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Posts from the Harlem Category

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Harlem Bus Lane Foes: Good Streets for Bus Riders “Trampling Our Liberties”

Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Camera-enforced bus lanes have trampled on the freedom to double-park on 125th Street. Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Community board meetings in central Harlem have officially gone off the deep end.

A DOT plan to extend bus lanes and add turn restrictions on 125th Street was shouted down last night by the same hecklers who have filibustered street safety improvements at Community Board 10 for years. Noticeably absent from last night’s meeting: People who ride the bus on 125th Street.

Bus lanes on 125th Street have already sped up bus trips east of Lenox Avenue. Extending them west to Morningside Avenue would spare tens of thousands of bus riders from getting stuck in traffic. Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the western end of 125th, is a big backer of the bus lanes, while Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents the middle section of the street and is closely tied to CB 10, is not.

Last night’s ridiculousness crescendoed when onetime City Council candidate and regular community board attendee Julius Tajiddin channeled Patrick Henry to make his case against dedicating street space to bus riders. “Your progress is trampling on our liberties,” he said. “Give us freedom!” The three-quarters of Harlem households who don’t own cars probably have a different take on “freedom” than Tajiddin.

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle nodded in agreement. “It’s a lack of respect… It’s almost like the project is going to go with or without our approval,” she said earlier in the meeting. “It doesn’t take into consideration the cars, the trucks, the tour vans on 125th Street.”

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said that while DOT intends to expand bus lanes this summer, it is willing to make tweaks in response to CB 10’s concerns. For example, she said, the agency had already removed proposed left turn bans at St. Nicholas Avenue, and is willing to toss out additional turn restrictions if CB 10 makes even an informal request.

MTA officials had less patience for last night’s nonsense. “Freedom is the ability to get across 125th Street 33 percent faster on a bus,” said Evan Bialostozky, senior transportation planner at MTA New York City Transit.

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Bus Lanes Coming to 125th Street in West Harlem This Summer

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West of Lenox Avenue, there are no bus lanes on 125th Street. DOT plans to change that this summer. Photo: josepha/Flickr

Bus riders may not be stuck in crosstown traffic on 125th Street much longer. DOT plans to extend bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Morningside Avenue this summer [PDF].

The news came last night at a meeting of the Community Board 9 transportation committee. “As far as CB 9 is concerned,” said board chair Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, “I didn’t hear anything that made me think that we should not support the plan.”

Bus lanes on 125th have been held in check by years of political wrangling. But Council Member Mark Levine campaigned on moving forward with them, and his election in 2013 was a breakthrough for the project.

“I think we have great local support and a great need,” Levine said last night, adding that buses “crawl” once the bus lane disappears in West Harlem. “It’s just a great win for people in the community.”

On the section of 125th Street that already has camera-enforced bus lanes and off-board fare collection, the changes have worked wonders for bus riders. The M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster between Lenox and Second Avenue. Local buses have also sped up between 7 and 20 percent in the bus lanes.

Meanwhile, local buses in West Harlem, which doesn’t yet have bus lanes, have actually slowed slightly between Lenox and Amsterdam Avenues, said Robert Thompson, the MTA’s manager of long-range bus service planning.

While they’ve sped up buses, the new bus lanes haven’t affected car traffic. GPS data from taxis show that eastbound driving trips on 125th are generally faster, while westbound trips have either slowed slightly or not seen any change, according to DOT.

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Bus Driver Hits Woman at Intersection Where CB 9 Opposes Safety Fixes

A DOT proposal opposed by Manhattan CB 9 would slow turns at Riverside Drive and W. 135th Street, where a bus driver hit a pedestrian Thursday. Image: DOT

A DOT proposal opposed by Manhattan CB 9 would slow turns at Riverside Drive and W. 135th Street, where a bus driver hit a pedestrian Thursday. Image: DOT

Yesterday, a bus driver hit a woman walking across W. 135th Street at Riverside Drive, an intersection in a crash-prone area where DOT has proposed a slate of safety improvements that are opposed by Manhattan Community Board 9.

The West Side Rag reports that the woman was in the crosswalk when the driver of a double-decker tourist bus hit her while turning right from Riverside onto W. 135th. The victim was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, according to West Side Rag, and NYPD said she was “‘not likely’ to die.”

A woman who came upon the scene after the crash told West Side Rag “the victim must have had the green light or the bus would not have been able to go.”

“This has always been a dangerous corner,” the witness said. “Vehicles driving northbound and making a right turn into 135th St. rarely slow down for pedestrians.”

In response to rampant speeding and a high number of serious injuries on Riverside, DOT has proposed a road diet between W. 116 and W. 135th streets, with additional pedestrian space at several intersections [PDF]. At 135th, DOT plans to extend the Riverside center median on the north side of the intersection and install a new pedestrian island on the south side, which should slow traffic there.

