News | West Harlem

A renewed push for slower traffic on Morningside Avenue

  • A CALM IS COMING | Community Board 9 chair Georgiette Miller-Thomas (center left) and member Ted Kovaleff (center right). CB9 voted to support a DOT proposal to reduce traffic speeds on Morningside Avenue last year.

Local activists keen on making a stretch of Morningside Avenue safer for pedestrians hope a renewed citywide concern for road safety will provide the political will to move a long-awaited traffic-calming plan for the avenue forward.

Neighborhood groups have long pushed for a runway-like stretch of Morningside Avenue between 116th Street and 126th Street to be modified. When the city’s Department of Transportation put forth a proposal last fall, Community Board 9 approved the measures, but Community Board 10 voted to table it.

However, recent traffic accidents and a new citywide awareness of pedestrian safety have advocates hopeful that calming measures on the avenue—which include reducing lane widths and adding turning bays—will finally be put in place. On Jan. 12, a car ran over a playground on 120th Street and Morningside Avenue, though no one was hurt. In recent weeks three pedestrians were killed near West 96th Street on the Upper West Side.

District 7 City Council member Mark Levine and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat sent a letter on Jan. 13 to newly appointed DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, calling changes to Morningside Avenue “a critical step to correcting Upper Manhattan’s pedestrian safety.”

“The traffic accident only reinforces how important traffic safety is along Morningside Avenue,” said Jonathon Kahn, a member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, referring to the Jan. 12 incident.

A new short film featuring pedestrians standing on the avenue with speedometers created by Maurice Sessoms, another advocate for the plan, hopes to draw even more attention to the issue.

The video, which closes with calls for residents to voice their concerns to the community boards, was intended to address “the CB not really taking any action and prolonging the approval of the DOT proposal,” Sessoms said.

“It doesn’t suffice to say this plan isn’t good,” Kahn said. “My hope and my sense is that CB10 now understands that changes need to be made.”

When CB10 voted to table the plan in December, committee members cited concerns over the loss of parking space. Members of the board have not responded to repeated requests for comment. 

Some supporters of the proposal, however, feel that parking shouldn’t be the focus.

“The feeling that I have going to the last few community board meetings where the proposal has come up is ‘How can we change this proposal as much as possible so it does very little?’” said J.P. Partland, a bike lane advocate.

Martin Wallace, a piano tuner who lives and works in the area, called crossing Morningside with his six-year-old son a “nightmare.”

“It’s just getting to be nerve-racking to walk around with my son because I’m constantly having to watch out for people who aren’t driving carefully,” he said. “Only 24 percent of Manhattanites own a car, and yet the people on the transportation committees are the ones who are effectively blocking the proposals.”

Brad Taylor, a member of CB9, said he hopes that District 9 City Council member Inez Dickens will also lend her support, following Levine and Espaillat.

“The proposal straddles two community boards. It also straddles two council districts,” he said. “We also need to hear from Inez Dickens.”

But Lermond Mayes, a spokesman for Dickens, told Spectator in an email that the council member is not ready to rush. He said previous DOT changes to nearby Mount Morris Park West have slowed traffic to “a virtual crawl,” and he stressed the need for a thorough discussion before action on Morningside Avenue goes forward.

“We don’t feel the need to press the CB to have a resolution by a particular deadline as we want the community to be pleased with the final result. Only time will allow for that to occur,” he said.  

But some advocates don’t see the changes on Mount Morris Park West in such a negative light. “Traffic slowed down–yes, that’s the point,” Wallace said.

Others worry that even with more time, community input will never reach CB10. Wallace described a lack of outreach to the public.

“Their attitude is, well we’ve been selected by the council and by the borough president to represent these people,” he said. “There is not outreach, and there is not a philosophy that suggests that there should be.” 

Sessoms agreed that more publicity is needed to make sure residents know when meetings are being held.

“They need to make it known if they really do want input from the public,” he said.

CB10’s transportation committee will next meet on Feb. 12. 

deborah.secular@columbiaspectator.com  |  @DeborahSecular

Correction: A previous version of the photo caption misidentified the center-right individual. He is Ted Kovaleff, not Brad Taylor. The Spectator regrets the error.

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