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Congested 181st Street Corridor in Store for Changes

By Carla Zanoni | June 9, 2011 8:25pm

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — One of Upper Manhattan's most notoriously congested corridors is about to see major change if the city moves forward with a Department of Transportation plan to revamp West 181st Street.

The department made a final recommendation Monday to Community Board 12's traffic and transportation committee, drawing from a three-year study of the east-west roadway that connects Washington Heights to the Washington Bridge, I-95, Harlem River Drive, Riverside Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway.

DOT recommendations ran the gamut, including adding loading times for trucks to minimize double parking, improving signal coordination, creating left-hand turn banks to minimize traffic congestion at intersections, and adding "traffic calming" measures such as medians.

"The level of activity along the corridor has generated concerns about congestion and safety," reads the DOT website description of the site.

Residents have long complained about the busy two-way thoroughfare, with two lanes of parking, that passes through a retail and residential hub slightly north of the George Washington and Alexander Hamilton bridges. It is also near a major bus terminal, is home to five bus routes that connect Manhattan and The Bronx and has stops on the A/C and 1 train lines.

"I drive. I walk. But don't look forward to either during rush hour on 181st Street," said Washington Heights resident Alex Castex-Porter. "It's been this way for decades."

Even the fire department has seen problems arise from the congestion, complaining that response times are regularly delayed due to congestion at peak traffic times, especially between 4 and 8 p.m., according to a local chief.

Community Board 12 will weigh in on the plan during its general meeting on June 28, when it will recommend loading times throughout the corridor. It will also consider whether changes like diverting traffic into one lane on St. Nicholas Avenue will truly calm traffic and whether the benefit of an eastbound left-turn bay at Broadway and West 181st Street is worth the loss of several parking spaces needed to create the lane.

If approved, DOT says it will begin making short-term improvements during the end of summer, which residents say is a good move and long overdue.

"Ultimately this is about getting as many people as possible from point A to point B smoothly,” said Washington Heights resident Castex-Porter. “That should be the priority.”