HARLEM — Residents of Mount Morris Park say they've pushed for changes to the dangerous turn at Mount Morris Park West and 120th Street for two decades, after cars kept veering off the roadway and into the million-dollar brownstones and the lampposts at the corner.
The Department of Transportation obliged residents in January and changed the street from two, and in some sections three, lanes to one lane in order to slow motorists. The DOT also added an extended painted sidewalk, large stones and planters.
Now, some residents say the changes have caused more problems than they've solved. One lane is too few for the volume of traffic on the street that includes city and tour buses, they say. When traffic gets backed up, as it often does, anxious drivers lay on their horns.
"It used to be a large, beautiful European boulevard, but now it's just a parking lot," said Marla Guess, an educational consultant who lives on Mount Morris Park West and is a member of a new group called Mount Morris Takes Action that is dedicated to reversing the change.
"Most people who live close to 120th Street understand that it is a dangerous corner and no one is opposed to the idea of safer turns there, but the solution is so dramatic," added Janice Movson, another member of the group.
Mount Morris Takes Action also opposes plans to put chairs and tables on the extended sidewalk, and they say the new parking configuration blocks clear viewing angles to the park, which is a safety issue, while making it harder for cars to see pedestrians crossing.
"This is a family neighborhood," said Sheila Smith, 55, a professional home organizer. "Crossing the street now is like Frogger."
DOT officials say the streets around Marcus Garvey Park were dangerous. The intersections around the park averaged one serious injury per year between 2006 and 2011 and 10 motor vehicle accidents per year between 2006 and 2010.
"The project was designed to enhance pedestrian safety around the park, and on Mount Morris Park West specifically, while also reducing the number of incidents of vehicular property damage indicated by residents of 120th Street during DOT’s project outreach," DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said.
The one-lane configuration brings the street in line with 124th Street, which also has one lane, while reducing speeding and shortening the distance to cross the street, DOT officials said.
Syderia Chresfield, president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, said locals have held many meetings and discussions about the planned changes to the street.
"It's been a lot of years, so I think people knew what was going on, they just don't like the outcome," Chresfield said.
"If they can come up with another solution to slow down the traffic so we can prevent accidents, that will make the difference."
Laurent Delly, vice president of Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, said his organization collected a list of questions and concerns from residents to pass on to the DOT.
Already, some of the concerns are being addressed, Chresfield and Delly said.
Changes have already been made to the light for cars turning east onto 120th Street from Mount Morris Park West. The length of the flashing yellow turn signals has been increased. If that does not decrease the amount of horn-blowing, the flashing yellow arrow, which has confused some drivers, will be changed to a green arrow, Chresfield said.
DOT also has plans to widen the parking lane to give cars more space. The chairs and tables planned for the extended painted sidewalk will be removed by park officials every evening to prevent people from hanging out there all night. Planters have been added to improve the look of the space.
"There are people who love the changes," Chresfield said. "They need to know we are working for them. We don't come up with this stuff out of the sky."
Khuumba Ama, an artist who has lived in the Mount Morris Park neighborhood for 19 years, said while crossing the intersection that she has "mixed feelings" about the changes.
"It's unattractive but safer," said Ama. "But overall I'm OK with that compromise."