Denny Farrell at Uptown Ped Safety Meeting: “I Drive Everywhere”

A DOT plan for a complex intersection on 155th Street includes three major components: 1) closing a "slip lane," 2) new pedestrian islands and curb extensions, and 3) "squaring off" crosswalks. Original image: Bing Maps

The intersection of 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway is a busy, complex web where pedestrians jockey with turning drivers to cross wide expanses of asphalt. DOT began studying the location after a request from Council Member Robert Jackson. A final design and community board review is months away, but at a meeting two weeks ago, DOT outlined some suggested fixes. Another notable development at the meeting: The Assembly member representing the area — Herman “Denny” Farrell, the powerful chair of the Ways and Means Committee — declared that he drives everywhere in his transit-dependent district.

Crash statistics for the intersection are relatively good, compared to other major intersections in the area. “Surprisingly, for the craziness of this intersection, these numbers are pretty low,” said DOT’s Kelly Yemen. However, 26 percent of crashes involve left-turning drivers, far higher than the Manhattan average of 10 percent. “It’s just a very wide-open intersection,” she told the audience of about 20 people.

Denny Farrell in his days on the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission. He was one of two commission members to vote against congestion pricing. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

“Not surprisingly, it’s failing. We can make it fail a little bit less,” said Sean Quinn of DOT’s pedestrian projects group.

DOT has not released a copy of the presentation at that meeting or its current proposal for the intersection, despite multiple requests from Streetsblog. As explained at the meeting, the plan includes three major changes to the intersection’s layout:

  1. Closing the Edgecombe Avenue slip lane: Currently, westbound drivers on 155th Street turning south on Edgecombe Avenue use a “slip lane,” making a left turn before the intersection and cutting across a triangle-shaped sidewalk on a short, one-lane roadway next to a heavily-used bus stop. DOT would close the slip lane and eliminate this turn, cutting down on conflicts between drivers and pedestrians. The left turn from westbound 155th Street to southbound St. Nicholas Place would also be eliminated.
  2. Adding pedestrian islands and curb extensions: In addition to the new pedestrian space created by the closure of the slip lane, the southern side of the intersection would also receive a curb extension on the triangle-shaped sidewalk between Edgecombe and 155th, as well as two pedestrian islands. One pedestrian island would be located between northbound and southbound traffic on St. Nicholas Place. The second would be carved out of what is currently open asphalt, forming the edge of a new right-turn and slip lane for drivers turning from eastbound 155th to southbound St. Nicholas Place. Other corners of the intersection, including the northeast corner, would receive smaller curb extensions.
  3. “Squaring off” the intersection’s crosswalks: Some of the intersection’s crosswalks are angled, lengthening crossing distances — currently 95 feet on the intersection’s southern side — and positioning pedestrians at locations where drivers are already beginning to speed up as they come out of a turn. This adds risk for pedestrians, especially on the intersection’s west side, crossing 155th Street, and on its southern side, crossing St. Nicholas Place. Both of these crosswalks will be “squared off” so they meet the intersection’s corners at 90-degree angles.

The proposal received a generally positive reaction from the audience, with Bernadette McNear, president of the Rangel Houses Resident Association, and Barbara Williams, president of the Polo Grounds Towers Resident Association, telling DOT that many of the proposals would make it safer for people going to and from the bus stops on 155th Street.

Most of the meeting’s question and answer session was dominated by Farrell, who represents a district where, according to 2009 Census data, 74 percent of households do not own a car. Farrell began with a simple statement about how he gets around the neighborhood. “I drive everywhere,” he said.

In fairness to Farrell, who came to embody the complete disconnect between state legislators and their transit-riding constituents during the fight over congestion pricing in Albany, his windshield perspective didn’t seem to lead him to oppose this project. Noting that the intersection handles a lot of through traffic between the Bronx and the rest of Manhattan, Farrell said that he is often worried about pedestrians when he drives through the intersection from Midtown.

Farrell also asked about possible adjustments to signal timing for drivers, explaining to DOT staffers that it can take a long time for drivers to begin moving after a light turns green. DOT staff said that because the intersection handles a high volume of traffic and has five legs instead of the typical four, there was little room for major changes to traffic lights, such as a dedicated or delayed left-turn signals.

The project can be implemented in phases, starting with flexible barriers to restrict turns and channelize traffic. Other components, such as concrete pedestrian islands, would take longer. DOT staff declined to provide a timeline at the meeting.

The intersection lies at the juncture of Community Boards 9, 10, and 12, and DOT is looking to make adjustments to the plan over the coming months before presenting it to the boards.