Local residents praised a plan for traffic calming along Morningside Avenue and called for the installation of a bike lane at a town hall meeting on Wednesday night.
The meeting was a joint initiative between Community Boards 9 and 10, which have been discussing potential safety measures for the avenue for several months.
The plan would, among other things, reduce Morningside Avenue to three lanes between 116th and 126th streets in an attempt to reduce traffic speed on a main thoroughfare.
CB9 members voted to table the measure at their general meeting last month, responding to concerns that local residents had not had sufficient time to debate the proposal. At the meeting Wednesday, however, local residents stressed the importance of taking action quickly.
“This is about safety. It’s about the safety of all of us,” said CB9 member Brad Taylor, president of Friends of Morningside Park. “We’ve got to do something here, and this is a step in the right direction. We can’t keep sitting on this.”
Representatives from the city’s Department of Transportation opened the meeting with a presentation on the proposed changes. They include installing pedestrian islands at certain cross streets on Morningside Avenue, and adding a crosswalk and traffic signal at the intersection of Morningside Avenue and Hancock Place.
The major change, however, would be reducing the number of traffic lanes to one lane going in each direction and adding a third shared lane in the middle of the road. Parking lanes would also be installed on both sides of the street.
Joshua Benson, director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs at the Department of Transportation, said similar changes have helped decrease injuries from automobile accidents up to 40 percent on other streets around the city, such as Gerritsen Avenue in Brooklyn.
“It’s a range, but we expect to see a similar phenomenon on Morningside Avenue if we were to go forward with this treatment,” Benson said. “You have a little more predictability where you know who is turning and who is going straight.”
A main talking point of the evening was that the new plan would accommodate bikers, with many local bike commuters coming out in support of a separate bike lane. Benson said the parking lane would allow sufficient space for bikers to ride alongside the flow of automobile traffic, noting that a car with an open door would only take up between 10 and 11 feet of a 14-foot parking lane.
Morningside Heights resident Daniele Tully, who drives her children to school every morning, said a bike lane would keep families safe. Another Morningside Heights resident, Martin Wallace, stressed that the plan to slow down traffic would go a long way in making the stretch safer for bikers.
“I bike with my family, and I want my son to learn how to ride in the lanes. I want him to learn how to ride in traffic,” Wallace said. “It’s scary, but the more we have safe infrastructure to ride in, the better, but this is a compromise that needs to be made in my view.”
Ray McLaughlin, community assistant for CB9, said that a bike lane could be carved out of the extra parking lane space. This strategy, he argued, would also decrease double parking on Morningside Avenue, which CB10 member Maria Garcia said is particularly prevalent during Sunday church services.
Speakers also stressed that because Morningside Avenue runs along Morningside Park and is home to schools and churches, improved traffic signals are critical. CB9 chair Georgiette Morgan-Thomas said she often worries for the safety of children and senior citizens on Morningside Avenue.
“I’ve noticed that drivers go from 110th Street to 125th Street at 55 miles per hour,” she said. “It’s good for me because I’m in a hurry to go, but I’m always nervous and anxious because of the church, the schools, and the park.”
The decision on whether to implement the plan now goes back to the community boards, which will likely bring up the issue at their respective general meetings next month.