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Harlem CB Chair Complains Bus Lanes Have Slowed Her Cab Rides to Subway

Manhattan Community Board 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle thinks bus lanes have made it harder to get around Harlem. In a conversation with Streetsblog, Lyle disputed our coverage of Select Bus Service on 125th Street and waved off data from the Census and NYC DOT. She also dismissed WE ACT for Environmental Justice, which had worked with bus riders to advocate for Select Bus Service, as “not talking to the community.”

Manhattan CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle. Photo: Stephen Miller

Manhattan CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle. Photo: Stephen Miller

“You made some comment about people in Uptown, we don’t drive, we don’t have cars. We do drive. I have a car. Come on,” Lyle told Streetsblog after Borough President Gale Brewer’s State of the Borough address on Sunday.

“I don’t know where your facts come from,” Lyle said. “I’m concerned.” The facts Streetsblog cites about neighborhood car ownership and travel habits come from the U.S. Census, whose surveys show that more than three-quarters of Harlem households are car-free.

Lyle said bus lanes have caused problems on her trips to the Lexington Avenue subway. “I do take cabs down 125th Street, and it now costs me two dollars more, and I have not made it yet to the station, and I have to get out and walk,” she said. Meanwhile, “that bus lane is empty.”

Instead of two lanes in each direction, with one often blocked by double-parked cars, most of 125th Street east of Lenox Avenue now has one general lane and one camera-enforced bus lane. DOT says eastbound taxi trips on 125th Street are now slightly faster than they were before the bus lane was installed, and either slightly slower or unchanged in the westbound direction [PDF]. Meanwhile, more than 32,000 people ride buses each day on 125th Street.

Lyle said she was not pleased when a DOT representative cited years of advocacy from Harlem residents looking for better bus service on 125th Street. “He said they had been working with our community for two years, and I asked them who,” she said. “It turns out he was working with WE ACT. That’s not talking to the community.”

Lyle is currently embroiled in a controversy over the validity of her election to the chairmanship last year. Appointed to CB 10 by the borough president at the recommendation of Council Member Inez Dickens, Lyle is up for reappointment by Brewer this year. Brewer’s decision is due by April 1.

Lyle is not alone in her windshield perspective at CB 10. Last week, the panel bucked two neighboring community boards and voted against a years-long effort to improve safety at one of Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections.

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UWS Residents to Brewer: No More Street Safety Obstructionists on CB 7

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, right, speaks with, from left, Mary Beth Kelly, Tom DeVito, and Dana Lerner before her State of the Borough address yesterday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, right, with Mary Beth Kelly, Tom DeVito, and Dana Lerner before her State of the Borough address yesterday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Will Gale Brewer reappoint noted street safety obstructionist Dan Zweig to Community Board 7? Families of traffic violence victims came to her State of the Borough address yesterday seeking an answer.

Protesters stood outside Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall with signs — “Gale, You Have the Power to Fix CB 7″ and “Lives Matter More Than Parking Spaces” — while handing out flyers to the borough’s politicos as they arrived for the speech.

The advocates, who included Dana Lerner, Mary Beth Kelly, and Sofia Russo — all of whom have lost family members to traffic violence — are asking for new leadership at the CB 7 transportation committee, which has been co-chaired by Zweig and Andrew Albert for at least 15 years. Over the years, Zweig and Albert have blocked or delayed several requests for traffic safety improvements on the neighborhood’s dangerous arterial streets.

Zweig is up for reappointment to the board this year. The decision to keep him on the board or not ultimately rests with Brewer.

On her way into the building, Brewer stopped and talked with the family members. “People are complaining about how nasty you are,” she told them. “I don’t mind meeting with you. I know what you want… We’ll talk. We’ll talk.”

“I’ve been called relentless, but not nasty,” Kelly said after Brewer left.

“She’s been a leader,” Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito said of Brewer. “An elected official can’t make a career of appointing people who have been disappointing communities for decades, and she knows that.”

