Deadly Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to Get a Makeover, DOT Says

By Jeff Mays on May 10, 2012 9:10am 

Students from a nearby school wait to cross the street at the newly-installed speed board at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and West 134th Street.
Students from a nearby school wait to cross the street at the newly-installed speed board at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and West 134th Street.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — A safety plan would reduce travel lanes from three to two along Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the city, officials from the Department of Transportation told Community Board 10 Wednesday night.

Dedicated left turn lanes, extended medians and wider parking lanes will be used to help calm traffic over the length of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, which stretches from 110th to 153rd streets is more dangerous than all but 10 percent of city streets. Planter boxes will be added to extend the pedestrian median, a controversial solution that drew criticism from many at the meeting.

The roadway currently has four lanes in each direction, made up of three travel lanes and one parking lane. The new configuration will include a wider parking lane, a dedicated left turn lane and two travel lanes for those not turning. The left lane is already a de facto turning lane, said DOT officials.

From 2006 to present, there have been 10 fatalities on the roadway, compared with two on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and three on Lenox Avenue.

Seventy percent of the fatalities on the boulevard since 2006 involved collisions in the left lane, said Naomi Iwasaki, planning and operations coordinator at DOT.

"There's a lot of chaos that can lead to reckless driving," said Iwasaki.

As the statistics show, that chaos can be deadly. In June of 2011, Leonia White, 89, who was wheelchair-bound and nearly blind, was killed when a pickup truck hit a livery cab, jumped a curb, and slammed into her at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and West 145th Street.

The average age of the traffic fatality victims was 62, and most were just a few blocks from their homes, so it is senior residents of the neighborhoods around Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard who are being harmed most by the accidents.

Traffic on the boulevard has been clocked as high as 52 miles per hour during the evening and 39 miles per hour during the day, both well over the 30 miles per hour city speed limit.

"There is a lot on Adam Clayton Powell that needs to be calmed down," said Iwasaki.

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said the dedicated left lane would better help arrange traffic on the street, and make it safer.

"What we have now is more travel lanes than we need for traffic," she said.

To help calm traffic at the boulevard's major intersection, a left turn signal will be installed at 135th and 145th streets. At those intersections, anywhere from 250 to 300 vehicles per hour are trying to make a left turn.

At 125th street, the traffic signals will be reprogrammed to give pedestrians a head start in crossing the boulevard. Pedestrian countdown clocks that allow 23 seconds to cross the boulevard have already been added.

The portion of the presentation that drew the most concern was the plan to add planters around painted areas of the street to extend the pedestrian median. Numerous residents and stakeholders, including an area manager for the Parks Department, said maintaining the planters would be difficult.

"We already have a difficult time raising funds," said Jeanette Boyd, vice president of the Friends of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, a group that already helps maintain some of the flowers in the median.

Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said the result of a plan to place chrysanthemums in planters along 125th Street a few years ago was disastrous.

"We had the most beautiful mums in the city but they lasted 24 hours. People took them home and the empty planters became garbage cans," said Askins.

Forgione said the plan is to connect with neighborhood groups and churches to help maintain the planters. The Parks Department would not be responsible for their maintenance, she said.

"We are not going to impose something on a community and say we are done and walk away," said Forgione who added there were other options than planters.

There was also some concern that the changes would alter the look of the boulevard which many long-time residents remember as a promenade for people dressed in their Sunday best.

William Hamer, director of senior services for Abyssinian Development Corporation, said residents can't be afraid of change.

"Let's explore alternatives. Let's not just throw everything out and say we don't need it," said Hamer.

Forgione asked the board for a letter of support for the changes.

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle said the transportation committee would prepare a draft resolution reflecting their concerns about the planters and other issues for the full board to address.

Lyle said questions about the look of the boulevard, including the concerns about planters, were valid ones.

"We all support safety," she said.

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