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Eyes on the Street: Carving Up Morningside Avenue for a Road Diet

After a breakthrough vote from Community Board 10 in May, DOT crews are out remaking 10 blocks of Morningside Avenue as a safer, calmer neighborhood street. This morning, @SteveMiami captured this circular saw operator at what looks like the moment of incision — the asphalt will be cut away to make room for a concrete pedestrian island.

An earlier photo of a pedestrian island outline from Transportation Alternatives’ Tom DeVito gives a nice sense of scale:

The Morningside project will trim the four-lane speedway down to two lanes plus center-median turn bays [PDF]. Pedestrian islands will be installed at four intersections where people cross the street to access Morningside Park entrances, and there will be several painted sidewalk extensions to demarcate expansions of pedestrian space.

Neighborhood residents had requested action from the city to tame dangerous speeding on Morningside, but the plan almost didn’t make it through the gauntlet of Community Boards 9 and 10. The May vote in favor of the project followed nine months of waffling.

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Seeking Safer Routes to Walk and Bike Across the Harlem River

Harlem residents point out how to improve safety on streets near the Harlem River Bridges on Saturday. From left: Abena Smith, president of the 32nd Precinct community council; community council vice president Sherri Culpepper; Louis Bailey of WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives; and Maria Barry, chair of Manhattan Community Board 10's Vision Zero task force. Photo: Stephen Miller

From left: Abena Smith, president of the 32nd Precinct community council; community council vice president Sherri Culpepper; Louis Bailey of WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives; and Maria Garcia, chair of Manhattan Community Board 10′s Vision Zero task force. Photo: Stephen Miller

Have you ever tried biking or walking across the Harlem River? Despite a plethora of bridges, walkers and bikers often face crossings and approaches that are confusing or downright hostile. A new campaign from Transportation Alternatives and local residents aims to focus DOT’s attention on making it safer for New Yorkers to get between the two boroughs under their own power.

There are 11 bridges connecting Manhattan and the Bronx, including the High Bridge. Nine currently have paths for pedestrians, though most are narrow, and cyclists are allowed to ride on only two of them. New Yorkers walking or biking on either side of the bridges have an even tougher time, penned in by the car-clogged Harlem River Drive and the Major Deegan Expressway. Nearby bike lanes are a hodgepodge with few clear, safe routes leading to the bridges.

On the East River, the city has built out bike routes on bridges and nearby streets, and bike ridership is climbing year after year. Organizers of the new campaign say it’s time for the Harlem River bridges to get the same attention to safety, and on Saturday they gathered for the first of three summer “street scans” to identify places where streets could be safer and easier to navigate.

“I’ve been saying for years that there should be bike lanes in Harlem, and there were none past 110th Street for many years,” said Sherri Culpepper, vice president of the 32nd Precinct community council.

It’s not just about biking for Culpepper, who also walks and drives in her neighborhood. She learned of Saturday’s event from the Manhattan Community Board 10 Vision Zero task force. “I was happy to see that there is an initiative to make the streets safer. Because we have kids that walk to the park by themselves; they go to the community rec centers,” she said. ”Drivers are just driving too fast in the community.”

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Manhattan Community Board 10 Votes for Morningside Safety Plan

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The redesign of Morningside Avenue will reduce chaotic driving patterns and add pedestrian islands and painted sidewalk extensions. Image: NYC DOT

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 10 approved the NYC DOT plan to add pedestrian islands and trim traffic lanes on 10 blocks of Morningside Avenue [PDF]. A concerted effort from neighborhood street safety advocates and local elected officials, including City Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat, helped overcome recalcitrance at CB 10, which dragged its feet for nearly a year before yesterday’s vote.

Currently, Morningside has two moving lanes in each direction, and with all that open asphalt, speeding is a major hazard. In response to a request from the North Star Neighborhood Association, DOT proposed a road diet between 116th Street and 126th Street last September. The plan follows a template that has proven effective at reducing speeding and preventing injuries, converting the four traffic lanes to two through lanes plus turning pockets and pedestrian islands at intersections.

While Community Board 9 supported the plan, CB 10 repeatedly put off a vote and nearly killed the project. Then came a breakthrough at the last CB 10 transportation committee meeting, when board chair Henrietta Lyle acknowledged, ”The community wants this. We may not want this, but we are going to support the community.”

Levine and Espaillat, whose support has been crucial, released a joint statement today hailing the impending implementation of the project:

“We are thrilled these lifesaving changes are now on track to move forward. With summer approaching and the school year almost finished, we need these safety measures in place as quickly as possible. There have been over 100 reported accidents in the past year alone and there will be more unless we act. DOT conducted an open, transparent process that gave our community ample opportunity to weigh in — and we’ve been able to achieve a broad community consensus that is the right approach.”

