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Two of the Most Dangerous Streets in Queens Set for Safety Upgrades

DOT is proposing nine new pedestrian islands on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, including a few with left-turn bans. Photo: DOT

DOT proposes nine new pedestrian islands on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights. Photo: DOT

DOT has proposed concrete safety improvements for Northern Boulevard and Broadway, two of the most dangerous streets in Queens. If supported by Community Boards 2 and 3 next month, the projects could be implemented by the end of the year.

On Northern Boulevard between 63rd and 103rd Streets, DOT has proposed adding nine pedestrian islands in the existing striped median [PDF]. Currently, there are five islands in this 40-block, 1.8-mile stretch, which ranks in the most dangerous 10 percent of Queens streets.

Since 2008, there have been three pedestrian fatalities on this part of Northern Boulevard, including Olvin Jahir Figueroa, age 3, and Miguel Torres, age 11. A DOT study of the intersection with 61st Street showed that a third of all pedestrians at the intersection are school-aged children. The street is 70 feet wide, which is difficult to navigate for people who can’t walk fast. In 46 percent of crashes that injured pedestrians, the victim was crossing with the signal.

Four of the nine new islands, at 75th, 78th, 96th, and 102nd Streets, will include left turn bans. DOT has already installed similar pedestrian islands and turn bans at Northern Boulevard and 61st Street, where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed by an unlicensed truck driver making a left turn last December. Nahian was walking to PS 152, where Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Vision Zero agenda in January.

DOT presented the plan to Community Board 3′s transportation committee last Tuesday. Committee members were generally receptive and urged DOT to do more, including adding more trees and greening, according to Make Queens Safer, which has been campaigning for a safer Northern Boulevard. Some of the islands will have trees, while underground utilities in some locations prevent trees from being planted.

“Northern Boulevard still has a lot of complex problems that remain unaddressed,” Make Queens Safer said in a statement. “The city should do everything in its authority to create a more comprehensive transformation of this outmoded highway into a model design for arterial roads.”

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CB 6 Joins Council Members Calling for a Safer Queens Boulevard

The loss of life along Queens Boulevard, which functions like a highway running through Queens, is horrific. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In a unanimous vote last week, Queens Community Board 6 passed a resolution [PDF] asking DOT for a complete redesign of Queens Boulevard to improve street safety. The board is the first along the infamous “Boulevard of Death” to request the study, joining a united front of City Council members.

On May 3, Rosa Anidjar, 83, was killed on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park. Now, that neighborhood's CB 6 is the first to ask DOT for a safer street design. Photo via DNAinfo

On May 3, Rosa Anidjar, 82, was killed on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park. Photo via DNAinfo

“Our board, like all of the other boards and electeds, is saying to the Department of Transportation, let’s take a closer look at this,” said Frank Gulluscio, district manager of CB 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park. “They’ve tried to do some stuff, but more needs to be done.”

For years, the city has made incremental changes to Queens Boulevard, but it remains one of the borough’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians. The most recent victim was Forest Hills resident Rosa Anidjar, 82, who was struck and killed on Queens Boulevard at 71st Avenue while walking home from synagogue on May 3.

Advocates for a safer Queens Boulevard, led by volunteers with Transportation Alternatives, first spoke with CB 6 about a resolution last month, and were given a chance to present to the full board on May 14. TA volunteers Peter Beadle and Jessame Hannus made the case for the redesign.

Beadle is also a member of CB 6′s transportation committee. “Having Peter on the board was a huge asset,” Hannus said. “It facilitated the whole process.”

Another boost came from Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whose district covers Rego Park and Forest Hills. In February, she and Council Members Elizabeth Crowley, Daniel Dromm, Rory Lancman, and Jimmy Van Bramer wrote a letter to DOT asking for a safety overhaul of Queens Boulevard [PDF].

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In Harlem, Bradhurst Plaza Supporters Struggle to Change Status Quo

Bradhurst Plaza would turn a dangerous slip lane into a new public space. Image: Harlem CDC [PDF]

Manhattan Community Board 10′s transportation committee ended months of foot-dragging this week by backing a road diet for Morningside Avenue in Harlem. It’s not quite a brand new day at CB 10 though: A community effort to convert a short, irregular block into a public plaza still has an uphill climb at the Harlem board. While there’s a substantial local coalition backing the project, a cadre of outspoken opponents use the existing street as a drop-off zone for their apartment building and don’t want to see any changes.

