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New Video Stokes Battle on Harlem's Morningside Avenue Safety Improvements

By Jeff Mays | January 24, 2014 11:59am
Morningside Avenue safety
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Destinations Unknown Productions

HARLEM — A new video showing cars traveling up to 17 miles per hour above the city's speed limit on Morningside Avenue in Harlem is helping to renew a push for changes to the street.

Maurice Sessoms, 35, a film producer, said he made the video as the disagreement between Community Board 10, the city's Department of Transportation and residents raged about how to best make improvements.

"You never walk across that street you run across that street," said Sessoms. "I want them to realize it's important and that something needs to be done because it's a safety issue."

In the video, Sessoms uses a radar gun to track the speed of passing cars. Several hit the 40-plus miles per hour mark as you hear them roar by. Pedestrians along the street also tell Sessoms that they don't feel safe and want something to be done.

 A new video showing cars traveling up to 17 miles per hour above the city's speed limit on Morningside Avenue in Harlem is helping to renew a push for changes to the street. The Department of Transportation has proposed a series of changes to make the street safer.
Morningside Avenue Traffic Calming
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The street, which stretches from 113th to 126th streets along Morningside Park, has long been a dangerous roadway say residents.

DOT officials say that 236 citations for speeding were issued along the stretch 116th to 126th streets from January to October of 2013. From 2007 to 2011 there were 102 injuries of vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists on the street with 9 serious injuries but no fatalities.

Jonathon Kahn, a member of the North Star Neighborhood Association steering committee, said the speeding cars endanger the neighborhood.

From 116th Street to 123rd Street on Morningside there are at least two parks and two schools and few traffic calming measures. Some of the street crossings even lack crosswalks.

"We've had this rejuvenation of Morningside Park and its more and more difficult for parents and kids to cross Morningside Avenue to get there," said Kahn.

That's why in 2011, the North Star Neighborhood Association applied to have Morningside Avenue become a slow zone where speeds are limited to 20 mph, 10 mph less than the current city speed limit.

That application was not approved, but DOT decided to come up with a plan to address the many complaints they have been receiving. Last fall DOT issued a plan to reduce the number of travel lanes on the street to three from four with dedicated left turn lanes where necessary. DOT officials say the 60 foot wide road was too large for the 710 vehicles it carries per day.

Pedestrian islands that allow for two-part street crossing will be added on 123rd, 120th, 118th and 117th streets. Extended curbs will also be added at Hancock Place, 126th, 118th and 120th streets, along with a stop sign at 118th Street.

The changes require approval from the Community Boards 9 and 10 which rest on either side of Morningside Avenue.

CB 9 approved of the changes with some recommendations such as increased lighting and traffic enforcement, speed bumps and changing the timing of the lights.

"I don't think the proposal was perfect but something needs to be done," said Brad Taylor, a member of CB 9 and president of Friends of Morningside Park which has worked to bring more users and resources to the park.

CB 9 was considering an amendment to the resolution to suggest safety improvements be made without reducing lanes but CB 9 chair the Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas now says that is off the table.

"CB 9 will go with the resolution that was proposed and passed because there have got to be some safety precautions put in," said Morgan-Thomas.

CB 10 has yet to approve a resolution, said chair Henrietta Lyle because there is a concern that the loss of lanes will contribute to an even more unsafe situation due to double parking.

Lyle cited previously contentious lane reductions on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Mount Morris Park West.

"Instead of reducing the number of  lanes come up with an alternative measure," said Lyle. "What our community wants to do is look at everything and make sure we are making the right decision. Reducing the number of lanes the way they did on Mount Morris Park West without thinking about it is not the right thing to do."

Lyle's stance has drawn heat from the Morningside Avenue neighborhood.

"CB 10 has asked DOT for an alternate plan but they have not been concrete enough about what is wrong with the current DOT plan," said Kahn. "The DOT does know what they are doing."

Kahn says he understands Lyle's concerns but that the safety of the many children who cross the street should be the priority.

"There is an opportunity for a win-win here. CB 10, DOT and North Star can come up with a solution where everyone gets something that works," said Kahn.

Lyle objects to the notion that CB 10 are being obstructionists. She says she has told DOT to take whatever temporary safety measures are necessary until they come back with another proposal.

"DOT continues to work with Community Boards 9 and 10 on this safety enhancement, and will present additional design proposals to both in the coming months. After that, the agency will review any resolutions we receive and then determine the next steps," said DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera.

In the meantime, area residents like Sessoms hope that no one is seriously injured in the interim.

"Everyone I talked to on the street wanted something done. They all thought it was a no-brainer," said Sessoms. "When it comes to safety, a solution shouldn't take this long."