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Who’s Against Better Sidewalks and Bus Stops? These People…

CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks and bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Some CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks at bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Bus bulbs are sidewalk extensions at bus stops that enable passengers to board without the driver pulling in and out of traffic. They save transit riders time, shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and keep sidewalks from getting cluttered by bus stop furniture. Who could be against that?

Well, on the Upper East Side, a few members of Manhattan Community Board 8 raised a stink Wednesday night about a plan to add bus bulbs to 86th Street. They were convinced bus bulbs would lead to gridlock and refused to believe a DOT analysis showing otherwise.

The plan from NYC DOT and the MTA to upgrade the crosstown M86 to Select Bus Service also calls for real-time bus arrival information kiosks and off-board fare collection, though not bus lanes. The line carries 25,000 riders daily — more passengers per mile than any other NYC bus route — and serves a neighborhood where about three out of every four households do not own a car. The plan would bring a combination of bus bulbs and neckdowns to the corners of Park, Lexington, and Third Avenues [PDF].

DOT first identified the M86 as a possible candidate for Select Bus Service in 2009, and approached CB 8 in 2012 about adding bus bulbs to 86th Street. At the time, the board didn’t object to the suggestion and, seeing that bus bulbs would provide space for off-board fare payment kiosks, asked for the machines [PDF 1, 2]. CB 7, which covers the M86 on the Upper West Side, followed suit and requested off-board fare payment in 2013.

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UWS Residents Silently Protest Manhattan CB 7 Inaction on Street Safety

[Last night, residents of the Upper West Side staged a silent protest at the general meeting of Manhattan Community Board 7, hoping to get the attention of a board that has repeatedly failed to take action on street redesigns proven to reduce injuries and deaths.

Local residents fighting for street safety improvements find themselves stymied year after year by CB 7 transportation committee chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, who are appointed to the board by local council members and the borough president. After the protesters left last night, Council Member Helen Rosenthal specifically thanked Albert and Zweig “for helping everything go by so smoothly this year,” referring to redesigns of local streets that the community board delayed acting on until several high-profile deaths made stasis untenable.

Lisa Sladkus, a co-founder of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, sent in this record of how street safety advocates have been repeatedly ignored and brushed aside by Zweig and Albert over the last eight years.

– Ben Fried]

Although the Upper West Side of Manhattan is a residential neighborhood, its streets are plagued with out-of-control traffic, resulting in hundreds of injuries and multiple deaths each year. Many of the crashes that occur in our district are preventable. By designing our streets to prioritize people instead of cars and trucks, we could make our neighborhood safer for everyone.

In 2007, a group of concerned citizens formed the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance (UWSSR) in an effort to take back our streets. This group worked to educate members of our community on the dangers of walking and biking in our district and pushed the community board to embrace the notion that we have a responsibility to provide a safe living environment for those who work, live, and commute through our district. At every juncture, the leadership of the transportation committee of Community Board 7 was indifferent or outright hostile to the expertise, hard work, and vision that the UWSSR had to offer.

The two co-chairs of the committee, Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, have stonewalled and sabotaged safety initiative after safety initiative. They have refused to engage or communicate with these community members and have worked to frustrate their efforts to make our streets safer. In doing so, it is our belief that they have also made the Department of Transportation less willing to work in our district. UWSSR brought these concerns to both elected officials and the leadership of CB 7, but the CB 7 tradition that committee chairs hold their seats for life has trumped safety and ethics concerns, and no action has been taken.

These failures to act have led to the continuation of the dangerous street conditions that plague the Upper West Side.

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Victims’ Families to Electeds: End the Obstruction of Safe Streets on the UWS

Council Member Mark Levine, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal can decide whether or not to reappoint longtime street safety foe Dan Zweig to Community Board 7. Photos: NYC Council

Years of frustration with the leadership of Manhattan Community Board 7 boiled over at a traffic safety forum on the Upper West Side last night. Twice during the event, neighborhood residents who lost family members to traffic violence called on elected officials not to reappoint Dan Zweig, who has co-chaired CB 7’s transportation committee for at least 15 years and blocked or delayed key street safety proposals.