The intersection of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Macombs Place near 150th Street is a tricky place to walk. Drivers heading north on Frederick Douglass can veer right, making a high-speed turn onto Macombs Place. Walking across the street is risky: The long, low-visibility intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk and is usually clogged with illegally parked cars. Within one block of the plaza site, there were 30 collisions resulting in five injuries from August 2011 to June 2013, according to NYPD data compiled by plaza advocates.

The effort to bring a plaza to the space is led by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, HERBan Farmers’ Market, the Bradhurst Merchants Association, and Harlem Community Development Corporation, a unit of Empire State Development.

They have gathered nearly 300 signatures for the plaza and secured support for their application to DOT’s plaza program from, among others, Bethany Baptist Church, the Polo Grounds Towers Resident Association, Council Member Inez Dickens, former Council Member Robert Jackson, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Transportation Alternatives, and Harlem Hospital Center [PDF].

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Morningside Ave. Road Diet Set for July After CB 10 Chair Urges Support

After nine months of foot-dragging, CB 10 is on track to support a traffic calming plan requested by community residents. Image: DOT

With new, clear marching orders from chair Henrietta Lyle after nine months of stalled deliberations, Community Board 10′s transportation committee voted unanimously last night to support a road diet plan [PDF] for a speeding-plagued stretch of Morningside Avenue. Pending expected support from the full board next month, DOT is scheduled to implement the safer street design in July.

Previously, the board’s transportation committee, which has been sitting on the plan since last September, had refused to support anything that included a reduction in the number of car lanes, because some members opposed other road diets on Mount Morris Park West and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. The local residents who had requested the safety fixes gathered 1,000 petition signatures and the backing of neighborhood schools, churches, and community groups, and last night they finally had a breakthrough at the committee.

Board member Daniel Land Parcerisas introduced a resolution that expressed concern about road diets while supporting the plan for Morningside Avenue. “It’s really about time. We’ve dragged our feet way too long on this issue,” he said. Despite his plea, the committee’s discussions took a familiar turn as board members opposed to the road diet suggested non-starters like speed humps instead and raised questions that had been addressed months ago.

Frustration mounted among the plan’s supporters. “If you don’t pass this plan, you’re doing nothing,” said Jonathon Kahn, a steering committee member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, which requested safety fixes from the city. ”DOT will not put in speed bumps across a four-lane road. So for anyone to continue to ask for something that DOT will not do and cannot do, is to do nothing.”

Soon afterwards, Lyle walked in and seated herself. “We really need this to pass tonight,” she told the committee. “The community wants this. We may not want this, but we are going to support the community.”

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As CB 10 Dithers, Espaillat and Levine Urge DOT to Act on Morningside Ave.

While Manhattan Community Board 10 refuses to endorse pedestrian safety improvements for Morningside Avenue in Harlem, two lawmakers are urging DOT to move forward.

Adriano Espaillat and Mark Levine

Adriano Espaillat and Mark Levine

After sending a similar letter in January, State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Council Member Mark Levine wrote DOT again this week [PDF] to praise the agency’s plan for a Morningside Avenue road diet, and to ask Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to “take immediate steps toward implementation.”

As we approach summer recess, we are increasingly concerned about the potential for children to be put in harm’s way. This community should not have to wait any longer for these common sense improvements, which have received overwhelming public support including from North Star Neighborhood Association, Friends of Morningside Park, Community Board 9 and over 1,000 local residents.

We thank you again for the substantial number of opportunities for public comment that have been held on this proposal, and the design changes that have been made as a result of broad community consensus. We are confident that DOT has adequately answered each of [the] concerns raised in the community over the course of the last year.

Developed last year at the behest of local residents, the proposal aims to reduce speeding on Morningside by converting it from four to two through lanes, with a center median and concrete pedestrian islands, from 116th to 126th Street. It was endorsed by Community Board 9 in November, but CB 10 members who oppose reducing the number of car lanes have waylaid the project. Meanwhile, DOT is developing an alternate plan in response to CB 10′s objections.

The CB 10 transportation committee, where the road diet plan has languished since last September, will meet tonight. With Espaillat and Levine again weighing in, a strong showing from residents who want to see a safer Morningside Avenue could help propel the road diet proposal out of committee once and for all. Tonight’s meeting starts at 6:30 in the third floor conference room at 215 W. 125th Street.

