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Posts from the Washington Heights Category

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The Case for 24/7 Access to the High Bridge

Video of opening day on the High Bridge: Clarence Eckerson.

New York City’s bike network would be a shell of its current self without the segments that run through parks. The most heavily traveled bike route in the city — the Hudson River Greenway — is in a park. Paths in Central Park, Prospect Park, and other public parks provide options for safe, quick bicycle travel that simply aren’t available on the city’s car-centric streets.

But bike routes in parks are not managed like other transportation routes in the city. The Parks Department closes greenways after a rough storm and imposes curfews that shut off legal access well before many people head home for the night.

With the opening of the High Bridge earlier this month, there’s finally a safe route to bike or walk between Washington Heights and the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx. The High Bridge, as it happens, is run by the Parks Department. As tremendous an improvement as the restored bridge may be, its curfew is also emblematic of broader problems with how the Parks Department manages critical active transportation routes.

The city has redesigned streets to make biking and walking to the High Bridge safer and more convenient. Anyone can use those streets 24 hours a day. The parks on each side of the bridge are open until at least 10 p.m. The High Bridge, meanwhile, closes at 8.

Reader Steven Kopstein wrote in to express his disbelief that the High Bridge is publicly inaccessible for 11 hours each day. Here’s his message, lightly edited:

I was anxiously anticipating the re-opening of the High Bridge. As a resident of Upper Manhattan with strong Bronx ties, I was very excited to finally have a way to cross into the borough on my bike without having to either ride on a crowded narrow sidewalk or on a dangerously busy bridge. I was also thrilled at the prospect of having a tourist draw and truly unique feature to show off to and enjoy with friends and relatives. I love the prospect of new recreational facilities being developed in an area that has been blatantly underserved for many, many years.

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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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DOT and Ydanis Rodriguez Break Ground on Uptown Bike Lanes

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and local high school students celebrated new bike lanes near the High Bridge in Washington Heights this afternoon. Photo: Ben Fried

Don’t underestimate the importance of this development: Today, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez announced the groundbreaking for new bike routes linking the Hudson River Greenway to the restored High Bridge, which connects Upper Manhattan to the Bronx.

The shovels-in-the-ground moment and its sibling, the ribbon-cutting-with-oversized-scissors, are irresistible to elected officials everywhere. Usually, this feeds into the political incentive to push for big, dumb road projects. One way to flip this dynamic: start holding groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings for smart transportation projects, too.

Map: NYC DOT

The new uptown bike routes will consist of two-way protected lanes on 170th Street and segments of 158th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. Other segments will consist mainly of sharrows. The routes will provide safer and more direct connections between the Hudson River Greenway, Washington Heights, and the High Bridge, which reopened to the public this week after being off limits for 45 years.

Rodriguez pointed out that a lot of families have moved across the river from Washington Heights to the Bronx in the last 20 years, and these projects are going to connect people who have relatives on the other side of the river.

“Not only are we connecting both sides of the river,” said Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, “but we are making it easier to get to the bridge if you are walking and if you are riding a bike.”

The officials were joined by high school students from I Challenge Myself, a program that promotes fitness in NYC high schools. “It’ll be a lot safer and more people will be able to come down here,” said Brian Zarzuela, a sophomore at the High School for Media and Communications in Washington Heights. “With the lanes, it should be a lot easier to navigate.”

In related news, DOT announced that it will begin holding public workshops for its Harlem River Bridges Access Plan starting next week. Currently, people biking or walking across the bridges have to contend with hostile street conditions. Safer routes across the river could make biking a much more attractive travel option.

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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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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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Protected Bike Lanes Coming to Washington Heights After CB 12 Vote

Protected bikeways are coming to Washington Heights. Image: DOT

Protected bikeways are coming to Washington Heights, including Edgecombe Avenue, above. Image: DOT [PDF]

Washington Heights will get protected bike lanes and major pedestrian upgrades after Manhattan Community Board 12 endorsed a DOT proposal last night.

Sections of 170th Street, 158th Street, and Edgecombe Avenue will get protected bike lanes, and pedestrian crossings will be improved on Edgecombe Avenue and at the complex intersection of 158th Street, Riverside Drive, and Edward Morgan Place [PDF]. The street redesigns will make for safer connections between the Hudson River Greenway and Highbridge Park, where the rehabilitated High Bridge will provide a car-free link between Manhattan and the Bronx.

Protected bikeways and pedestrian upgrades are planned for 170th Street, 158th Street, and Edgecombe Avenue. Map: DOT [PDF]

The plan encountered resistance earlier this month from CB 12 members who objected to the loss of approximately 20 parking spaces. DOT revised its plan to reduce parking losses to just eight spots, through offsets elsewhere in the neighborhood. The bike and pedestrian improvements in the plan remain intact.

While a couple of board members, including Jim Berlin, were still upset by any loss of parking, meeting attendees said opponents were outnumbered last night by approximately two dozen high school students from the George Washington Educational Campus, located in Fort George. The students, who participate in “I Challenge Myself,” a program that teaches youth in the Bronx and Manhattan about cycling, brought signs to show support for the plan, and one spoke to the board.

“Almost half the people there were young people, students from our program. It was really impressive, just how strongly they felt,” said Ana Reyes, a Washington Heights resident and executive director of I Challenge Myself. “I think that made a huge difference.”

While no official vote tally was available, Reyes said only a few board members voted against the proposal. The project is a welcome development for an area of Manhattan where the bike network is lacking.

“It’s a really good thing that DOT is putting protected infrastructure in Upper Manhattan, where so far the infrastructure doesn’t look like it does in the other parts of the city,” said Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito.

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Plaza de Las Americas Reclaims Space for People in Washington Heights

The plaza will add pedestrian space and create a permanent home for vendors and a farmers market. Image: DOT/DDC

The plaza will add pedestrian space and create a permanent home for vendors and a farmers market. Image: DOT/DDC

The city broke ground this morning on a new plaza in Washington Heights set to open early next year. The project will transform an extra-wide asphalt block into a permanent public space hosting vendors and a farmers market.

Officials break ground on a new pedestrian plaza on 175th Street in Washington Heights this morning. Photo: DOT/Flickr

Officials break ground on a new plaza on 175th Street in Washington Heights this morning. Photo: DOT/Flickr

Plaza de Las Americas is located on 175th Street between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue. The project, which was selected in the first round of the plaza program in 2008, is sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation. Construction is funded by $5 million from the city’s budget.

The 14,000 square foot space, between a supermarket and a historic theater, has been used by a farmers market since 1980 and a vendors market since 1994. The new plaza will give vendors access to electricity and water for the first time. The plaza will also feature trees, lighting, benches, tables, chairs, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás, according to a DOT press release. The paving materials and patterns aim to evoke the plazas of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The project will also likely have traffic safety benefits: Since 2009, four motor vehicle occupants, five pedestrians, and one cyclist have been injured at Broadway and 175th, according to DOT data. The city has identified Broadway as a Vision Zero priority corridor.

“La Plaza de Las Americas will not only give our street vendors a beautiful, tree-lined venue to sell,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said in the release, “but also our neighborhood a new focal point.”

Today, 175th Street is an extra-wide asphalt expanse. Photo: Google Maps

Today, 175th Street is an extra-wide asphalt crossing. Photo: Google Maps

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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.