Momentum Builds For Safety Improvements on Broadway in West Harlem
West Harlem residents are rallying support for safety improvements on Broadway between 135th Street and 153rd Street ahead of a vote on a DOT redesign proposal at tonight’s Community Board 9 transportation committee meeting.
The plan, which DOT presented publicly in July, calls for a road diet on Broadway, going from three lanes in each direction to two, with extra-wide parking lanes and more pedestrian space around the medians known as the Broadway Malls.
About 60 West Harlem residents attended a town hall on the project last Tuesday hosted by Assembly Member Denny Farrell, and support for changing Broadway was strong. Farrell had opposed the project at the July meeting, but he seems to be coming around, expressing support for the changes with some reservations.
The town hall last Tuesday could mark a turning point, said Transportation Alternatives Upper Manhattan Organizer David Guerrero. “This town hall was tremendously in support of not only the plan, but of further measures,” such as bike lanes, Guerrero said.
Broadway currently runs three lanes in each direction, and its safety record is abysmal. Between 2009 and 2013, there were 455 injuries on this stretch in Upper Manhattan, mostly to motor vehicle occupants, according to DOT. This portion of Broadway was identified as a priority corridor in the agency’s Vision Zero action plan for Manhattan, particularly because of its high concentration of senior citizens. Of the five pedestrian fatalities on the corridor since 2007, four were seniors.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, TA volunteer Glenford “Gino” Jeffrey of West Harlem presented nearly 300 signatures from residents and 30 coalition letters from businesses who support the DOT proposal and the addition of a bike lane. “Now that we’re doing more outreach to people in those neighborhoods, and telling them what’s going on, they’ve come out to support us,” Jeffrey said.
Rose Seabrook also spoke in favor of the proposal at last week’s meeting, but she says it doesn’t go far enough. “Safety improvement on Broadway is really important,” she told Streetsblog. “However, it will be incomplete without dedicated bike lanes.”
For his part, Farrell said he now supports the plan, but remains concerned about left turn bays, which he believes will clog up traffic. “My concern as usual is creating bottle necks that create traffic jams,” he said. “The traffic patterns [will be] the same as they were in the past, but the streets [will] not.” But experience with other road diets shows that in addition to creating safer left turns, center turn lanes smooth traffic flow, since through traffic no longer has to weave around turning drivers.
While Farrell’s support is qualified, Guerrero said last week’s meeting demonstrated that strong support for traffic calming exists in the neighborhood, where 80 percent of residents do not own a car. It also showed that people want more from DOT than its typical road diet designs without bike infrastructure. “The whole process has shown DOT that if you include bolder ideas in your plans, more people will turn out in support of them,” Guerrero said.
Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the district, expressed strong support for the proposal. “It’s time to address this hazard on our community to prevent future tragedies,” he said. “I applaud DOT for conducting a transparent process and working together with the community to make it safer for everyone.”
Guerrero said he hopes the committee does not pass up on tonight’s opportunity to approve the proposal. “We’re going to try to do anything we can to get a vote out,” he said.