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Want Safer Biking and Walking Across the Harlem River? Tell DOT Your Ideas

Residents from the Bronx and Manhattan told DOT last night how they want to improve walking and biking across the Harlem River bridges. It was the second of four Harlem River bridges workshops this month.

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT is looking to improve access at all 16 bridges along the Harlem River, including the soon-to-open Randall’s Island Connector. Streets up to a mile inland on both sides of the river fall within the scope of the project.

“We’re not coming here with a plan,” project manager Alice Friedman told the approximately 15 people at last night’s workshop. “We’re really here to hear from you.”

Attendees last night split into three groups to highlight problem areas and offer suggestions. Most wanted wider paths on the bridges, safer intersections where the bridges touch down, and protected bike paths connecting nearby neighborhoods to the crossings. There were also smaller requests, such as better signage, more lighting, mirrors on blind corners, and improved snow clearance.

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite said he often uses Exterior Street on rides to Mill Pond Park. “This is our safest route,” he said. “And there’s nothing protecting bikes. And there should be.”

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After Fatal Crash, Rodriguez Asks DOT for W. 207th Street Safety Study

Two drivers hit two pedestrians, killing a 24-year-old man, on W. 207th Street at Ninth Avenue in Inwood. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez has asked DOT to study W. 207th for potential safety measures. Image: Google Maps

Two drivers hit two pedestrians, killing a 24-year-old man, on W. 207th Street at Ninth Avenue in Inwood. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez has asked DOT to study W. 207th for potential safety measures. Image: Google Maps

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez wants DOT to study safety improvements for an Inwood street where drivers killed a pedestrian and injured a second victim last night.

Two drivers struck two men, ages 24 and 35, as they attempted to cross W. 207th Street near Ninth Avenue at around 10:27 p.m. The victims entered the street “outside the crosswalk,” saw vehicle traffic approaching, and were trying to run back to the curb when they were hit by a driver traveling westbound in a Ford SUV, according to NYPD and published reports. The victims were thrown into the eastbound lane and were hit by a second driver in a Toyota sedan.

The 24-year-old victim died and the second victim was hospitalized in serious condition. As of this afternoon, NYPD was withholding the name of the deceased pedestrian pending family notification.

The NYPD public information office had no information on driver speed, a key factor in the severity of the crash. Police said both drivers passed sobriety tests and no charges were filed. The drivers’ names were not released.

Anonymous police sources blamed the victims in the press, telling the Daily News they “bolted across W. 207 St. outside the crosswalk,” while exculpating the SUV driver. “The driver of the vehicle hit the brakes, but couldn’t stop in time,” cops told WCBS.

The crash occurred in the 34th Precinct, where local officers issue around 13 speeding summonses a month.

The intersection of W. 207th Street and Ninth Avenue is wide and hazardous. This stretch of W. 207th Street is often clogged with honking drivers headed to and from the Bronx via the University Heights Bridge. According to the city’s Vision Zero map, three pedestrians were injured at W. 207th and Ninth in 2015 as of the end of May, in addition to nine motor vehicle occupants — an indication that drivers are colliding at high speeds.

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DOT, CB 12 Hold Firm as Cranks Attack Fort George Hill Bike Lane

Some residents of Fort George Hill were upset by a new protected bike lane. Image: DOT [PDF]

Fort George Hill co-op owners had a freak-out over a new protected bike lane at a Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee meeting Monday evening.

The bike lane, installed earlier this year to provide a safe two-way connection between Washington Heights and Inwood, was among a handful of streets CB 12 suggested to DOT for bike lanes in 2012. The agency came back with a proposal for Fort George Hill last year, and received the board’s sign-off before installing it this spring. Installation is still underway.

That didn’t keep some residents of Fort George Hill co-op buildings from getting upset about the change. About 25 people packed Monday’s meeting to show their displeasure. “How come we didn’t have an open meeting with the buildings before this thing was built?” asked Paul J. Hintersteiner, president of the co-op board at 17 Fort George Hill. “Nobody knew anything about it until it happened.”

