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As SBS Sprouts on 125th, Levine Says Bus Lanes Could Extend West This Fall

Off-board fare machines have been installed along 125th Street, here at Madison Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

After an on-again, off-again struggle, Select Bus Service on 125th Street is now close to launching. Off-board fare payment machines have been installed, but not yet turned on, for M60 riders. Next up is striping for dedicated bus lanes, which were scaled back after opposition from elected officials. Now, a glimmer of hope: Council Member Mark Levine says West Harlem could get its bus lanes as soon as this fall.

The bus-only lanes were initially slated to run between Morningside and Second Avenues, but the western half was cut off at Lenox Avenue after local elected officials, led by State Senator Bill Perkins, protested. Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who represent West Harlem, have pressed DOT to revive the original plan. Espaillat’s office said today that it hopes the popularity of SBS once it starts service will build momentum for completing the bus lanes. Levine’s office said it has been meeting with “all the parties involved” and hopes the bus lanes will be extended west by this fall.

Unlike most other SBS routes, bus lanes on 125th Street will not be camera-enforced. The state legislation allowing bus lane cameras restricts them to six routes: Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Hylan Boulevard, 34th Street, Nostrand Avenue, and an undesignated route in Queens. (The borough’s first SBS route, being planned now, is slated for Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards.) It’s up to NYPD precincts to keep drivers out of bus lanes along Webster Avenue, 125th Street, and anywhere else the city sets aside street space for buses.

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Morningside Road Diet Supporters Try to Find Common Ground With CB 10

Wednesday night, Harlem road diet supporters and opponents met in an attempt to find common ground on what can be done to improve safety on Morningside Avenue. The move comes in advance of DOT releasing a second plan for the street, after its first design encountered opposition from Community Board 10.

CB 10's chair is worried that adding pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will cause problems for double-parkers. Photo: DOT

CB 10′s chair is worried that reducing car lanes to add pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will create problems with double-parked drivers. Photo: DOT

The plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue [PDF], requested by North Star Neighborhood Association and supported by CB 9, has been waiting for action from neighboring CB 10 since it was released last September. But key CB 10 members object to its central component — a reduction in the number of car lanes to create space for a painted median and pedestrian refuge islands — and the board has refused to take action on the plan. In response, DOT went back to the drawing board and is creating a second plan to be presented in the coming weeks.

About 25 people attended the Wednesday meeting, which was hosted by North Star and included presentations from CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle and Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito, who talked about how the plan fits into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

The event featured plenty of crosstalk and heated exchanges, but there was also discussion of the need for a plan that everyone in the room could support. While the meeting ended on a positive note, the path to agreement remains murky: Lyle and many CB 10 members remain opposed to reducing the number of car lanes, and DOT has not yet released its alternative plan.

“I just don’t think it’s a good community position for us to be battling when safety is the number one thing,” said Aissatou Bey-Grecia, a founding member of North Star. The group focused on Morningside Avenue after an unsuccessful bid for a 20 mph Slow Zone in the neighborhood yielded discussions with DOT about the street. “Any change would be a good change, as far as I’m concerned, on Morningside Avenue. But what happens should come out of the collective voice.”

For her part, Lyle alternated between support of unspecified traffic safety improvements and telling the group that there was no pressing reason to implement a road diet on Morningside. Lyle held up a printed Google Map of traffic speeds to show that because Morningside Avenue was not colored in red, yellow or green, it did not require any changes. ”They had nothing on Morningside Avenue, meaning it is okay,” she said.

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CB 9 Stands by Morningside Road Diet, But DOT Does Not

Council Member Mark Levine, left, and CB 9 support the Morningisde Avenue road diet, but DOT is coming up with a second plan because Council Member Inez Dickens, right, and members of CB 10 oppose removing car lanes. Borough President Gale Brewer, center, who appoints CB members, has not weighed in. Photos: NYC Council

Council Member Mark Levine, left, and Manhattan Community Board 9 support the Morningisde Avenue road diet, but DOT is coming up with a second plan because Council Member Inez Dickens, right, and members of CB 10 oppose removing excess car lanes. Borough President Gale Brewer, center, who appoints CB members, has not weighed in. Photos: NYC Council

A plan to improve pedestrian safety on speeding-plagued Morningside Avenue in Harlem, supported by one community board but stalled by another, is on track for months of additional meetings as DOT goes back to the drawing board.

