Harlem's Amsterdam Avenue In Urgent Need Of Redesign: Advocates

By Brendan Krisel

HARLEM, NY — With nearly one crash per day on a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, "time is of the essence" for the city Department of Transportation to implement a street redesign, City Councilman Mark Levine said during a Thursday rally with advocates for safe streets.

"What you're looking at here on Amsterdam Avenue is a street designed according to state-of-the-art principals from half a century ago. It's a street that is desparately need in modernization and we have learned a lot in the past half century about how to make our city streets safer and more efficient for everybody," Levine said.

Levine rallied at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 123rd street Thursday with representatives from Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives and Community Board 9 to urge the city to implement fixes on the Avenue between West 110th and 155th Streets.

The city Department of Transportation has been pitching a plan to redesign the stretch since the beginning of 2017 that will add painted bike lanes, left turn bays and pedestrian safety islands to the 45-block street stretch. The redesign will also reduce the number of travel lanes from four to two on the two-way avenue and add loading zones to help businesses receive deliveries, according to the DOT's latest presentation of the plan.

Making the avenue narrower and adding turning bays will discourage speeding and create simpler and safer left turns for cars, according to the DOT.

More than 750 people have been injured and three people have been killed in automobile collisions since 2012 on this stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, Levine said Thursday.

Speaking at Thursday's rally was Joan Dean of Families for Safe Streets, who lost her grandson Sammy to a speeding driver in Brooklyn five years ago. Dean, a resident of the Upper West Side, said that a loss of a family member to reckless driving is a painful experience that "affects the whole family."

"We hopefully will achieve vision zero so there will be zero fatalities and zero injuries," Dean said Thursday.

All one has to do to understand why the road is dangerous is "spend a few minutes here," Levine said. The stretch features four major hills and it's a wide four-lane street which leads to speeding. Between West 110th and 155th streets is located four schools, playgrounds, senior centers and a "senior safety area" starting at West 145th Street. Both Columbia University and City College are also located on the stretch.

The stretch is particularly dangerous for bicyclists, safe streets advocates said Thursday. Brad Taylor of the Friends of Morningside Park described biking on Amsterdam Avenue above West 110th Street as "taking your life in your hands," and says he has to use the stretch sometimes twice per day.

Martin Wallace, who rides his bike with his son, said he sees dangerous situations while riding everyday, but that he also sees the alternatives in areas that have implemented street redesigns.

"We want to see safer streets all over Manhattan, all over New York City," Wallace said. "I looked at the data yesterday on the NYPD site for crashes and just on this stretch alone we're up to about a crash a day, and that includes injuries. This is unacceptable."

The good news is that the city Department of Transportation already has its plan for the stretch in place, Levine said. The city doesn't need approval from the local community board to implement a street redesign, but is currently committed to working with Community Board 9 to develop the best plan.

Community Board 9 vice chair Victor Edwards said the board still has a few reservations about the plan and would like to see more data from the city, but overall supports the mission of improving safety on Amsterdam Avenue. The board is specifically interested in data on how the DOT's plan may affect idling time on the avenue due to the area's already-high rates of asthma, Edwards said Thursday.

Despite a willingness to work with the local board, Levine said he would like to see work begin on implementing the city's plan "before it gets too cold." A specific date to start the plan was not provided during Thursday's rally.

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