A long-debated Department of Transportation plan to slow traffic along a 10-block stretch of Morningside Avenue finally won approval from Community Board 10 at its full board meeting Wednesday night.
Under the plan, first introduced in September 2013, the DOT will reduce lanes and create medians along Morningside Avenue between 116th and 126th streets in an attempt to reduce traffic speeds and improve safety for pedestrians. Residents have long complained about the runway-like section of road, which currently has only two sets of traffic lights and passes by a school and two playgrounds.
While Community Board 9—which shares responsibility for the avenue with CB10—approved the proposal in November, members of CB10 have delayed voting on the plan, citing concerns they had with similar DOT projects on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Mount Morris Park West.
Such concerns were raised at the board's transportation committee meeting last month, where committee member Barbara Nelson called for a new plan that would avoid lane reductions and include stop signs.
Pointing to the severely reduced street parking that was a side effect of the DOT's traffic calming projects on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Mount Morris Park West, Nelson said she was worried the department would not be accountable if the lane reductions proved ineffective.
“The history says that when we give an inch they take a mile,” she said at last month's meeting.
Still, other neighborhood groups, including the North Star Neighborhood Association and Transportation Alternatives, have been lobbying CB10 to approve the plan since last fall. At last month's committee meeting, Transportation Alternatives presented a petition of over 1,000 signatures in support of the proposal.
Karen Horry, co-chair of the CB10 transportation committee, said at Wednesday's meeting that while she still did not support the lane reductions, the community's support of the plan had become obvious.
“We felt that there was a significant outcry from the citizens in that area,” Horry said.
Meanwhile, Daniel Land Parcerisas, another committee member, expressed firm support for the DOT proposal.
“Maybe that wasn't the right thing to do on Mount Morris Park—I personally think it is the right thing to do on Morningside Avenue,” he said. “Narrowing the lane, while it may inconvenience people who want to go fast, it will help the children in school, the neighbors in that area, the people crossing the street to get to church.”
“CB10, like all of us, has been going through a growing process in coming to understand that pedestrians are the most vulnerable on our city streets,” Jonathon Kahn, a member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, said. “I'm extremely happy with the leadership that CB10 is showing.”
To address concerns about keeping the DOT accountable, the final approval includes language that calls on the department to maintain communication with the community during and after implementing the plan.
“North Star is completely aligned with CB10 on that part of the resolution,” Kahn said of the provision.
“Throughout this whole process North Star has been communicating with the DOT and lobbying the DOT, and we will continue in that role,” he added. “We'll be going to DOT if it doesn't go well.”
City Council member Mark Levine and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who have both expressed support for the DOT plan in the past, released a joint statement celebrating the full board's approval.
“We are thrilled these lifesaving changes are now on track to move forward. With summer approaching and the school year almost finished, we need these safety measures in place as quickly as possible,” the statement said. “DOT conducted an open, transparent process that gave our community ample opportunity to weigh in — and we've been able to achieve a broad community consensus that is the right approach.”
Kahn sees the changes on Morningside Avenue as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's citywide effort to improve pedestrian safety.
“Morningside Avenue is a perfect fit for de Blasio's Vision Zero project, and I'm very glad that CB10 is leading the way in the city's efforts to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities,” he said.