. As before, board members and some residents argued that the street should retain its speedway design, or else drivers who use Riverside as an alternative to the West Side Highway will cause traffic jams and pollution.

DOT says its traffic models show the redesigned viaduct would be able to handle the traffic without leading to more congestion, but nothing could convince opponents last night. “I just find it hard to believe that you won’t have more congestion,” said CB 9 member Victor Edwards, who complained that a road diet on St. Nicholas Avenue had slowed down his car trips between 125th and 155th Streets.

The committee did not vote on a resolution last night, but took a poll of members and meeting attendees on the project’s various components. The road diet failed to gain majority support, as did DOT’s plan for 120th Street. There, the agency is proposing four pedestrian islands, with eight new trees, as part of a road diet between Riverside and Broadway.

Instead, CB 9 member Ted Kovaleff argued to scrap the pedestrian islands for back-in angled parking, and after lots of confusion over what was up for a vote and who was voting, he got a majority of board members in the room to go along with him. Kovaleff is the same CB 9 member who said last month that Riverside Drive should remain a cut-through route with no road diet.

The results of the vote will inform CB 9’s draft resolution on the proposal. “This is democracy in action. This is what community boards are all about,” Kovaleff told the audience as the meeting was being adjourned. “I hope that some of you seeing this say, ‘Hey, I want to get involved even more.'”

Levine, an elected official who helps appoint community board members, supported the 120th Street pedestrian islands. “This is a pedestrian district,” he said. “If you had the angled parking, you would lose all the safety features that DOT is proposing for pedestrians, and frankly I would expect that adding more parking there would further snarl traffic.”

Levine also strongly backed the Riverside Drive road diet. “It’s not intended to be an alternative commuting route to the highway. This is a local street for us,” he said. “To the extent that we can calm traffic some, I think it will change people’s commuting patterns and they’ll stay on the highway… That would mean fewer cars, and lesser amounts of fumes in an area with high asthma.”

“It’s a little counter-intuitive,” Levine said of road diets. “You are actually going to smooth the movement of traffic. Now, it might be a little bit slower, but we want people to adhere to the speed limit. And [right now] they’re not coming anything close to that.”

  • BBnet3000

    A strange city where unelected people seem to hold more cards than elected officials.

  • JudenChino

    I wish they did a House of Cards version of the CBs. I’d watch.

  • JQ Public

    Stanger than a handful of bike zealots deciding exactly what our pubic policy should be?

  • BBnet3000

    Has that ever happened? If it had you would think we’d have a decent network of bike infrastructure to show for it, but we don’t.

    Look at the plan above. Its got 14′ of buffer space and double parking lanes and they couldn’t manage to find room for a bike lane.

    What is a “bike zealot” anyway? Someone who thinks that cycling should be a real, safe option for all New Yorkers is a “zealot”?

  • Jonathan R

    CM Levine’s comment in your last paragraph is particularly insightful. Using Riverside Drive as a runway for weekend flights to Vermont only works if the speed limit is ignored. Should we be obliged to treat local streets like highways because Ted Kovaleff wants to get out of town, fast?

  • JudenChino

    I wish! It’s like when people talk about that raging socialist Obama.

  • Eric McClure

    This weekend, I’m going to get some business cards made up that have “Safety Zealot” as my job title.

  • JudenChino

    This actually seems less safe than before, at least for bikers. Before I could go in that wide parking lane. Now where are we supposed to ride with just one lane? Thus we’ll have cars flying behind us, honking like crazy (on the way to their Vermont Cabin) since this is one of the few areas where you can collect speed and make multiple lights in a row.

  • AnoNYC

    Why do guesses and assumptions fuel policy? Unless the community district can scientifically prove that safety enhancements will cause excessive congestion, their opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • millerstephen

    This is a confusing comment. Currently, cyclists use the right-hand lane, of two lanes. The proposed design would have cyclists use the extra-wide parking lane, buffered by paint from the single general travel lane, which would be on the cyclist’s left.

  • Guest

    Well it seems like the elected officials are a few cards short of a deck with hearings like these

  • Roger215

    In your mind, what will happen if the “bike zealots” win?

  • Cyclists are supposed to ride in the extra wide cycle lane separated from traffic by the buffer. My concern about this design is really that drivers will simply continue to drive two abreast.

  • Is this a real comment, or just trolling? This design is intended to improve safety, you know, so fewer people are injured and killed. As most people prefer not to be injured and killed, you might think that this is actually in the interests of everyone. That includes vehicle drivers.

  • Reader

    The real zealot here is Ted Kovaleff, who thinks that the city should remain preserved forever as is, perhaps with the only some parking added, to maximize his personal convenience.

  • JudenChino

    Yah, but before I’d be comfortable to “take the lane” in the right lane and ride as “traffic”.

    Whereas now, I’d be “taking the lane” in a wide parking lane, which invariably means “door zone” and in which case, I’d feel less comfortable to go at speed as “traffic,” and I sure as shit won’t feel comfortable to “take the travel lane,” on RSD, given how psychotic car drivers get when YOU the bicyclist are the variable preventing them from going faster.

    Sure, I could be on far left and along the boundary of the buffer, but given how cars “respect” buffers now (lafayette anyone?), I’m really hard pressed to see this as a material or an appreciable improvement. Bikes are losing 2 feet from the lane they’d otherwise have been using.

    EDIT: But yes, if cars actually obey the 25mph speed limit then that would be better. Not sure if the new design will “signal” to the drivers that they need to go slower when there’s no traffic in front to otherwise slow them down. I’ve hit 45mph on my bike on this stretch of RSD to say nothing of the cars.

