Morningside Avenue Traffic Calming Awaits Support From Two Harlem CBs

The plan for Morningside Avenue would add pedestrian islands, left turn lanes, wider parking lanes, and reduce the number of through lanes from two in each direction to one. Image: DOT

From 116th Street to 126th Street, Morningside Avenue is known as a speedway between Harlem’s residential streets to the east and Morningside Park to the west. A traffic calming plan from DOT [PDF] now waits while Community Boards 9 and 10 weigh in. Transportation committees of both boards received presentations from DOT, followed by question-and-answer sessions, but so far, there have been no resolutions advanced from the boards and Council Member Inez Dickens remains supportive of traffic calming in concept but noncommittal about the proposal on the table.

The plan, developed after the North Star Neighborhood Association was unsuccessful in winning a Slow Zone for a larger section of the neighborhood, would transform the avenue from two lanes in each direction to a narrower single lane in each direction, with a center striped median that would include concrete pedestrian islands and left turn lanes. Parking lanes would be widened, creating space for cyclists and double-parked drivers. At park entrances, DOT is proposing painted curb extensions on the west side of the avenue in the parking lane.

The border between Community Boards 9 and 10 runs down the middle of Morningside Avenue from south to north until 123rd Street, at which point CB 9 jogs east by one block to St. Nicholas Avenue and continues north. Within this area covered exclusively by CB 9, the plan includes changes to Hancock Place, a diagonal that crosses Morningside between 125th and 124th Streets, with a new pedestrian signal and crosswalk, left turn lanes, and curb extensions.

Although those changes are beyond CB 10′s borders, that didn’t stop committee members and the public from debating their merits at Wednesday’s meeting. DOT noted that the block serves as many pedestrians as it does drivers (about 500 during the peak evening hour), and that pedestrians looking to continue along 125th Street deserve a safe crossing.

The plan was presented to CB 9′s transportation committee last week. Although the committee did not advance a resolution, advocates say they expect the full board to come out in support during its next meeting on September 19, and they hope to use CB 9′s resolution as a model for CB 10. The next CB 10 full board meeting is October 2; the next transportation committee meeting is scheduled for October 9.

The plan is similar to treatments already in place on Macombs Road in the Bronx and on St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, which has bike lanes but no pedestrian islands. There are also some similarities to the traffic calming plan for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

CB 10, which, along with Sen. Bill Perkins, marshaled opposition to Select Bus Service on 125th Street, dragged its feet on traffic calming for Adam Clayton Powell, which DOT implemented in two phases without a resolution from the board. Board members Wednesday night expressed dissatisfaction with the changes to Adam Clayton Powell.

Advocates said after the meeting on Wednesday that they understand DOT is unlikely to move forward on Morningside without board support. CB 10′s transportation committee asked DOT for additional traffic and quality-of-life complaint data from similar traffic calming projects, which the agency said it could provide.

Council Member Inez Dickens, who currently represents most of the project area, is purportedly in favor of traffic calming on Morningside, but her office would not back DOT’s plan. “For a number of years there has been a problem with speeding vehicles in that area,” said Lermond Mayes, Dickens’s district office director, adding that the issue is of particular concern for children, parents, and seniors. “She’s supportive of safety measures. We haven’t exactly seen how effective it will be,” Mayes said, claiming that other traffic calming measures in Harlem have led to congestion. “You also end up creating obstructions to traffic flow,” he said. “To hear from her boards is very helpful.”

Streetsblog also inquired with Council Member Robert Jackson and Mark Levine, who won the Democratic primary for Jackson’s redistricted seat, which will include a larger share of the project area than Jackson currently represents. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.