Beautify for pedestrians and cyclists, not for buses and sedans


To the editor:

I was tremendously disappointed to read that the North Riverdale Merchants Association will withdraw its proposal to pursue street redesign in Riverdale at the behest of short-sighted residents and politicians.

This paper quotes Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz as saying:

“They claim that [the lane reduction] would make things safer and traffic would flow more smoothly,” Mr. Dinowitz told the meeting. “Personally, I find that hard to believe. I’m pretty good at math: I know that when you convert four to three, you have less.”

Dinowitz’s math skills indeed suggest he attended kindergarten.  However, he appears to be woefully ignorant about road design, as it’s widely understood today that more lanes don’t reduce congestion, they simply invite more traffic.  This is called “induced demand.”  In addition to attracting traffic, excessively wide city streets like Riverdale Avenue and Broadway also encourage speeding and increase the likelhihood of collisions.  This is a tremendous problem in front of PS81 on Riverdale Avenue, which in 2013 received one of the city’s first school zone speed cameras after the DOT found that 96 percent of drivers passing it were exceeding the speed limit and endangering the lives of children.

Senator Jeffrey Klein should recognize this problem, as he pushed for the state legislation that allowed the camera in the first place.  Unfortunately, as quoted in your article, he seems just as myopic as Dinowitz:

“The goal [of the study] was beautification. Not changing traffic patterns, not doing anything else,” Mr. Klein told a meeting of the Association of Riverdale Cooperatives and Condominiums on Nov. 30. “The purpose [was] beautification of the shopping district, and that’s what we want to see.”

Calming traffic is beautification.  There’s nothing beautiful about speeding cars and dangerous intersections that invite road user conflict.  Walkable streets that accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists in addition to motorists attract people to neighborhoods and shoppers to businesses.  De facto highways that are dangerous to drive on and difficult for pedestrians to cross do not.  Adding street upgrades such as bike lanes has had a positive economic impact on neighborhoods in cities all over the world, including ours.

Upgrading our neighborhood transportation infrastructure should be a priority for our representatives and residents, yet Councilman Andrew Cohen assured those at the meeting that there was “nothing official” about this proposal:

Even if the proposal to reduce traffic lanes was to make it into the revised draft, the project has no backing from city or state authorities, Mr. Cohen told the meeting.

“It was just a private group that had some thoughts. There’s nothing official about it,” he said.

As councilman Cohen should be doing everything he can to make this official, not reassuring his constituents that it isn’t.  “Road diets” and similar upgrades are being implemented in other neighborhoods in the city to great effect.  The neighborhoods receiving them are reaping the benefits: improved traffic flow, safer streets, increased property values, a better economic environment for local businesses, and overall an improved quality of life.  No doubt Cohen knows this.  After all, he’s one of the politicians who has sagely called for a redesign of the Grand Concourse to make it safer for pedestrians.

Most importantly, traffic deaths are an epidemic in this city and our neighborhood is no exception.  Most recently a 77 year-old woman was killed by a driver while crossing Broadway near Manhattan College Parkway.   Broadway is one of the streets included in the proposal, and anybody who’s ever crossed it on foot knows how dangerous it is.  Improvements like the ones in this proposal might have saved her life, and will save lives in the future if they’re implemented.

In this context, Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee head Michael Heller’s blithe dismissal of the components of this proposal that address safety is downright offensive: 

“So, as Senator Klein said, take out all those things [that] are not really germane to the plan as a whole, and we’ll see what the revised plan looks like,” he said.

Riverdale is a great neighborhood that should be the envy of the city.  Our natural beauty is unparalleled but our streets lag behind.  The politicians and community board who serve this neighborhood owe it to local businesses and residents--especially children and the elderly, our most vulnerable road users--to stop pandering to a small self-interested minority and bring our cityscape into the 21st century.  Because if our streets remain highways, we’re just a blur on the way to Yonkers.

Eben Weiss

Eben Weiss writes the “Bike Snob NYC” blog and is the author of “Bike Snob,” “The Enlightened Cyclist,” “Bike Snob Abroad” and “The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual.”