The current plan, which would remove excess car lanes to create space for turn lanes and pedestrian islands, received a vote of support from Community Board 9 back in November. Earlier this month, Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat urged DOT to move ahead to prevent crashes on a 10-block stretch that had 102 injuries from 2007 to 2011 according to city data. But many members of CB 10, which also covers the area and, like CB 9, plays an advisory role on the issue, are vociferously opposed to removing car lanes — the central safety measure in the plan.

So far, DOT has allowed CB 10 to block the traffic safety plan. This week, the agency said it’s preparing “additional design proposals” to present to both boards in the coming months.

“They’re going to come up with an alternate plan,” said Jonathon Kahn, a steering committee member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, which requested action from DOT after its members expressed concerns about the danger of crossing Morningside. “I expect pretty vigorous discussions once the alternate plan is out.”

Kahn said that, in his discussions with DOT, it did not appear that the agency was completely scrapping its design, but instead coming up with a second proposal that could incorporate CB 10′s objection to removing car lanes.

DOT did not respond to questions about what its new plan will include, but North Star, which will be holding a meeting to discuss Morningside Avenue in about a month, wants the focus to remain squarely on pedestrian safety. “We definitely want to see measures that slow traffic,” Kahn said. “We would also like to see more safe opportunities to cross the street.”

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Video: Drivers Endanger Lives on Morningside Avenue as CB 10 Dithers

While Manhattan Community Board 10 fails to take action, proposed measures to make Morningside Avenue safer for pedestrians continue to languish.

Among other changes, DOT has proposed restriping Morningside between 116th Street and 126th Street from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a center striped median, concrete pedestrian islands and left turn lanes [PDF]. Community Board 9 voted in favor of the road diet last November, but the plan is stuck in the CB 10 transportation committee, which has held numerous meetings on the project without taking a vote.

At their latest meeting, held earlier this month, people who attended told Streetsblog that CB 10 members passed a resolution calling for more information from DOT, which they said is necessary before deciding whether to endorse traffic-calming on Morningside.

For this video, Harlem resident Maurice Sessoms interviewed people about conditions on the wide avenue, where he clocked motorists traveling as fast as 47 miles per hour. As indicated in the video, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle moving at 40 mph has only a 15 percent chance of surviving.

“I don’t think that it’s safe at all,” said a crossing guard. “I’ve been working on this corner for three years now. The cars speed, they go across the crosswalk. They don’t slow down when it’s raining, when it’s snowing. In bad weather they’re speeding.”

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Harlem CBs Look to Weaken Safety Plan; Levine: DOT Should Move Ahead

CB 10′s transportation committee chair is against a road diet on Morningside Avenue, and she wants to bring CB 9 along with her — even though CB 9 already voted in support of the traffic safety plan. Photo: DOT

A 10-block road diet proposed for Morningside Avenue in Harlem continues to face resistance from Manhattan Community Board 10. In the latest development, it seems the transportation committee chair of CB 10 is trying to convince neighboring Community Board 9, which contains the west side of the avenue, to amend its vote in favor of the road diet and fight against it instead. Meanwhile, Council Member Mark Levine says DOT has heard more than enough input from the community boards and urged the agency to move ahead with the project.

Tonight, CB 10′s transportation committee, which has a history of failing to support street safety projects, is set to continue its discussion of the Morningside Avenue proposal, after the full board refused to take action on the matter last week. CB 10′s committee has been discussing the project since at least as far back as September, with members regularly blasting the road diet. Tonight’s committee meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the third-floor conference room of the Harlem State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street.

CB 9 passed a resolution in support of the plan in November [PDF], but board staff and transportation committee chair Carolyn Thompson tell Streetsblog that the committee will reopen the matter at its next meeting on February 6. Under consideration: An amendment that would ask DOT to “identify alternative measures to lane reductions.”

Reducing the number of through lanes from two to one in each direction is the central component of the Morningside Avenue safety plan, imposing order on an excessively wide street that currently encourages a majority of drivers to speed, according to DOT counts. The road diet also creates space for a center median with concrete pedestrian islands and left-turn pockets. Vehicle flow would essentially not be affected, since left-turning vehicles already occupy an entire lane in the current design, except to become safer and more predictable. These features, common in other traffic calming plans throughout the city, have reduced injury-causing crashes 40 percent on Gerritsen Avenue in Brooklyn, which like Morningside borders a park.

The push against the road diet appears to have originated in CB 10, which has fought against traffic calming elsewhere in the neighborhood. Karen Horry, acting chair of CB 10′s transportation committee, said last month that she contacted Thompson, the CB 9 committee chair, to express her surprise that CB 9′s resolution didn’t ask DOT to eliminate the road diet.