DOT told Streetsblog after the May transportation committee meeting that construction should begin next month.

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Select Bus Service Launches on 125th Street

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg speaks at today's event marking the launch of Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg speaks at today’s event marking the launch of Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Behind the podium are City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Mark Levine, Carmen Bianco of New York City Transit, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: Stephen Miller

On Sunday, Select Bus Service launched on a route that stretches from 125th Street in Harlem to LaGuardia Airport. Public officials marked the occasion — the first SBS route to debut during the de Blasio era — at a Harlem press conference today. With off-board fare collection and dedicated bus lanes (on part of the route), the upgrades will speed cross-town trips for 33,000 bus riders daily, on both the M60 SBS route and local routes that will benefit from the bus lanes only.

Not that long ago, it seemed like SBS on 125th Street might never happen. The bus lanes were originally planned to extend between Second and Morningside Avenues, but after State Senator Bill Perkins led objections to the planning process, the plan was scaled back, calling for bus lanes between Second Avenue and Lenox. The entire project appeared dead soon after, then was revived in October after closed-door meetings with Perkins and other erstwhile opponents.

At today’s press conference, elected officials made the case for extending the bus lanes west to Morningside.

“While it’s a fabulous day for East Harlem, it’s a slightly less wonderful day for Central and West Harlem, because a key feature of this route, which is the bus-only lane you see right here, stops — comes to an abrupt halt — at Lenox Avenue,” said Council Member Mark Levine. ”That’s simply not fair to residents in the western part of this wonderful street.”

Levine, whose call for extending the bus lane was echoed by State Senator Adriano Espaillat, said he hoped that it could be implemented as soon as this fall.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito thinks success on the initial segment will lead to westward expansion. “Once people start using this and really seeing the benefits, you’re going to start getting the support of people asking and clamoring for more,” she said. ”Some of us, we thought this wouldn’t move forward.”

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CBs Eye Safety Tweaks on 155th Street Through Denny Farrell’s Windshield

Today, a confusing flow of turning drivers puts pedestrians at risk at the intersection of 155th Street, St. Nicholas Place, and Edgecombe Avenue. Image: DOT

Today, a confusing flow of turning drivers puts pedestrians at risk at the intersection of 155th Street, St. Nicholas Place, and Edgecombe Avenue. Image: DOT

A dangerous Upper Manhattan intersection could get pedestrian safety upgrades [PDF], if three community boards can agree on a plan. Wednesday evening, DOT invited neighborhood residents and members of Community Boards 9, 10, and 12 to a meeting that resulted in some consensus, though implementation remains about a year away. As at last year’s meeting, however, the show was stolen by local Assembly Member Herman “Denny” Farrell, the powerful chair of the Ways and Means Committee, who critiqued the project from a windshield perspective.

The junction of 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway is a six-legged intersection with crosswalks that stretch up to 95 feet. With drivers coming from what can often feel like all directions, crossing the street is a challenge. From 2008 to 2012, there were 72 injuries at the intersection, including eight severe injuries. Three of the severe injuries were pedestrians; the remainder were motor vehicle occupants, according to DOT. In 38 percent of pedestrian crashes, the pedestrian was crossing with the signal.

Both former Council Member Robert Jackson and the 30th Precinct requested safety improvements, and DOT held site walk-throughs and meetings with the public in 2012 and 2013. DOT’s plan would add curb extensions at all six corners of the intersection and a concrete pedestrian island on the southern side of the intersection on St. Nicholas Place. It would also add up to four turn bans to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and turning drivers.

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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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Eyes on the Street: Select Bus Lanes Appear on 125th Street

Following the installation of off-board fare payment machines last month, Select Bus Service lanes are going in on 125th Street. Joseph Cutrufo of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign posted this pic on Twitter yesterday.

SBS lanes were originally intended to be installed between Morningside and Second Avenues, but DOT chopped off the bus lanes west of Lenox Avenue in response to protests from State Senator Bill Perkins and other electeds. After SBS goes live on 125th, the rest of the bus lane could be added, thanks to pressure from State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Council Member Mark Levine.

The tens of thousands of people who ride buses on 125th Street each day will see travel times improve, but not as much as they would without interference from Albany. State law restricts SBS camera enforcement to six routes, not including 125th Street, so it will be up to NYPD to keep drivers out of the new bus lanes.

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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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