The Department of Transportation proposed changes to the layout of Morningside Avenue to make the street safer, but Community Board 10 members asked to see more data from similar areas before endorsing the proposal.
At a CB10 meeting Wednesday night, the DOT proposed changing Morningside Avenue from a four-lane road to a three-lane road with one lane in each direction and a shared turning lane, and to widen parking lanes. The DOT also plans to extend curbs, and install pedestrian islands and a combination of painted center medians and concrete medians at certain intersections.
The plan aims to address safety concerns on the avenue between 116th and 126th streets. Residents have long complained that speeding and the lack of crosswalks make the road unsafe, especially as it passes a school and two playgrounds.
“Especially since there are two parks in Morningside that all the kids go to, it’s super dangerous,” Rahwa Yebio, a Harlem resident and mother of two, said. She said she makes her kids walk to the crosswalk at 123rd Street even when coming to the playground at 117th Street.
Josh Orzak, DOT’s community liaison for upper Manhattan, said that the DOT has received several requests from schools, neighborhood groups, the NYPD, Community Board 9, and other community groups over the years to curtail traffic on the avenue.
In 2011, CB9 and the 26th police precinct asked for speed mitigations, traffic signals, speed bumps, and other measures to address speeding. In 2012, the local North Star Neighborhood Association applied to DOT’s pilot Slow Zone program, but the application was rejected.
“We started to initiate studies, and we saw that there was a need for an overall plan,” Orzak said.
Residents and local officials at the meeting expressed concern about ongoing double-parking issues as well as school bus and emergency vehicle maneuverability, but overall they supported the plan’s intentions.
Stephanie Howze, a CB10 member, said that illegal double-parking in the neighborhood may become an even greater issue with the new street layout, citing previous efforts to implement a similar plan in Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
“How are you accounting for something that happens on every New York street?” Howze said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Howze added that, with only one parking lane rather than two, a car would have to “merge around” to avoid double-parked cars—creating “a potential for additional accidents.”
DOT representatives said that, given the width of the lanes, there would be room for people to move in through the median lanes, though it could become more dangerous when people double-park. The DOT added that since cars would not have to deal with merging with two lanes of through traffic, the plan may make it easier.
“I just think these things look very nice on PowerPoint, but in our community, there are people who are parking in that left lane—their car is literally parked stationary there,” Howze said. “And then you have to maneuver.”
But the representatives said that in the new plan, space would be allocated in such a way as to give through vehicles “the clearest path through,” as parked cars and left-moving vehicles would be more out of the way. When asked, they agreed to provide concrete data on how safety has improved with similar measures in the 15 or so areas where they have been implemented.
Though the plan doesn’t include traffic signals—there are currently no stoplights between 116th Street and 123rd Street—the representatives said DOT is still looking into it. Traffic signals are required to meet federal criteria.
Thomas DeVito, an organizer for advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, added that it was important to consider the plan’s merits from the perspective of bikers and pedestrians, as well as drivers.
“I think it seems like we’re losing perspective of the fact that, for most New Yorkers and for most people who live in the community, their average experience commuting and transporting themselves relies on public transit, relies on walking, relies on riding their bike to a far greater extent than cars,” DeVito said. “To me, that seems more of a reason to implement these safety measures than less of a reason.” He added that he has received several calls from cyclists and pedestrians complaining about speeding and near-crashes on Morningside Avenue.
Morningside Park goers and locals agreed that Morningside Avenue’s traffic situation needs to change.
Deloré Stewart, a parent of two who grew up in Harlem, said she didn’t think traffic on the Morningside Avenue corridor is well-regulated.
“I don’t think it’s controlled enough,” Stewart said, citing a recent speeding accident on Morningside Avenue. “I think it’s really dangerous, especially with the kids coming back and forth.”
Jonathon Kahn, a member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, said he saw a need for “making that part of Morningside Avenue safer for family and children.”
“I’m really excited about it ... I’m not sure I agree with everything in the plan,” Kahn said. “But I’m very much in support of the basic idea because the traffic flow on Morningside Avenue needs to change.”
Stewart said traffic on the avenue has been a problem ever since she was a child.
“It’s dangerous territory right here,” she said.