“It was agreed between both boards that there will be no lane reduction… CB 9 forgot to put that part on their resolution,” CB 9 staffer Hleziphi Zita told Streetsblog. “So that is why they had to do an amendment.”

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Harlem’s CB 10 Continues Assault on Safer Streets and Better Buses

This modest change to Morningside Avenue is too radical for Community Board 10. Will it be too radical for Bill de Blasio’s DOT? Image: NYC DOT

According to Harlem’s Community Board 10, there is apparently no such thing as a street redesign worth pursuing. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours Tuesday night, members of the board’s transportation committee declined to support a road diet for Morningside Avenue, attacked a community-based street safety plan installed on Mount Morris Park West, and asked DOT to reconsider Select Bus Service on 125th Street again – this time on the pretense that it would harm the elderly and disabled.

The ongoing dysfunction at CB 10 should be a wake-up call to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who has promised at least 20 Bus Rapid Transit routes and set a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities in 10 years. As it currently stands, New York’s community board process is incompatible with those goals, since in effect it enables a small group of people to veto changes to the street, sometimes without any meaningful community involvement. Community boards can be venues for constructive feedback and criticism, but too often they are simply forums to say “no” to change.

Each community board is supposed to represent the interests of people who live in the district — upwards of 100,000 people per board. In the CB 10 district, the vast majority of those people don’t own cars and rely on walking and transit. On Tuesday, there were just four committee members in the room, most of them threatening the cancellation of safety improvements proposed for Morningside Avenue, criticizing other traffic calming projects, and complaining about bus enhancements on 125th Street.

The Morningside Avenue redesign, requested by the North Star Neighborhood Association, has already been vetted at a public forum jointly hosted by Community Boards 9 and 10, which both cover the project area. CB 9 has already passed a resolution in support of the plan. Tuesday night, Karen Horry, acting chair of the CB 10 transportation committee, said she was surprised that CB 9′s resolution [PDF] did not ask DOT to reconsider the road diet, which is the centerpiece of the plan. ”The community has a great deal of concern about the lane reductions, so we were hoping you could address alternatives,” she said to Josh Orzeck, representing DOT’s Manhattan borough commissioner’s office at the meeting.

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Tonight: CB 10 Committee Set to Vote on Morningside Ave Improvements

Image: NYC DOT

Manhattan Community Board 10 has scheduled a committee vote for this evening on proposed pedestrian improvements to Morningside Avenue in Harlem.

The item appeared on a parks and transportation committee agenda sent out this afternoon. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m.

DOT has proposed restriping Morningside between 116th Street and 126th Street from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a center striped median, concrete pedestrian islands and left turn lanes [PDF]. Parking lanes on each side would be widened, allowing space for cyclists and double-parked drivers. At entrances to Morningside Park, on the west side of the avenue, DOT has proposed painted curb extensions in the parking lane. The proposal does not include bike lanes.

The proposal was developed in response to a request from the North Star Neighborhood Association. While there is general agreement that speeding drivers are a major problem on Morningside, Community Board 10 has yet to endorse the city’s plan to make the street safer. Community Board 9 voted in favor of the road diet last month.

DOT is scheduled to make another presentation tonight. A call to the CB 10 office confirmed that the committee is expected to vote on a resolution.

CB 10 has a history of inaction and opposition when it comes to livable streets projects. A solid showing could make all the difference for a safer Morningside Avenue.

Tonight’s meeting starts at 6:30 at 215 W. 125th Street, third floor conference room.

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Three People Killed by Motorists in Manhattan and Brooklyn This Weekend

Three people were killed by motorists in separate crashes in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the weekend.

Senior Willie Zachary was killed at 10 a.m. Sunday by a motorist, allegedly drunk and driving without a license, in a Harlem precinct where officers issue one speeding ticket every other day. Photo: DNAinfo

Senior Willie Zachary was killed at 10 a.m. Sunday by a motorist, allegedly drunk and driving without a license, in an NYPD precinct where officers issue one speeding ticket every other day. Photo: DNAinfo

At around 10:00 Sunday morning, Willie Zachary, 65, was struck on St. Nicholas Avenue in the vicinity of W. 131st Street by an alleged drunk and unlicensed driver. According to reports, Prince Julien, 23, was traveling south on St. Nicholas in a Honda Accord when he hit Zachary at a high rate of speed.

From the Post:

The victim’s head smashed the windshield, he was thrown about 60 feet and was declared dead at the scene, according to witnesses.

Onlookers said the driver was going so fast that it took him almost 200 feet to come to a complete stop.

“[The driver] got out of the car and started running toward the man on the ground,” said a security guard at a nearby building.

