Will CB 9 Take Its Cues From a Denny Farrell Rant Against a Safer Broadway?

Five pedestrians,
Five pedestrians, including four seniors, have been killed on Broadway since 2009. But Denny Farrell thinks stopping for pedestrians is causing traffic and a road diet will lead to massive congestion. Image: DOT [PDF]
Council Member Mark Levine and the local precinct commander spoke in support of a traffic safety plan [PDF] for a deadly stretch of Broadway last night at a Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee meeting. Then Denny Farrell, chair of the New York State Assembly’s powerful ways and means committee, let loose with a nonsensical rant against the plan.

The project calls for adding pedestrian space and trimming car lanes from three in each direction to two. Will Community Board 9 vote for safety or go along with Farrell? We should find out this fall, when the board is expected to weigh in on the proposal.

Denny Farrell at a 2008 hearing on congestion pricing. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

After DOT’s presentation last night, Levine spoke up in support. “The status quo is a big problem, and not something we can tolerate,” he said. “Something has to be done, and we have a plan that seems to provide safety for pedestrians.”

The plan also received support from Captain Michael Baker, commanding officer of the 30th Precinct. Baker said he was pleased with changes DOT made to nearby Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, also known as Seventh Avenue, and looked forward to similar changes on Broadway. “What they did with Seventh Avenue made sense. The traffic does flow,” he told CB 9. “There need to be changes to the Broadway corridor. And I think what DOT is looking at will help.”

Most speakers at last night’s meeting were receptive to the plan. A few urged DOT to consider bus lanes or protected bike lanes. DOT project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said center-running bike lanes like those on Allen Street would be difficult to install because Broadway, unlike Allen, has through streets at nearly every block and DOT isn’t willing to make significant changes to cross traffic along Broadway.

LaQuita Henry, a CB 9 member who also volunteers with the Community Alliance of Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights, spent the week speaking with business owners on Broadway about the plan. She found that while most preferred three lanes in each direction, their primary concern was securing additional loading zones, which are part of DOT’s plan.

One CB 9 member was openly hostile to the idea of having one less car lane. “I do not want you to be under the misguided conception that you have the support of the community,” said Annette Robinson. “Folks are not happy about this, and they do feel as if it’s being rammed down their throats.”

Assembly Member Farrell, who has a history of uncorking stemwinders about street redesigns at uptown community board meetings, inveighed against the plan in a 10-minute speech. He began by blaming pedestrians. “What are you doing to make the pedestrian stop walking off the curb, taking the street, and standing there when buses are turning?” he asked DOT. “I have not heard one word about talking to pedestrians.”

He also railed against bicycles (“they’re dangerous!”) and said projects that removed car lanes have led to traffic congestion.

Another thing leading to congestion, according to Farrell: stopping for pedestrians. “[Vision] Zero is working in one respect. Everybody is making careful, slow stops, slow turns, which now creates backups,” he said.

Farrell also cited Florida — regularly ranked among the most dangerous places to walk in America — as a state with an excellent traffic safety record. “They’re finally beginning to understand how to move people around without killing people,” he said. “You go Florida, they drive at 60 miles an hour. I’d like to see their statistics. They have six-lane roads, and they move people everywhere. But they have lights, they have left turns, and they have rules.”

Farrell’s remarks prompted a response from Levine. “There’s never going to be an officer with a speed gun on every corner,” Levine said. “There are things we can do on the streets that calm traffic.”

“Taking a lane is not one of them,” Farrell replied.

After staying mostly silent, newly-elected CB 9 chair Padmore John closed the meeting with some brief remarks. “Everyone sees and believes that it’s an issue that needs to be fixed,” he said, before adding: “Some of the things that have worked in other places might not necessarily work here.”

“This is not finalized. It will go back to the committee before anything is done,” said CB 9 transportation committee chair Carolyn Thompson. “We’re not done here.”

  • AlexB

    I see the medians at the intersections but they’re still not wide enough for a full left turn lane. I even wonder if the few feet of space will cause care to swerve to the right of a car waiting to turn left, potentially causing collisions. You could put in a full left turn lane, but you’d likely have to re-build the existing median at each one. It still seems preferable to give the space to enlarge the sidewalk like they did on Broadway in Midtown from 42nd to Columbus Circle.

    Think also about what it would be like to bike on this street. You could shoot for the extra wide parking lane, but you’d likely hit a double parked car every block. Alternatively, you could ride in the buffer, but all the moving traffic would be encouraged to also use the buffer to get around double parked cars.

    Is it safer than the existing conditions? Yes, but still seems FAR from ideal solution and defers to drivers’ preferences too much. One of the biggest problems with NYC’s streets is that they encourage double parking by pricing street parking too low and no one ever gets ticketed for it. It’s insane relative to other cities where you’d get a ticket for it as soon as a cop saw you. It’s also a major safety problem as it causes all sorts of weaving in and out for bike and cars.

  • Maggie

    It seems like crossing a street like this could be easier for slower crossers, if DOT skipped the 36′ median and instead put in curbside bike lanes that have pedestrian refuges.

  • cjstephens

    I’d be happy to call out Catholic voters who voted for JFK just because he was Catholic and Jewish voters who voted for (and continue to vote for) Shelly Silver just because he’s Jewish. Why wouldn’t I? And why would you assume I wouldn’t? However, until one of them starts doing something (in Shelly’s case, again) that’s relevant to Streetsblog, I’ll keep my powder dry.

    In the meantime, can we have some sort of Godwin’s Law, but for Rush Limbaugh and/or Fox News? It seems that any time a liberal feels cornered in a conversation like this, all that’s left to do is shout Limbaugh! Fox! Like that somehow excuses the embarrassing behavior of hacks like Denny Farrell. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

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