Last night’s panel included Dana Lerner of Families For Safe Streets, whose son Cooper was killed by a turning cab driver last year. She told the audience she was shocked to learn after her son’s death that there were proposals from neighborhood groups to improve street safety — including for the block where Cooper was killed — that had failed to receive support from the community board. “When I found out about this, I was crushed. I was just crushed. I couldn’t understand,” she said. “All I could think was, if they had — if this had been looked at, might Cooper be alive? I always wonder that.”

After Cooper’s death, DOT implemented a road diet on West End Avenue, including pedestrian islands at the intersection where Cooper was killed. Lerner said neighbors ask her if she’s pleased to see the changes. “I don’t understand why it was my son’s death that made this happen,” she said. “Community Board 7, particularly Dan Zweig, was not receptive to the ideas of the community. And I feel that moving forward, we absolutely have to have people who are willing to listening to the community members.”

Zweig has a long history of stonewalling street safety projects. A redesign of Columbus Avenue added a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands, improving safety for all street users, including a 41 percent drop in pedestrian injuries. But Zweig, who had used parliamentary process to try to block the project, said he doesn’t trust DOT’s numbers and insists the street has become more dangerous.

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New Year, Same Old Community Board 10

Despite its successes, Select Bus Service on 125th Street still faces an uphill battle at Community Board 10.

Despite serving an area of the city where the vast majority of people don’t own cars, Manhattan Community Board 10 has delayed, watered down, or otherwise worked to foil several major projects to improve transit and street safety in the past few years. After obstructing 125th Street Select Bus Service and refusing to support traffic calming proposals for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, last year CB 10 finally voted for a road diet on Morningside Avenue (after months of cajoling by neighborhood residents). Was it the beginning of a new era for this notoriously change-averse community board?

Judging from a CB 10 transportation committee Tuesday night, the board is only taking baby steps at best. The committee heard a presentation on the dramatic improvements for bus riders on 125th Street, a message that was all but drowned out by shouts from opponents who never warmed to the project. Later in the meeting, CB 10’s rancor was on full display as it continued to stall a plaza and farmers market that has been awaiting support for years.

Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District (and not a member of the community board), remains unconvinced that better bus service is good for the neighborhood, even though SBS has not affected car speeds and the plan added 200 parking spaces along 124th and 126th Streets, as well as nine morning loading zones on 125th Street. “People are avoiding 125th Street,” she said. “That’s why you’re moving faster, because people don’t come to 125th Street anymore. How that’s affecting business, we don’t know, but we’re looking into that. We want to find a way to make it work.”

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents West Harlem, came to the meeting to voice his support for SBS and extending the bus lanes to his district. “The bottom line is that this is an overwhelmingly mass transit community… We’re bus riders, we’re subway riders, we’re walkers,” he said. “I’ve been inundated with questions from people saying Council Member Levine, why can’t we have a faster ride on all of 125th Street?”

While many people in the room were pleased that buses are moving faster, a regular cast of characters showed up to cast aspersions on Select Bus Service. Julius Tajiddin, who has agitated against street safety overhauls in the neighborhood, noted that there are no fare machines for riders going from the penultimate SBS stop at 116th Street to the end of the route at 106th Street. MTA staff said this is standard procedure, since it isn’t worth spending thousands of dollars on fare machines at the end of SBS routes when few riders make those end-of-line trips, but Tajiddin said it was discriminatory to have fare machines along lower-income sections of the route but not in wealthier neighborhoods.

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Bus Lanes Worked Wonders on East 125th. Now What About the West Side?

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, bus trips are now a third faster than before. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, transit speeds increased by a third. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Since debuting last year, Select Bus Service on 125th Street has dramatically improved transit speeds, especially on the section with dedicated bus lanes east of Lenox Avenue, according to NYC DOT and the MTA. The results strengthen the case for adding bus lanes west of Lenox, which DOT had scuttled in 2013 in response to resistance from local electeds. With more favorable politics prevailing today, the agency could revive bus lanes for West Harlem and greatly extend the impact of 125th Street SBS.