Things escalated from there, with some residents yelling at DOT staff and demanding that the bike lane be removed.

“They don’t care about anybody in the neighborhood. They care about putting in the bike lanes,” said Abraham Jacob, 58, who didn’t like the street redesign because his car gets snowed in during the winter. (The bike lane was installed this spring.) “When the winter comes, I don’t like to take the subway. I don’t take the subway. I haven’t taken the subway since I graduated high school in 1974,” he said. “So I have the choice of either taking the subway or losing my job. So where’s DOT’s concern on that?”

The audience applauded in support. “Thank you,” said CB 12 member Jim Berlin.

DOT and most CB 12 members tried to take the verbal abuse in stride. “We understand that it is a very upsetting situation for the residents there,” replied committee chair Yahaira Alonzo. “Going back to the way it was is not an option.”

Some spoke in support of the changes. Fort George Hill residents Sergiy Nosulya and Jonathan Rabinowitz spoke separately about how grateful they they are to be able to ride bikes down the hill legally and without heading straight into oncoming car traffic.

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Will the Parks Department Let Another Sinkhole Swallow the Greenway?

Photos: Ed Boyak

Photos: Ed Boyak

Remember the sinkhole in the Hudson River Greenway that took almost a year for the Parks Department to fix? Now there’s another one.

Streetsblog reader Ed Boyak alerted us and Parks to the new hole, located a few hundred yards south of Dyckman Street. Boyak said it opened up last week.

“There has been a wide depression collecting dirt in this spot for the past few years,” Boyak said in an email. “The now open hole is four to five inches in diameter and appears to be hollow underneath.”

The new hole is nowhere near the size of the Washington Heights crater that formed in 2013, but there is a discernible outline of how it could spread if it isn’t repaired.

Jennifer Hoppa, administrator for parks in Upper Manhattan, said in an email Wednesday that Parks Department staff were on their way inspect the hole. But there was no commitment to fix it.

“One of the many challenges to the site of course is mobilization given that there are stairs to that area and for full repair at a minimum we would need to arrange for a highway lane closure,” wrote Hoppa.

The Hudson River Greenway is the trunk line for bike commuting on the west side of Manhattan. In May the Parks Department and DOT closed sections of the greenway without notice — a routine practice that lengthens commutes and can force cyclists and other users onto streets that aren’t as safe for biking and walking.

The Parks Department didn’t repair the Washington Heights sinkhole for at least 11 months, allowing it to spread most of the width of the greenway.

“I fear the thought of dealing with another six-foot wide hole for the next year or two,” said Boyak.

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Upper Manhattan’s First Protected Bike Lane Goes Green [Updated]

Photos: Jonathan Rabinowitz

Photos: Jonathan Rabinowitz

Update: The Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee will consider an agenda item tonight that would call on DOT to remove the Fort George Hill bike lane. Yes, really. The meeting will be held at the Isabella Geriatric Center, 515 Audobon Avenue, at 7 p.m.

Here are more photos from reader Jonathan Rabinowitz of Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, on Fort George Hill, now with fresh green paint. Rabinowitz took these shots on Saturday.

Fort George Hill is a one-way street that skirts the western border of Harlem River Park, connecting Dyckman Street in Inwood with Fairview Avenue to the south. The lane will give cyclists a north-south route between Inwood and Washington Heights by allotting 11 feet of the 60-foot-wide street to a bi-directional bike lane, plus a painted buffer between the lane and angled car parking.

DOT plans indicated the bike lane would be eight feet wide with a three-foot buffer, but Rabinowitz tells us the green swath is itself 11 feet across. In addition to the new paint, the parking spots have bumpers to keep drivers out of the lane.

As we reported in April, having a protected bi-directional lane means southbound cyclists traveling uphill won’t have to contend with motorists passing them from behind, and the easy downhill will be a legal option for biking toward Dyckman Street.

