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DOT Now Reconsidering Morris Park Avenue Safety Redesign After Crazy Megaphone-Toting Mark Gjonaj Harassed a State Senate Candidate About It

The plan for Morris Park Avenue still includes a bike lane on both sides, but only for 13 blocks instead of the original 31. Image: NYC DOT

Will NYC DOT move forward with a much-needed redesign of Morris Park Avenue, or cave to Bronx Council Member Mark Gjonaj and the local sticks in the mud who oppose basic public safety upgrades? Opposition from Gjonaj has already prompted the agency to review the project, and DOT says it will present a modified version soon.

Last week, Gjonaj was caught on video harassing State Senate candidate Alessandra Biaggi, who is challenging incumbent Jeff Klein in District 34. As Biaggi and her staff ate at Patsy's Pizzeria on Morris Park Avenue, Gjonaj chanted "shame" like he was hurling abuse at Cersei Lannister walking through the streets of King's Landing.

What was Gjonaj so sore about? Well, aside from challenging Bronx machine stalwart and former IDC ringleader Klein, Gothamist reports that Biaggi has committed the offense of supporting the Morris Park Avenue redesign. Gjonaj was harassing Biaggi as part of a "protest" against the project organized in tandem with members of the Morris Park BID Association and the Morris Park Community Association, his chief of staff told Gothamist.

Here's what the Morris Park Avenue project would do: Between Adams Street and Newport Avenue, a little less than three miles spanning Van Nest and Morris Park, DOT plans to convert the street from two moving lanes in each direction to one motor vehicle lane and a painted bike lane in each direction, plus center turn pockets. A standard "road diet" in other words, with a few handy loading zones to help reduce double-parking.

Not only does the current design lead to excessive speeding, but because drivers waiting to turn left impede motor vehicle through traffic in the center lanes, it also leads to extraneous weaving and rushed turns. These are dangerous conditions: From 2010 to 2014, 367 people were injured on this stretch of Morris Park Avenue, including 23 severe injuries and one fatality, making it one of the more dangerous streets in the Bronx. Half of the 71 pedestrian injuries in the five-year study period were caused by motorists failing to yield, exactly the type of crash that the road diet is meant to prevent.

The road diet simply formalizes the fact that the center lanes already don't work for through traffic. With the redesign, left-turning drivers would no longer have other motorists bearing down behind them as they wait for a gap in oncoming traffic -- reducing the risk that they will rush the turn and strike people walking across the side streets. The painted bike lanes, while lacking protection and vulnerable to illegal parking, will at least impose a little more order than the current free-for-all.

DOT's redesign is the kind of basic, inexpensive project that prevents traffic injuries without altering how many motor vehicles the street can process in any significant way -- the bare minimum that responsible local governments should do to protect public safety. On a section of White Plains Road that intersects Morris Park Avenue, DOT implemented a similar road diet in 2014, which led to a 37 percent drop in traffic injuries and a slight decrease in motor vehicle travel times. Other Bronx road diets on Allerton Avenue and Burke Avenue have produced similar results, according to DOT.

But to hear Gjonaj and the rest of the road diet opponents tell it, making the street safer for everyone will somehow harm the hospitals and schools in the area.

In May, Community Board 11 sent a letter to DOT opposing the project. And Gjonaj, a lackey for some of the most reckless companies in NYC's notorious waste carting industry who quickly established himself as an exceedingly backwards council member on transportation and street safety issues, needed little prompting to go full tilt against it and harass Biaggi in the process.

Jeff Klein, meanwhile, is so close to the Morris Park Community Association that he secured $100,000 in public funds for the group to buy new patrol cars. Klein did not mention the Morris Park Avenue redesign in his Streetsblog candidate Q&A, and his office did not return phone or email queries today about his stance on the redesign.

Gjonaj and company might succeed in getting this safety project watered down. DOT first presented the redesign in February and has yet to commit to implementation. "DOT is still considering safety improvements along Morris Park Avenue, however due to community concerns we are currently modifying the plan," said a spokesperson. "We will return to the community board and elected officials with an updated proposal in the coming weeks."

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