Julien was charged with second degree manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license, according to court records. The crash occurred in the City Council district represented by Inez Dickens, and in the 32nd Precinct, where as of October local officers had issued 183 speeding tickets in 2013, and 137 summonses for failure to yield to a pedestrian.

Vernon Bramble, 47, was struck by a driver who fled the scene as he crossed Flatbush Avenue at E. 34th Street in Flatlands at approximately 10:30 p.m. Friday, reports said. Bramble suffered head trauma. He was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Medical Center.

“They left him there like he was an animal,” Bramble’s niece, who did not provide her name, told the Daily News. “He was a very simple person who tried his best to be there for his friends and family.”

Bramble was killed in the 63rd Precinct63 speeding tickets this year as of October, and 41 summonses for failure to yield — and in the City Council district represented by Jumaane Williams. The driver had not been apprehended as of this morning, according to NYPD.

Two drivers ran over Cheikh Mbaye, 23, as he crossed Canal Street near Greene Street in Soho at 2:30 Friday afternoon.

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Tonight: Manhattan CB 9 Set to Vote on Morningside Avenue Traffic Calming

A Morningside Avenue traffic calming plan is on the agenda tonight at Manhattan Community Board 9. Image: DOT

A plan to slow drivers and provide safer crossings for pedestrians along Morningside Avenue in Harlem is on the agenda for Manhattan Community Board 9′s full board meeting tonight. A positive vote would set the stage for CB 10, which also covers the project area and has a history of stalling livable streets projects, to take action.

The centerpiece of the Morningside Avenue plan, first presented to the community boards in September after it was requested by the North Star Neighborhood Association, is a road diet that would trim the street from two lanes in each direction to one. The plan adds a striped median with left-turn lanes and concrete pedestrian islands and also dramatically improves the angled pedestrian crossing at the split of Hancock Place and 125th Street.

The resolution supporting the plan unanimously passed CB 9′s transportation committee on November 7, after it was delayed at September’s full board meeting. It asks DOT to consider feedback from the joint forum the community boards co-hosted in October, including requests for brighter street lighting along the west side of the street adjacent to Morningside Park and improved pedestrian crossings at 124th Street.

DOT has indicated that it is unlikely to move forward with the project without community board support. City Council Member-elect Mark Levine, who will recommend community board appointments, told Streetsblog last month that he hopes CB 9′s full board votes to support the plan.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at The Fortune Society, 630 Riverside Drive. The public is invited to speak during a comment session at tonight’s meeting.

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DOT Cuts Community-Endorsed Harlem Pedestrian Space for Double Parking

DOT crews at work yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT crews yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

A big new pedestrian space next to a busy Harlem park, installed last summer as part of a community board-backed traffic calming plan, is being scaled down by the agency that created it. Why the change? DOT says it’s responding to complaints that the original design created too much space for pedestrians, and not enough for double-parked drivers.

For years, Mount Morris Park West offered a wide, four-block straightaway with sharp curves at either end. Drivers heading south on Fifth Avenue often raced around the turns, creating dangerous conditions for Harlem residents walking to and from Marcus Garvey Park. Occasionally, drivers speeding at the southern turn left the roadway and crashed into homes along West 120th Street.

Beginning last year, the Mount Morris Park West Community Improvement Association worked with DOT to develop a traffic calming plan for streets around the park. The proposal, which significantly increased pedestrian space, tightened curves and trimmed travel lanes from two to one, was unanimously supported by CB 11 in February [PDF]. After DOT made the changes in August, a group of angry residents at the board’s September transportation committee meeting demanded the city bring back the old, more dangerous roadway [PDF].

“We want the city to pull this thing up. We want these things gone,” resident Chet Whye told the Daily News. While the design isn’t gone, the more-space-for-cars crowd will be glad to hear that DOT, which had already adjusted the street’s traffic light timing to ease backups, is now shaving away sidewalk space.

“This updated design is in response to concerns expressed by some neighborhood residents that the roadway space is too narrow, and the painted sidewalk is too large,” DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote in an October 31 letter to Community Board 11 [PDF]. DOT will narrow the painted sidewalk by five feet to widen parking lanes and add painted buffers on either side of the street. “The wider profile will provide a larger area for motorists who wish to double-park,” Forgione wrote, “while still allowing room for unimpeded traffic movement.”

DOT is adding a stop light at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street, which currently has a flashing red signal and stop sign. It will also study traffic signals at 121st and 123rd Streets on Mount Morris Park West. More changes could be on the way: Forgione said that eliminating plaza space is “laying the groundwork for potential future modifications.”