Plan to cut road lanes scrapped

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A local business association will scrap its proposal to reduce the number of lanes on Riverdale Avenue, the group’s head told The Press this week, after the plan prompted a flurry of objections from local residents and politicians. 

Gary Wartel, the head of the North Riverdale Merchants Association, downplayed the whole hoopla around his group’s proposal as a result of a “tremendous amount of misunderstanding.” The merchant association was simply looking into ways of alleviating the hectic – and often above the speed limit – traffic along the thoroughfare, he said. The call for eliminating road lanes – or a “road diet,” as the proposal called it – was merely a suggestion in the first draft of the proposal for Riverdale’s beautification, Mr. Wartel said. The second draft is to be released early next year. 

“In the second plan, we will not be removing lanes,” Mr. Wartel said.  

The beautification plan was the product of a $100,000 grant from the  New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which funded a study on improving sections of Riverdale Avenue, Mosholu Avenue and Broadway within the 10741 zip code.

The first draft of the plan contained an array of widely welcomed projects, such as planting new trees, adding benches, or repaving a rocky pedestrian path. It also contained less well-received ideas, such as reducing the number of traffic lanes on all the three thoroughfares. 

On Riverdale Avenue, the plan called for reducing the number of lanes to one in each direction and using parts of a middle lane as a left-turn lane from W. 254th Street to the city line. On Broadway, the plan called for a combination of a bike lane, a parking lane, a through lane and a turn lane in the center – along with either a narrow buffer to separate the bike lane from the road at the side, or a median with shoulders in the center of the street. On Mosholu Avenue, the plan similarly called for reducing the number of lanes to a parking lane and a single through lane in each direction, and for using the remaining pavement space as a buffer. 

Local politicians, including Councilman Andrew Cohen, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, have supported the grant and the study it funded. But they had less-kind words to say last week about the part of the project that called for eliminating traffic lanes and that prompted a public outcry.

“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.” 

The Nov. 30 meeting was intended as a discussion of laws and issues that affect local co-ops and condos. But in a sign of heightened community concerns about the lane-reduction proposal, attendees pelleted politicians with questions about the project. 

“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.”

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. 

Michael Heller, the head of the traffic and transportation committee of Community Board 8, also sought to reassure the gathering that the call for reducing lanes was unlikely to succeed. 

“It’s important to remember [that] this is a plan offered by a private business developer organization, and what the plan would do would be make recommendations to different city and potentially state agencies as to what they think should be done, and there’s no money attached to each of these specific elements,” Mr. Heller said. 

“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. 

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