Will Harlem’s CB 9 Take Cues From Denny Farrell?

November 7, 2015

traffic drviing street in harlemHarlem Council Member Mark Levine and the local precinct commander spoke in support of a traffic safety plan [PDF] for a deadly stretch of Broadway last night at a Harlem Community Board 9 transportation committee meeting.

Then Denny Farrell, chair of the New York State Assembly’s powerful ways and means committee, let loose with a nonsensical rant against the plan.The project calls for adding pedestrian space and trimming car lanes from three in each direction to two. Will Community Board 9 vote for safety or go along with Farrell? We should find out this fall, when the board is expected to weigh in on the proposal.

After DOT’s presentation last night, Levine spoke up in support. “The status quo is a big problem, and not something we can tolerate,” he said. “Something has to be done, and we have a plan that seems to provide safety for pedestrians.”

The plan also received support from Captain Michael Baker, commanding officer of the 30th Precinct. Baker said he was pleased with changes DOT made to nearby Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, also known as Seventh Avenue, and looked forward to similar changes on Broadway. “What they did with Seventh Avenue made sense. The traffic does flow,” he told CB 9. “There need to be changes to the Broadway corridor. And I think what DOT is looking at will help.”

Most speakers at last night’s meeting were receptive to the plan. A few urged DOT to consider bus lanes or protected bike lanes. DOT project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said center-running bike lanes like those on Allen Street would be difficult to install because Broadway, unlike Allen, has through streets at nearly every block and DOT isn’t willing to make significant changes to cross traffic along Broadway.

LaQuita Henry, a CB 9 member who also volunteers with the Community Alliance of Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights, spent the week speaking with business owners on Broadway about the plan. She found that while most preferred three lanes in each direction, their primary concern was securing additional loading zones, which are part of DOT’s plan.

One CB 9 member was openly hostile to the idea of having one less car lane. “I do not want you to be under the misguided conception that you have the support of the community,” said Annette Robinson. “Folks are not happy about this, and they do feel as if it’s being rammed down their throats.”

Assembly Member Farrell, who has a history of uncorking stemwinders about street redesigns at uptown community board meetings, inveighed against the plan in a 10-minute speech. He began by blaming pedestrians. “What are you doing to make the pedestrian stop walking off the curb, taking the street, and standing there when buses are turning?” he asked DOT. “I have not heard one word about talking to pedestrians.”

He also railed against bicycles (“they’re dangerous!”) and said projects that removed car lanes have led to traffic congestion.

Another thing leading to congestion, according to Farrell: stopping for pedestrians. “[Vision] Zero is working in one respect. Everybody is making careful, slow stops, slow turns, which now creates backups,” he said.

Farrell also cited Florida — regularly ranked among the most dangerous places to walk in America — as a state with an excellent traffic safety record. “They’re finally beginning to understand how to move people around without killing people,” he said. “You go Florida, they drive at 60 miles an hour. I’d like to see their statistics. They have six-lane roads, and they move people everywhere. But they have lights, they have left turns, and they have rules.”

Farrell’s remarks prompted a response from Levine. “There’s never going to be an officer with a speed gun on every corner,” Levine said. “There are things we can do on the streets that calm traffic.”

“Taking a lane is not one of them,” Farrell replied.

After staying mostly silent, newly-elected CB 9 chair Padmore John closed the meeting with some brief remarks. “Everyone sees and believes that it’s an issue that needs to be fixed,” he said, before adding: “Some of the things that have worked in other places might not necessarily work here.”

“This is not finalized. It will go back to the committee before anything is done,” said CB 9 transportation committee chair Carolyn Thompson. “We’re not done here.”

Stephen Miller is a reporter for Streetsblog NYC. He has been covering the movement for safer streets, effective transit, and livable cities since 2012. Photo credit: Denny Farrell at a 2008 hearing on congestion pricing. Photo: Aaron Naparstek.

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