DOT Weakened Riverside Drive Plan to Appease Manhattan CB 9 [Updated]

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where the majority of drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps
A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where most drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no dedicated lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

DOT watered down and delayed an already half-hearted plan to make Riverside Drive safer for walking in deference to opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9.

Riverside is a neighborhood street, lined by apartment buildings and parks. It also ranks in the top third of Manhattan streets in terms of the number of collisions, which is supposed to mean it’s a high priority for DOT to redesign under Vision Zero. From 2009 to 2013, crashes on Riverside resulted in 74 injuries, including 23 severe injuries, according to DOT.

In January, DOT released a road diet plan for Riverside that was weak to begin with. By omitting bike lanes where there is clearly ample room, DOT passed on an opportunity to make the street safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But that wasn’t enough to placate CB 9, which refused to endorse the plan as drivers continued to injure people.

The original DOT plan called for reducing through-lanes on the Riverside Drive viaduct, where DOT says the majority of drivers speed, from two to one in each direction. But under the amended plan endorsed by CB 9 last May, the viaduct will remain two lanes on the northbound side, according to the office of City Council Member Mark Levine.

DOT dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.
DOT reportedly dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

Also scrapped, according to Levine’s office, were pedestrian islands with street trees proposed for 120th Street as part of a road diet between Riverside and Broadway. Facets of the project that would have been completed this year will have to wait until 2016 because DOT wouldn’t go forward without CB 9’s permission.

DOT has not responded to Streetsblog’s request for details about the differences between the original Riverside proposal and the project as it will be implemented. Only the original plan is available on the agency’s website.

DOT is free to move forward with projects that don’t get supportive community board votesbut under Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg the agency has rarely, if ever, done so, even when City Council members want a street to be redesigned. One CB 9 member, Ted Kovaleff, protested a road diet for Riverside because congestion on the street used to interfere with his weekend road trips to Vermont. This is who DOT is taking direction from in the Vision Zero era.

Riverside is one of the surface streets that, for whatever reason, DOT decided to exempt from the city’s 25 mph speed limit when it took effect in the fall of 2014. Last week we reported that DOT recently lowered the maximum legal driving speed on Riverside north of 103rd Street from 30 to 25 mph. Since then, according to a reader who lives in the area, DOT has removed all 30 mph signs south 165th Street.

Update: A DOT spokesperson sent us this statement:

The project is from 116th [to] 135th Street on Riverside Drive, in both directions. The first proposal had the corridor changed to one lane in each direction. The new project that was supported by CB 9, which we worked with the community on, changes the corridor from two lanes northbound and one lane southbound for the length of the viaduct. We listened to community concerns about pedestrian access to Grant’s Tomb to provide traffic calming on a stretch of Riverside Drive where drivers had been excessively speeding.


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