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Manhattan CB 10 Continues to Oppose Safety Overhaul for Morningside Ave

Wednesday night, Manhattan Community Board 10 in Harlem continued to obstruct a street redesign that could save lives. A safety overhaul for speeding-plagued Morningside Avenue, requested by local residents and developed by DOT, has been stalled as the board refuses to back any plan that includes a reduction in the number of car lanes. In a near-repeat of a board meeting in February, CB 10 sent the issue back to committee, where it has languished since last September. Meanwhile, the board has established a Vision Zero task force, even as it opposes street safety measures.

The Morningside Avenue stalemate continues at CB 10. Photo: DOT

The Morningside stalemate continues at CB 10. Photo: DOT

Key board members are convinced that road diets on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Mount Morris Park West have been failures. Last night, CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle described those streets as having “extreme problems” and “hazardous conditions” as a result of the road diets. In fact, a study of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard found that speeding was reduced, travel times improved, and crashes dropped by nearly one-third after the road diet was implemented [PDF].

Lyle claims that she wants DOT to move ahead with improvements for Morningside Avenue, just not the plan that’s on the table. “We need them to take some action now,” Lyle said. “We don’t want DOT to use anyone as a scapegoat for why they’re not fixing the problem.”

The problem is that the board has ruled out the kind of redesign that has been proven to prevent injuries and save lives on similar streets. CB 10 wants speed humps and traffic signals, not a road diet. DOT says the road is too wide for speed humps and traffic volumes too light to justify traffic signals – which can make a street more dangerous anyway.

Community Board 9, which also includes Morningside Avenue, has already backed the road diet plan, but DOT is bending to CB 10′s opposition and developing an alternative plan to be presented in the coming months.

“An alternative plan that doesn’t include lane reductions, doesn’t include traffic lights, and doesn’t include speed humps? Sure, I’d like to see that,” said road diet supporter Elise Merrow, who lives on 114th Street near Manhattan Avenue and along with her neighbors has gathered more than 1,000 signatures from neighborhood residents calling for the road diet.

CB 10 is not monolithic. While the stalemate continues on street safety redesigns, a Vision Zero task force is taking shape within the board, comprised of the heads of the health, transportation, education, economic development, land use, and housing committees.

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With Key Positions Unchanged, CB 7 Still Puts Parking Above All [Updated]

To Manhattan CB 7, these free parking spots make all the difference. Image: Google Maps

To Manhattan CB 7, these free parking spots make all the difference. Image: Google Maps

New term, same old Manhattan Community Board 7.

On Tuesday, the Upper West Side board voted against a proposal to remove a handful of parking spaces on Central Park West at W. 106th Street, where cars sit in front of the park’s Strangers Gate entrance.

A source tells Streetsblog that the resolution, which was more than a year in the making, would have “afford[ed] an unobstructed view of the entrance, as is already the case with all the park’s other entrances.”

“Several board members expressed considerable concern over the loss of free parking and co-chair Dan Zweig spoke twice against the proposal,” the source said.

Also on Tuesday, the board recommended against a City Council bill that would suspend or revoke TLC licenses of cab drivers who are summonsed or convicted, respectively, of traffic violations following crashes that result in critical injury or death. The bill was proposed after 9-year-old Cooper Stock was killed by a cab driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk. DNAinfo reports:

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City Council Reso Calls for Community Board Term Limits and Transparency

A resolution brewing in the City Council recommends major reform for community boards.

Ben Kallos. Photo: NYC Council

Ben Kallos. Photo: NYC Council

Introduced by freshman City Council Member Ben Kallos, the reso calls for board members to serve a maximum of five consecutive two-year terms, and for unspecified term limits for board and committee chairs. It also recommends a transparent appointment process and highly publicized, multi-pronged recruitment efforts.

This would mark a dramatic shift from current practices, where board members can be appointed for life and borough presidents often refuse to discuss how they are chosen.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and served on Manhattan Community Board 8, based the resolution on his policy report, “Improving Community Boards in New York City.” The report recommends a standardized application process that would require reappointment applications and put an end to “automatic reappointment.” Employees of elected officials and executive committee members of political parties would be excluded from board membership.

The resolution calls for an “independent screening panel” for all boroughs, modeled on an existing Manhattan panel put in place by Scott Stringer. Stringer’s successor Gale Brewer enlisted community groups to screen some 600 applicants, including long-time board members, for her first round of appointments this year.

