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Riverdale Avenue Rumble: Bronx Pol Dinowitz Objects to DOT’s Move on ‘Road Diet’

12:01 AM EDT on March 25, 2022

Riverdale Avenue is so fat it needs to be put on a diet, says DOT. Photo: Google

A Bronx Council member is fighting a city proposal to calm traffic on an overwide, dangerous road in the northwest part of the borough — a proposal that has drawn support from a progressive candidate for state Senate.

Council Member Eric Dinowitz (D-Riverdale) greeted the Department of Transportation proposal for a "road diet" on a 20-block stretch of Riverdale Avenue — a six-lane strip cutting through quiet, verdant neighborhoods near the city line with Yonkers — with a broadside that accused the agency of bad faith and a lack of transparency in dealing with the local elected officials and Community Board 8.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Dinowitz — the scion of local political boss, Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz — criticized the DOT for allegedly showing its plans to an unnamed "unelected" civic group before it brought it to him and community board members, a move that he disparaged as "engaging in activism" and an effort to "drum up support" for the proposal that bypassed the "accountable" elected leadership.

But he told Streetsblog that he didn't oppose the measure outright, saying, "I'm not against the plan, because I don't know what it is."

Nonetheless, his public language was caustic.

"This effort to undermine what should be a good faith conversation about how to make our streets as safe as they can is unacceptable, and we are deeply perturbed that it may be an indicator of how the Bronx DOT intends to operate," Dinowitz huffed in the online missive, which he said represented his views and that of his father, longtime Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. "We demand better of the Bronx DOT," he added. He told Streetsblog, "A city agency should not be run this way," and accused the DOT of an "inappropriate ... exclusion" of the community board. (But the DOT is scheduled to present the plan to that very community board on March 31.)

The road diet is important to this small, pivotal and surprisingly deadly area of The Bronx. Dinowitz's District 11 has experienced 14,244 reported crashes in the past five years, which killed 14 motorists and 11 pedestrians and injured 4,533 people, according to city data. That's an average of almost eight crashes a day — more than its next-door-neighbor District 14 (13,999 in the same period), a much denser urban area that encompasses part of crash-magnet Fordham Road.

Riverdale Avenue — which begins in the flats of Kingsbridge and threads its way "up the hill" into Riverdale before disappearing under the Henry Hudson Parkway and re-emerging to the north — contributes its fair share of traffic violence to the district, including fatalities. The road diet reportedly would encompass the stretch between West 254th and West 263rd streets, which runs past P.S. 81 and the Salanter-Akiba-Riverdale High School as well as the Skyview Shopping Center, a hangout for local children with an ice-cream parlor, pizza place and other attractions. A number of express and local buses terminate at 263rd Street, the city line.

The city proposal gained the full-throated support, meanwhile, of another local politician who wants to represent the area. Christian Amato, a former staffer for State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx-Westchester), is vying to succeed her. (Biaggi is giving up her seat in order to run for Congress.) Amato likened the plan to a similar road diet the DOT proposed several years ago in The Bronx on Morris Park Avenue, to the east of Riverdale and Kingsbridge by Fordham University. That proposal drew a pitched response from then-Council Member Mark Gjonaj, who sued, but failed to stop the road diet.

"We cannot continue to treat street safety advocates as outsiders for supporting initiatives to make our roadways safer," Amato tweeted in response to the Dinowitz broadside. "Morris Park’s road diet has helped make our community safer & encouraged 16 new businesses to open!"

The Dinowitzes, both fils and pere, have arrayed themselves against some street-safety improvements while supporting others.

The younger Dinowitz — who won his post in a 2021 special election after a backroom deal elevated the former Council member, Andrew Cohen, to a judgeship — opposed a measure to add a rush-hour bus lane on Broadway in Kingsbridge. The proposal went nowhere, and local riders — among them, the poorest of his constituents — still suffer.

"Bronx buses are some of the slowest in the nation ... traveling at less than seven miles per hour; some routes are as slow as five mph in the peak travel periods," according to the MTA, which is seeking to revise the borough's bus network.

In a 2021 interview with Streetsblog, Dinowitz said the proposed bus lane on Broadway would have hurt small businesses because it would reduce parking, but that he liked the idea of a Broadway bike lane because it wouldn’t remove any motor vehicle lanes.

“In the Bronx, we don’t have streets like Columbus Avenue where it’s it’s five lanes of traffic and you put in a bike lane and it doesn’t really affect one’s ability to drive,” he said.

“I want to hear from the community members working together where they’d like to see bike lanes and what makes sense for the community,” he added. “And of course nobody is going to automatically agree with everyone else, but that’s why you have difficult conversations. And I don’t believe that bike lanes necessarily mean that you have to get rid of parking, and that you have to get rid of driving lanes.”

The elder Dinowitz, for his part, brought speed bumps to streets in some parts of the district. Yet he has been skeptical that the protected bike lane next to Van Cortlandt Park, a facility popular with both working and recreational cyclists, gets much use. As an Assembly member, he also engineered a carve out from congestion pricing for those who use the Henry Hudson Bridge. Both father and son have supported transit, especially accessibility.

The DOT, which declined to provide the proposal to Streetsblog but added the detail that it includes a bike lane, greeted the kerfuffle drily.

“The DOT is encouraged by the elected officials’ enthusiasm to review our proposal to improve safety along Riverdale Avenue," said spokesman Vin Barone. "We look forward to collecting feedback.”

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