#StuckAtDOT: Six Years Later, City May Give Harlem Pedestrians Some Relief … On One Block

Virtually all the space on E. 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the East River Plaza Mall is set aside for cars, even though walkers often outnumber vehicles. Photo: Google
Virtually all the space on E. 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the East River Plaza Mall is set aside for cars, even though walkers often outnumber vehicles. Photo: Google

A six-year-old request for a sidewalk extension on a single Harlem block — where pedestrians sometimes outnumber cars three to one — looks like it is finally moving forward.

On Sept. 7, Department of Transportation reps presented to Manhattan Community Board 11 the agency’s long-awaited plans to expand the sidewalk on East 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the East River Plaza Mall, which starts around the halfway point between Pleasant Avenue and the FDR drive — roughly six years after the request was made to give pedestrians more space around the high-trafficked area.

In 2015, years after the East River Plaza Mall opened in 2009, DOT says it began discussions with the local council member — now Council Member Diana Ayala — around expanding just 350-feet of the East 117th Street sidewalk in order to accommodate the increase in pedestrians going to and from a popular shopping center anchored by Target, Costco, Burlington Coat Factory, Aldi and Marshalls. Ayala’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The tiny block on which DOT will expand the sidewalk, six years later. Source: NYC DOT
The tiny block on which DOT will expand the sidewalk, six years later. Source: NYC DOT

But in the six years since, nothing has been done — and since 2015, there have been a total of 82 crashes along that one stretch, causing 17 injuries, including to one cyclist and nine pedestrians — one of whom was severely injured in 2018, DOT says.

Now, that portion of one-way East 117th Street has 10-foot and 11-foot sidewalks with two travel lanes and two largely ignored no-standing lanes. And its current configuration means that despite making up 77 percent of road users, pedestrians get just 36 percent of the streetscape, while cars account for 64 percent of the streetscape despite comprising just 23 percent of road usage, according to DOT.

During the evening rush, there are more than 1,200 pedestrians and just 353 cars, the agency says.

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E. 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the East River Plaza Mall. Source: Google Maps
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E. 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the East River Plaza Mall. Source: Google Maps

To give pedestrians more space, DOT now wants to expand the sidewalk by nine-feet on the north curb by turning the two travel lanes into one with a left-turn only lane, and just one curbside no-standing lane for pick-ups and drop-offs, according to DOT’s presentation. The proposed changes will increase sidewalk space by 15 percent and even out the mode share, by giving pedestrians will 51 percent of the space, and cars 48 percent.

DOT plans to expand the sidewalk on E. 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the mall. Source: NYC DOT
DOT plans to expand the sidewalk on E. 117th Street between Pleasant Avenue and the mall. Source: NYC DOT

“The safe movement of pedestrians is a key element of Vision Zero,” said a spokesperson for DOT, who could not say when work would start. “At this location, pedestrians account for 77 percent of the road users — warranting the need for a sidewalk extension.”

Elsewhere in Manhattan, pedestrians will also get more space along a busy Midtown corridor near Grand Central Terminal. DOT says it will take a lane away from cars in order to expand the sidewalk on Lexington Avenue between 42nd and 51st streets.

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