The improvement in bus service thanks to camera-enforced transit lanes, off-board fare collection, and other SBS features is impressive [PDF]. From end to end, the M60 bus from 110th Street to LaGuardia Airport now travels 11 to 14 percent faster than it did before. On 125th Street between Second and Lenox Avenues, the only part of 125th to receive dedicated bus lanes, the M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster, an improvement that MTA bus planner Evan Bialostozky called “shocking, to even me.”

The M60 isn’t the only route to benefit from the new bus lanes: Local bus trips on the M100 and Bx15 are 7 to 20 percent faster between Second and Lenox.

“That’s helping a lot of people,” Bialostozky told the Community Board 9 transportation committee last Thursday. Crosstown buses on 125th Street serve more than more than 32,000 riders every day. Before the dedicated transit lanes debuted last year, these routes had been among the city’s slowest buses, crawling through traffic and around double-parked cars.

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DOT Proposes Riverside Drive Traffic Calming, But Not Bike Lanes

Riverside Drive is getting a road diet and a 25 mph speed limit, but bike lanes? Fuhgeddaboudit. Image: DOT [PDF]

Riverside Drive is getting a road diet and a 25 mph speed limit, but bike lanes? Fuhgeddaboudit. Image: DOT [PDF]

Last night, DOT presented a plan to the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee that would bring pedestrian safety improvements and a road diet to Riverside Drive, but DOT is proposing no bike lanes for the popular cycling route [PDF].

The plan for Riverside Drive stretches from 116th to 135th Streets, which ranks in the top third of high-crash Manhattan corridors and was the site of 20 serious injuries from 2008 to 2012. Of those injuries, 19 were motor vehicle occupants and one was a pedestrian.

The average midday speed on the Riverside Drive viaduct in West Harlem is 36.5 miles per hour, according to DOT, with 75 percent of all drivers exceeding the street’s current 30 mph limit. Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal asked DOT last month to lower the speed limit on Riverside to the new citywide default of 25 mph [PDF]. The agency said last night that the speed limit on all of Riverside Drive will soon drop to 25 mph, with signals retimed to match the change.

The project also includes two blocks of 116th and 120th Streets between Riverside and Broadway. East of Broadway, 120th Street is already one lane in each direction and 116th Street is a pedestrian walkway on the Columbia University campus. Due to low traffic volumes, those two east-west streets will receive road diets, dropping them from two lanes in each direction to three, including a center turning lane with pedestrian safety islands. The road diet includes an extra-wide parking lane to provide breathing room for cyclists, but no bike lanes.

On 120th, four refuge islands would be installed — one each at Riverside and Broadway, plus two at Claremont Avenue — while on 116th, just two refuge islands would be installed at Riverside and Broadway, with none at Claremont to accommodate trucks that would be unable to turn around them.

An audience member suggested closing the curved “slip lane” from Claremont Avenue to 116th Street, but DOT said that roadwork would exceed the project’s budget. Instead, the department is proposing adding a sidewalk and parking to the eastern side of the triangle at 116th and Claremont. Parking would also be added to the southern side, though some residents worried it might impact visibility for drivers going from Claremont to 116th.

The plan as currently designed results in a net gain of six parking spaces, but some community board members wanted more. “We need to be finding extra spaces to take care of people who are not well enough off to have a garage and the luxury of a garage,” said CB 9 member Ted Kovaleff, who asked that DOT add angled parking to 116th and 120th Streets to squeeze in more cars. DOT project manager Dan Wagner explained that adding diagonal parking would mean there wouldn’t be space for pedestrian islands.

“Do you prefer more parking or do you prefer pedestrian safety? I think that’s the debate,” Wagner said.

