Even the most modest, common-sense street safety improvements can run into a brick wall at public meetings in New York City. The latest case in point: A DOT plan to improve pedestrian safety on two blocks of an extra-wide, low-traffic section of Lenox Avenue in Harlem, which became the subject of a two-hour Manhattan Community Board 10 committee meeting on Tuesday.The heart of the plan [PDF] covers Lenox Avenue between 145th Street and 147th Street, where the avenue ends. Currently, the street has two lanes in each direction with a wide striped median. DOT proposes converting the northbound half to one lane. Between 145th and 146th Streets, DOT would add a concrete median with parking on both sides. North of 146th Street, the concrete island would give way to a striped median next to the MTA’s Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot. The project would add five parking spots on these two blocks.
Meeting attendees said most of the nearly two dozen people at the hearing were residents of Esplanade Gardens, an apartment complex surrounded by surface parking lots on the east side of this stretch of Lenox Avenue.
“It basically seemed like everyone who was at the meeting was a driver. There were no pedestrians from Esplanade Gardens. It was incredible,” said one board member. “It’s very much a NIMBY thing.”
“They seem to be people who drive regularly, and seem to be concerned about the needs of drivers only,” said Abena Smith, president of the 32nd Precinct community council. “There were a few people in that room, and they’re not all representative of the entire community.”
Smith, who lives at 143rd and Lenox, sees the pedestrian safety benefits of the proposal, but said she could see why Esplanade Gardens residents might worry it would make traffic congestion worse, especially during game days at nearby Yankee Stadium.
She was not, however, impressed with the tenor of opponents at Tuesday’s meeting. “Many of the individuals that were there, there seemed to be a bit of a hostile feel directed towards DOT,” she said. “It was highly reactive, as opposed to someone having any suggestions.”