Converting the left lanes of Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard into turn lanes would allow for the installation of median extensions at intersections, shortening crossings for pedestrians. Image: NYC DOT
After more than three years of delay and debate, safety improvements may finally be coming to one of Harlem’s deadliest avenues. Under a plan tentatively okayed by Manhattan Community Board 10’s transportation committee last night [PDF], Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard will get wider medians, shorter crossing distances, and narrower traffic lanes in an attempt to improve safety for all users of the street.
The need to redesign Adam Clayton Powell is pressing. Since 2006, ten people have been killed in traffic crashes on the boulevard, according to DOT, compared to two on nearby Frederick Douglass Avenue and three on Lenox Avenue. The victims, all pedestrians, were mostly senior citizens close to home. Their average age was 62, and nine of ten lived within a block of Adam Clayton Powell. “Seniors are tough and resilient,” said DOT Planning and Operations Coordinator Naomi Iwasaki, “but we all know they’re our most vulnerable street users.”
The problem is rampant speeding. During the morning rush hour, the average speed on the street is 36.8 miles per hour heading southbound and 39 miles per hour northbound, according to DOT Bike Program Coordinator Hayes Lord. After 8:00 p.m., when traffic is lighter, average speeds spike to 52 and 49 miles per hour: highway speeds on a neighborhood street, far exceeding New York City’s 30 mph limit. The speeds reflect the interstate-like design of the street — three 12-foot wide moving lanes in each direction.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard is a deadly speedway with lanes wide enough to meet standards for interstate highways. Under a DOT proposal, the lanes would be narrowed and the medians extended to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.
In response, DOT proposed converting the left-most lane in each direction, where most of the deadly crashes took place, to left turn lanes. At intersections, this would free up space for pedestrian medians to be widened with paint and planters or flexible posts, reducing crossing distances. And by moving through traffic out of the left lane, the change is expected to reduce dangerous weaving and help prevent the most common kind of crash on the boulevard, rear-end collisions.
Where drivers can’t make left turns because of one-way cross-streets, pedestrian space can be extended on both sides of the median using the same materials. This would further shorten crossing distances at those intersections, a particular boon for the large number of seniors and children who live in the neighborhood.
At all intersections, the paint-and-planters treatment would be used to extend the median into the intersection, providing more protection for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Traffic lanes would be narrowed to 10 feet for left-turning traffic and 11 feet for through traffic.