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DOT Proposes Road Diets for Two Uptown Avenues

Two dangerous uptown avenues could get road diets and bike lanes this summer under a DOT plan presented to the Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee on Monday [PDF]. A plan for Sherman Avenue received the committee’s support, while a design for St. Nicholas Avenue is headed for at least one more month of review.

Map: DOT [PDF]

The CB 12 transportation committee backs a plan for Sherman Avenue but wants more time to consider an identical proposal for St. Nicholas Avenue. Map: DOT [PDF]

There were 25 serious injuries on the 1.2 miles of St. Nicholas Avenue between 169th and 193rd streets from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT, putting it in the most dangerous third of Manhattan streets. Five intersections — at 175th, 177th, 178th, 181st, and 185th streets — are more dangerous than 90 percent of the borough’s intersections.

On Sherman, there were seven serious injuries and two fatalities from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT. Two of its intersections, at Academy and Dyckman streets, ranked in the top 10 percent of Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections.

Sherman and St. Nicholas are both 60 feet wide. Each would receive a road diet replacing two car lanes in each direction with one car lane plus a center turn lane and a striped bike lane. CB 12 had asked for bike lanes in the area in 2012. The projects do not include concrete pedestrian islands, though DOT says they could be added at a later date.

The biggest changes would come to the intersection of Sherman Avenue and Broadway, where the slip lane from northbound Broadway onto Sherman would be replaced by an super-sized curb extension that forces drivers to slow down when turning (see below). A median pedestrian island would be added on Sherman, and an existing triangle island on the north side of the intersection would be enlarged. DOT says pedestrian crossing distances will be shortened by 38 percent, from 118 to 73 feet.

“People didn’t really have issues with the proposal for Sherman,” said Liz Ritter, who attended the meeting and sits on the board but not the transportation committee. “It looks like that’s totally going to work out.”

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Eyes on the Street: Upper Manhattan’s First Protected Bike Lane in Progress

First markings for the new protected bike lane on Fort George Hill. Photo: Jonathan Rabinowitz

First markings for the new protected bike lane on Fort George Hill. Photo: Jonathan Rabinowitz

Reader Jonathan Rabinowitz sent this photo of Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, now under construction on Fort George Hill, a one-way street that connects Dyckman Street in Inwood with Fairview Avenue to the south, along the western border of Harlem River Park.

This project will give cyclists a north-south route between Inwood and Washington Heights by allotting 11 feet of the 60-foot-wide street to a bi-directional bike lane and three-foot painted buffer between the lane and angled car parking. The plan was announced in the spring of 2014, and work was originally scheduled to be completed last summer.

With a protected bi-directional lane, southbound cyclists traveling uphill won’t have to worry about motorists passing them from behind, and the easy downhill is now a legal option for northbound biking.

Bike Upper Manhattan lobbied Community Board 12 to support the Fort George Hill lane, along with a number of less ambitious projects proposed by DOT for Washington Heights and Inwood last year.

After picking up an endorsement from CB 12, DOT is planning a series of protected bike lanes in Washington Heights that will ultimately make bike travel safer between the Hudson River Greenway and the car-free High Bridge linking Manhattan and the Bronx.

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

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Will Rodriguez and Brewer Reappoint CB 12 Crank Jim “Honey Child” Berlin?

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can advance the goals of Vision Zero by retiring Jim Berlin from his CB 12 post.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can advance the goals of Vision Zero in Upper Manhattan by retiring Jim Berlin from his CB 12 post.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can remove a barrier to safer streets in Upper Manhattan by relieving Jim Berlin of his spot on Community Board 12, which covers Washington Heights and Inwood.

As Stephen Miller reported Thursday, Berlin and fellow CB 12 member Anita Barberis voted against a DOT plan for protected bike lanes in Washington Heights that would connect the Hudson River Greenway and High Bridge Park. The DOT proposal comes ahead of the highly anticipated re-opening of the High Bridge, a car-free Harlem River span linking Manhattan and the Bronx that has been closed to the public for decades.

Washington Heights and Inwood have precious little bike infrastructure, and at present just one protected bike lane in the pipeline. Berlin can surely claim some credit for that. For years he has used his community board position to waylay projects, from bike and pedestrian infrastructure to a Greenmarket, that would improve safety and give locals the opportunity to see their streets used for something other than free vehicle storage.