Though community board votes are technically advisory, DOT will generally not implement significant street redesigns without their endorsement. Community boards have a mixed record on street safety, and some board members appear to be reflexively resistant to life-saving street designs, regardless of public support or DOT data. An infusion of members whose priorities go beyond maintaining free on-street parking would be a refreshing change for many boards across the boroughs. More broadly, these reforms would ideally result in boards that more accurately reflect evolving demographics.

Of course, some are content with the status quo. “Our office will not be supporting this resolution,” said a spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “In fact, our office feels that this resolution is not necessary.”

“At this point, I’d like reform to be voluntary,” Kallos told the Queens Chronicle. At this writing the resolution is sponsored by an array of council newcomers and heavy-hitters: Brad Lander, Jimmy Vacca, Mark Levine, Danny Dromm, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso, Ydanis Rodriguez, Debi Rose, Ritchie Torres, and Peter Koo.

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Brooklyn Parking Preservation Board Votes Down Bike Corrals

Brooklyn Community Board 1 has had enough of the “war on cars,” and they’re taking it out on pedestrians, cyclists, and local businesses.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The Brooklyn Paper reports that four Williamsburg shops want bike corrals, to provide room to park bikes while keeping sidewalks clear. “We believe it is our responsibility to beautify the area,” said Jason Merritt, co-owner of Tutu’s, a Bogart Street bar. “And it is beneficial to businesses to have safe bike parking that is not on street signs and posts.”

But CB 1 member Simon Weiser, for one, isn’t having it. “Enough is enough,” said Weiser. “They can put it on the sidewalk and stop taking away car parking spaces. We need to keep the parking we have.” As if these four spaces will have any effect in a district with thousands and thousands of on-street parking spots.

You might remember Weiser from 2008, when he was a go-to bike lane critic during the Kent Avenue redesign fracas. Well, now he and CB 1 have drawn a line in the sand. They rejected all four corrals by a vote of 12-7.

Board members who voted against the corrals argued that there is plenty of room on sidewalks for bike parking and that their turf has lost too many parking spaces to the CitiBike bike-share program and the planned de-mapping of Union Avenue in the middle of McCarren Park, which is meant to make the greensward more pedestrian-friendly. Parking is now more difficult than it was a few years ago, Weiser argued.

So, North Brooklyn might have lost out on nicer sidewalks (DOT could overlook this vote) thanks to a few people in a position of power who think curbside car parking is scarce because there’s not enough of it. Not because it’s, you know, totally free.

“It is worrying and confusing to me that any community board would side against alternative transportation and neighborhood beautification,” said Merritt. More than that, CB 1 has sided against anyone whose highest priority isn’t securing on-street parking for their car.

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Brewer: I Won’t Remove Community Board Members Who Impede Safe Streets

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says she does not intend to remove community board members who stand in the way of transit improvements and projects that would make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. She expects new appointments to sway older members and make the case for street redesigns.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council

Brewer hosted a small group of Manhattan web journalists Thursday for an informal interview at her downtown office. She said that for her first round of community board appointments, her staff and a panel of representatives from non-governmental organizations vetted 600 applicants, including long-time board members.

As in other boroughs, Manhattan community boards have a mixed record on street safety. Though their votes are technically advisory, as a rule DOT will not add bike lanes or pedestrian islands, or make other improvements, without an endorsement from the local board.

Recently, Community Board 10 in Harlem has succeeded in stalling safety fixes for Morningside Avenue, and contributed to delaying Select Bus Service on 125th Street. If it would make life better for people who walk, bike, or take the bus, it’s a pretty safe bet Manhattan CB 10 won’t like it.

Community Board 11′s Erik Mayor and Frank Brija waged a misinformation campaign against proposed safety measures for First and Second Avenues in East Harlem in 2011, leading the board to temporarily rescind its support for the project. Brija is still on the board.

On the Upper West Side, CB 7 is notoriously slow to sign off on changes, dithering over whether life-saving street designs should be implemented regardless of public testimony and DOT data.

Brewer was generally a reliable voice for livable streets on the City Council, and she’s already asked Manhattan CBs to identify dangerous locations in their districts. Streetsblog asked yesterday how she plans to deal with boards that impede safer streets and transit upgrades. Here’s her reply:

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