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Scenes From New York’s Broken Public Process for Street Redesigns

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.

This design for a quiet stretch of Lenox Avenue, at 146th Street, is too much for auto-centric residents to bear. Rendering: DOT [PDF]

According to project opponents, this design for a quiet stretch of Lenox Avenue, at 146th Street, will make asthma rates worse. Rendering: DOT [PDF]

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.”

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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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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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155th Street Ped Safety Fixes Clear Three Uptown Community Board Votes

The Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge is a complex intersection where pedestrians are too often forgotten within a swirl of turning vehicles and impatient drivers. The intersection is also on the border of three community boards, adding extra layers of review for DOT efforts to improve safety. As of last night, transportation committees at all three boards have voted in support of the proposal, which will add pedestrian islands and turn restrictions while shortening crossing distances and calming traffic [PDF]. After it clears the full boards, the safety fixes are scheduled to be installed next year.

The plan will add four curb extensions and one pedestrian island to the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF[

The plan has three turn bans, four curb extensions and one pedestrian island for the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]

The location is more dangerous than 99 percent of Manhattan’s intersections. From 2008 to 2012, there were 72 traffic injuries, eight of them severe, at this single location, and nearly two of every five pedestrian crashes happen while the victim is walking with the signal, according to DOT. More than a quarter of crashes involve left-turning drivers, far higher than the numbers at other Manhattan intersections.

A plan for the intersection has been in the works for nearly two years. DOT’s proposal includes three new turn bans, four new concrete curb extensions, and one new pedestrian refuge island at the intersection of West 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway. On St. Nicholas Place, the agency is proposing new crosswalks at 152nd Street and three pedestrian islands, one each at 151st, 152nd, and 153rd Streets.

CB 12’s transportation committee voted unanimously to support the plan earlier this month. Last night, committees at community boards 9 and 10 followed suit. The vote at CB 10 was 6-0, with one abstention, according to committee chair Maria Garcia. At CB 9, the committee voted 7-0 to support the plan.

The Assembly member representing the area — Herman “Denny” Farrell, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee — has been a regular presence at public meetings for the project. He attended both committee meetings last night to speak about the plan. “I’m 90 percent in favor of it,” he told CB 10. “I’m 10 percent in opposition to elimination of the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place.”

Farrell was referring to a proposal to prohibit westbound drivers on 155th Street from turning onto southbound St. Nicholas Place. The turn ban would create space for a pedestrian island on St. Nicholas Place and direct drivers to instead turn left at the next intersection, at St. Nicholas Avenue. Farrell was concerned that the additional left turns at that location would pose a safety hazard. The plan converts one of the lanes on 155th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue to a dedicated turn lane. According to DOT, 110 drivers make the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place during rush hour. The agency said at previous meetings that the intersection should be able to handle the additional traffic.

While committee members shared Farrell’s concern, none of the committees are asking DOT to take out the turn restriction. A draft of CB 9’s resolution asks DOT to provide follow-up data from the St. Nicholas Avenue intersection on the impact of the turn ban.

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One City, By Bike: Unlocking Uptown Cycling With the Harlem River Bridges

This is part four of a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part onepart two, and part three.

Photo: Stephen Miller

Biking onto the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx. Bike access to and from Harlem River bridges ranges from inconvenient to very dangerous. Photo: Stephen Miller

Forging good cycling routes across the Harlem River represents a strong organizing principle for a multi-year program to deliver better cycling to Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx.

Just as many of the bike lanes in Brooklyn north of Prospect Park and Manhattan south of 14th Street emerged around the bikeways on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, the Harlem River bridges present natural focal points for bike network development. A comprehensive set of improvements here would be a major contribution to the “Bill de Blasio bike network” I began to outline in part three of this series. It could also go hand-in-hand with Citi Bike expansion into the Bronx.

While most of the pathways on the Harlem River spans are good or at least decent for cycling, connections from the bridges to Manhattan and Bronx streets run the gamut from inconvenient and unwelcoming to very dangerous. A bike network program for the Harlem River bridges would create safer, more attractive access and egress routes, linking the bridges to ongoing bike network development in the southern Bronx and upper Manhattan. A few examples:

  • The connection from First Avenue to the Willis Avenue Bridge needs traffic calming, longer crossing times and more room for cyclists and pedestrians to protect them from heavy traffic turning from First Avenue onto 125th Street.
  • The Bronx side of the Third Avenue Bridge is characterized by very heavy traffic coming from several directions, with poor design and inadequate signal time for pedestrians and cyclists getting to or from the path. The bridge itself still features “cyclist dismount” signs. Painted bike lanes on Third Avenue in the Bronx are severely worn and require cyclists to negotiate extremely intimidating traffic.

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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.