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DOT Lincoln Square Plan Leaves Cyclists Knotted in Dangerous Bowtie Traffic

A DOT safety plan for streets near the Lincoln Square bowtie focuses mostly on pedestrians while leaving cyclists to mix it up with cars and trucks for five blocks near the complex crossing. The proposal, which includes expanded sidewalks, additional crosswalks, new turn restrictions, and a few bike lane upgrades, could be on the ground as soon as next summer.

A DOT proposal would nibble around the edges of the Lincoln Square bowtie to make this wide-open expanse more pedestrian-friendly. Photo: DOT

A DOT proposal would nibble around the edges of the Lincoln Square bowtie to make this wide-open expanse more pedestrian-friendly. Photo: DOT [PDF]

The plan [PDF], developed after a community workshop in June, was presented last night to dozens of Upper West Side residents who crowded into the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. While the proposals were generally well-received, many in attendance urged the city to do more, particularly for people on bikes. DOT staff were not receptive to extending the protected path through the intersection but said they will adjust the plan based on feedback, with hopes of securing a supportive vote from the board in January. Implementation would then be scheduled for sometime next year.

The intersection, where Columbus Avenue crosses Broadway and 65th Street, ranks as one of the borough’s most dangerous, according to crash data from 2008 to 2012. It is in the top five percent of Manhattan intersections for the number of people killed or seriously injured in traffic.

DOT’s proposal aims to reduce conflicts between drivers and pedestrians with turn restrictions and sidewalk extensions at key locations to create shorter, more direct crosswalks. The agency is also proposing to lengthen median tips and expand pedestrian islands in the bowtie. In places where it cannot use concrete due to drainage issues, DOT proposes adding pedestrian space with paint and plastic bollards.

One of the biggest changes: DOT is proposing a ban on drivers making a shallow left turn from southbound Columbus onto Broadway. The agency would add new crosswalks spanning Broadway on both sides of Columbus. With the turn ban, pedestrians and cyclists should not have to worry about drivers — except MTA buses, which are exempt from the restriction — cutting across their paths at dangerous angles.

Immediately south of the bowtie, DOT is proposing a ban on left turns from southbound Broadway onto eastbound 64th. This would allow the agency to fill the existing cut across the Broadway mall with a concrete pedestrian area. A smaller concrete curb extension would be installed on the west side of this intersection, at the northern tip of triangle-shaped Dante Park. A new crosswalk would also run across Broadway to the north side of 64th Street.

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Quorum or No, Astoria’s CB 1 Votes Against Three Livable Streets Projects

Astoria’s Community Board 1 rejected three livable streets projects Tuesday night, despite questions about whether the board even had enough members in attendance to take votes on the proposals.

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

The three projects — a short bus lane on Astoria Boulevard, concrete barriers to protect cyclists on Vernon Boulevard, and a bike corral in front of a restaurant — fell victim to what appears to be leadership biased against projects that improve conditions for bus riders and cyclists.

“It was just a big disappointment for us. I just don’t understand this mentality that cars and their owners are the only rightful users of street space,” said Jean Cawley, whose husband, Dominic Stiller, was seeking the board’s support for a bike corral to take the place of a car parking spot in front of his restaurant, Dutch Kills Centraal [PDF]. “They seem to me to vote down anything having to do with bicycle safety and infrastructure.”

“I was shocked at the negativity that many on the board displayed toward bikes,” said Macartney Morris, an Astoria resident who attended the meeting. “It seemed crazy that people would get upset about one parking spot.”

When Cawley spoke in favor of the bike corral on Tuesday night, CB 1 chair Vinicio Donato asked her questions about cyclists riding against traffic and running red lights. One board member compared Donato’s line of questioning to asking a liquor license applicant about alcoholism. “I don’t know why that had anything to do with me and the bike corral,” Cawley said. “They’re supposed to have some decorum but they don’t. I think it’s an abuse of process and an abuse of power.”

There were petitions both in support of the corral and against it, but Cawley and other meeting attendees said the board threw out supportive signatures from people who did not live within CB 1, including those from residents of nearby neighborhoods like Woodside or Jackson Heights.

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