HARLEM — Critics angered by safety improvements made to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard are pushing the city's Department of Transportation to reconsider its overhaul, saying it damages the neighborhood's aesthetics.
Julius Tajiddin, founder of the group Preserve Harlem's Legacy, recently took a tour of the boulevard with DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione to look at the changes, after collecting 1,000 signatures on a petition complaining that the flow of traffic, as well as the character of the boulevard, used historically for parades in Harlem, has been damaged.
"Every day from 3 p.m. until about 6 p.m., the left turn lane is causing a lot of traffic jamming because there is not much room for cars to get over," said Tajiddin, who
The boulevard has had 12 fatalities since 2006, with just three fatalities in the last year alone and ranks as more dangerous than all but 12 percent of the borough's roadways, according to the Department of Transportation.
The city narrowed the lanes, added left-turn lanes and eliminated a lane along some stretches of the road where there is no left turn. It also added white stakes to stretch the area available for pedestrians to stand and increased the width of the parking lane.
Although critics say the safety is priority, they feel that the DOT could have made other changes to improve the safety along the boulevard — such as timing the traffic lights differently, improving road markings and trimming shrubbery along the median so it doesn't block the traffic signals.
"The feeling of three lanes and how cars proceeded along the boulevard has a certain ambience and feeling. People like that the boulevard is grand. They don't like that the grandness has been taken away," said Tajiddin.
But supporters say the changes have already made a positive impact in the targeted areas.
According to DOT spokeswoman Nicole Garcia, the dedicated left turn lanes have helped to eliminate the problem of rear end crashes of cars waiting to turn left. The larger parking lane has also helped to relieve the issue of double parking which also makes driving on the boulevard more hazardous.
"This community-driven project is designed to enhance safety and reduce speeding along this storied boulevard and our preliminary observations have found that traffic already appears to be moving better than before the project," said Garcia.
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. More recently, on June 3, a 35-year-old man was struck and killed by a car at 145th street. The vehicle did not stop.
"There is often an initial adjustment period as new projects are implemented, and we will continue to speak with the community as this project moves forward," she added.
Tajiddin said Harlem residents who were unhappy with the atheistic as well as usefulness of the changes told DOT Commissioner Forgione firstand about their complaints.
He asked her to hold off on painting the pedestrian area blocked in by the white stakes until the DOT has a chance to hold another forum for residents.
Henrietta Lyle, chair of Community Board 10, also said she has also heard complaints about the changes. She said she too would like the DOT to come back for a larger community meeting to discuss the changes. She says there wasn't enough time to discuss DOT's proposed changes after they came back with their final plan in May.
After meeting with Forgione, Tajiddin said he's optimistic a compromise can be reached. He said he felt that Forgione heard the concerns about how the look of the boulevard is connected to Harlem's history and that many residents want to make the street safer while maintaining that history.
"I do appreciate that they were listening and that the commissioner came back for talks. That didn't go unnoticed," said Tajiddin.