    And Thank you Mark Levine for “getting it”!

  • JudenChino

    some parking added, to maximize his personal convenience.

    But is it really a personal convenience? I think it’s a trap. The allusion of convenience. The reality of expensive parking, tickets, weather, depreciation, maintenance, fees, tolls . . . .

    I just don’t get how people don’t realize how lucky they are to live in NYC with it’s still great mass transit system. You don’t need to drive. If you’re so wedded to the automobile then move to Westchester or Long Island.

  • Reader

    He thinks it’s his personal convenience. That he doesn’t get it is a separate issue.

  • M to the I

    Is cycling in a parking lane illegal? In any case, since cyclists are supposed to have all the same rights and responsibilities to the road, shouldn’t cyclists be riding in a travel lane? I don’t understand this extra wide parking lane business. Who has a 13′ wide car or truck? Is it for double parking? Does any other city have extra wide parking lanes like that? I have never seen it before.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Its retarded that they don’t just put a buffered bike lane in that space, but the ‘community’ wants to be able to double park and not be in a bike lane while doing it. Since double parking is illegal, nobody can actually advocate for that, but they can say they don’t want an official bike lane. This is why a parking protected bike lane would be so much more preferable. The city should develop standards and apply them universally, sure consult with Community Boards, but if a street meets a certain standard for design, then their ability to oppose would be TRULY advisory (not a de facto veto like it is now).

  • Ben Ross

    Grant’s Tomb is now the “General Grant National Memorial”? Groucho is spinning in his grave.

  • JudenChino

    In any case, since cyclists are supposed to have all the same rights and responsibilities to the road, shouldn’t cyclists be riding in a travel lane?

    Few things scarier than being the obstacle preventing the car behind you from proceeding. There aren’t a ton of places in NYC like that, but I think of Centre street heading north from City Hall as one of those places, where cars can actually make a few lights in a row, and you, that asshole on a bike, are the reason they’re not going faster.

    Oh, I’m with you, we should take the lane. But I’ll be putzing slowly in the wide parking lane/door zone.

    This is some half-measured shit. But right, the bike zealots run the city.

  • Guest

    The Memorial is the official, federal name. But we New Yorkers have, and always will, just call it Grant’s Tomb. But that was never the official name, to my knowledge.

  • walks bikes drives

    The memorial name is the official, federal name. To my knowledge, it always has been. But for a New Yorker, it is, and always will be, Grant’s Tomb.

  • MatthewEH

    All you guys need to do is go over to West End Avenue between 72nd and 106th, where a similar road diet has already been put in place. The cycling there is so much better than it was before, just ridiculously so. Yes, you can still ride far enough from parked cars without motorists feeling like you’re “in the way”. No, cars do not try to use the parked-car-free parts of the extra-wide parking lane as a regular travel lane.

    It really works quite well.

  • BBnet3000

    Having it as an actual bike lane doesn’t stop them from double parking there though, and I get the impression that it isn’t enforced by the NYPD at all.

  • qjk

    This is the same configuration as DOT’s failed redesign of West End Avenue last year.

    There, I make sure to take the whole lane on my bike, pedaling slowly and carefully. Only for emergency vehicles do I pull into the parking lane.

    If motorists are inconvenienced by DOT’s negligence to provide for mixed-mode traffic, there’s nothing I can do about that. Maybe they should speak up to Polly Trottenberg if they want a separate travel lane for cars.

  • Cops in Bike Lanes

    I get that impression too.

  • Sean Kelliher

    “This is democracy in action. This is what community boards are all about,” Kovaleff told the audience as the meeting was being adjourned. ”

    Just a few points about Community Boards –

    Community Boards are not “democracy in action.” No one on them is actually elected, including Ted Kovaleff. Like ambassadorships, you get the job because you know somebody. You can do what you want and the public has no way of re-electing you or removing you from office.

    Also, in a wider perspective – would Polly Trottenberg be okay getting on a plane at JFK where the local community board decided how long the runway should be? How about undergoing surgery in an OR where CB7 or 5 or 10 determined how instruments should be sterilized? Of course, she wouldn’t. These are decisions affecting life and limb. She’d want experts to make them and these decisions guided by the goal of preventing injury and death.

    However, with street design, where the consequences for bad decision making are just as severe, she’s okay with letting CB members decide and having safety frequently get pushed aside because somebody wants a free parking space or a faster trip to his or her country house. It’s terrible governance and certainly not democracy in action.

  • Reader

    If members of community boards are going to be this difficult when the DOT offers watered-down proposals that don’t include bike lanes, why not just go for it and give us some great, complete streets? Whatever additional freak-out it would create in people beyond the Ted Kovaleffs of New York would more than be offset by the many many people who would come out in force to support streets that would truly benefit everyone.

    DOT’s strategy of not trying to offend community board members isn’t working. So they should just go for it and count on advocates and real community members supporting them in their efforts.

  • Good point. If a cyclist gets hit by an opening door of a vehicle pulling out while riding there, will the cyclist be blamed for biking illegally in a parking lane?

  • Mathew Smithburger

    No longer is it “because you know somebody”. The selection process has become much more objective thanks to the work of Gale Brewer. However, I have direct dealings with many CB members. The only thing I have to say about them is they are all little Robert Moses’s wannabes and none of them want to be Jane Jacobs. So there you have it Moses has won and Jacobs has lost and we are screwed.

  • thomas040

    A protected bike lane in that ample space on the sides would do wonders for curbing the speeding.

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