Community board votes are supposed to be advisory, but DOT rarely implements a street safety project over a board’s objection. On Monday Berlin succeeded in goading the CB 12 transportation committee to pass a resolution calling for DOT to shorten the proposed protected bikeway on Edgecombe Avenue for the sake of a few free curbside parking spots.

“This is a working-class area,” Berlin said, according to DNAinfo. “People don’t have the luxury of riding their bike in the morning and leaving their Beamer at home.”

It’s possible Berlin is so out of touch that he doesn’t know 75 percent of households in the district don’t own a car, and that working-class households are even more likely to be car-free. But judging by his public antics, it’s more likely he doesn’t care. The majority of residents who attended Monday’s meeting came to show support for the DOT plan, and Berlin dismissed them — even addressing one plan proponent, a staffer for Council Member Mark Levine, as “honey child,” according to multiple sources.

Berlin was last appointed by Rodriguez, and his term expires next month. According to a press release from Brewer, the number of new applicants for Community Board 12 and neighboring Community Board 11 “more than doubled” compared to last year. For the sake of public safety and quality of life in Washington Heights and Inwood, Rodriguez and Brewer should make room for a fresh face by thanking Berlin for his service and sending him on his way.

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The New York City Parking Rule That Makes Intersections More Dangerous

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

We’ve reported before how certain New York City parking rules are designed to cram a little more free car storage onto the street at the expense of pedestrian safety. In 2009, DOT removed parking restrictions on unmarked crosswalks at T intersections, and the city allows drivers with disability permits to block curb ramps that were intended to help pedestrians with disabilities cross the street.

Here’s another example of how the city prioritizes parking over life and limb. This photo shows Seaman Avenue in Inwood where it intersects with Isham Street at the entrance to Inwood Hill Park. For at least five days this SUV was parked right at the edge of this crosswalk, blocking sight lines for pedestrians as well as drivers turning right from Seaman onto Isham.

Parking right up against the crosswalk is dangerous enough that some states and cities, including New Jersey and Portland, forbid it. Drivers hurt and kill thousands of people in New York City crosswalks every year, and most victims are crossing with the signal. Poor visibility at intersections contributes to the problem, but NYC law makes it perfectly legal to obstruct sight lines with parked cars.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

NACTO guidelines suggest 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks. New York City law, however, only prohibits parking within a crosswalk itself (unmarked crosswalks at T intersections excepted, of course). By allowing motorists to park where their vehicles reduce visibility at intersections, this city traffic rule is in direct conflict with the city’s Vision Zero goals.

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Eyes on the Street: New 215th Step-Street, With Bike Ramp, Taking Shape

Photos: Brad Aaron

Looking up the northern section of the 215th Step-Street from Broadway, with bike ramp on the left. Photos: Brad Aaron

It’s been a year since we checked up on the 215th Step-Street in Inwood, where the northern section of the long, steep stairway looks to be nearly finished — complete with bike ramp.

These stairs serve as a car-free street between Broadway and the 1 train and residential blocks that make up the northwest corner of the neighborhood. “The ancient passageway was built in an era when the automobile was still a relatively new contraption and getting up or down a hill required nothing more than a decent pair of shoes,” writes Cole Thompson at My Inwood. Check Thompson’s site for photos of the step-street dating from 100 years ago, when Broadway was paved with cobblestones and there’s not a car in sight.

As promised, the Department of Design and Construction is rehabbing the northern and southern sections one at a time, with one remaining open. Locals have waited for the city to fix the stairs since the late 90s, at least, and while it seems doubtful that DDC will meet its spring deadline (the project, which began last January, was supposed to take 17 months), Inwoodites may be using the new northern section before long.

How cool is it that, on a public stairway built before the city ceded the streets to motor vehicles, the reconstructed stairs will feature a bike ramp as a modern amenity.

The stairs in 2008.

The stairs in 2008.