CB8 committee strikes down DOT Riverdale Avenue road diet, criticizes as a ‘traffic nightmare’

Riverdale Avenue 8B7A4223
The Community Board 8 Traffic and Transportation committee rejected a road diet proposal for Riverdale Avenue, pictured, following a tense March 31 meeting.
Photo Adrian Childress

While the city Department of Transportation (DOT) wants to reconstruct Riverdale Avenue between West 254th and West 263rd to improve safety conditions, members of Community Board 8 aren’t convinced the plan will actually help.

Currently, there are two travel lanes, parking in both directions, and frequent double parking, according to DOT and area residents. DOT argued that not having a designated left-turn lane causes unpredictability from vehicles; there is also more space in the road than necessary relative to the amount of traffic, which encourages speeding.

According to DOT, there were 66 injuries on the avenue from 2015 to 2019, 26 of which involved a pedestrian, and two senior pedestrians were killed in 2018. More than half of the pedestrian crashes took place while the person was crossing with the signal in their favor, and almost 60% of crashes occurred while a driver was making a left turn. Rear-end crashes were also an issue.

The agency is proposing altering the four-lane traffic to one lane in each direction, along with a left-turn bay and bike lanes. The agency has conducted similar road diet projects on Burke Avenue, Baychester Avenue and Morris Park Avenue, which have seen reductions in speeding and crashes, with decreases in injuries of 47%, 22% and 42% at each corridor, respectively, per DOT data.

A DOT diagram demonstrates how its proposal would alter the Riverdale Avenue makeup. Photo courtesy DOT

Morris Park Business Improvement District Executive Director Camelia Tepelus, a member of CB8, spoke highly of the Morris Park Avenue road diet, which faced high opposition with a lawsuit spearheaded by the Community Board 11 chair and local business owners, as well as a petition created by then Councilmember Mark Gjonaj.

But following a more than two-hour-long discussion with 150 meeting attendees on Thursday, the CB8 Traffic and Transportation Committee rejected the idea in a 5-2 advisory vote.

A DOT spokesperson told the Bronx Times the proposal is “still under review.”

“DOT plans to review the feedback and comments that were received, as well as continue outreach and discussion with community members and stakeholders,” the spokesperson said.

While DOT initially told CB8 the project would happen in May, the agency’s Interim Bronx Borough Commissioner Keith Kalb said Thursday that the project would take place over the summer.

Alicia Posner, DOT’s deputy director of safety projects and programs, said the agency studied Riverdale Avenue after receiving complaints about speeding and crashes, including from nonprofit Riverdale Main Street Alliance and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Pelham Progressive whose district overlaps Riverdale.

A DOT slide shows Morris Park Avenue, which underwent a road diet in 2019 similar to the one proposed for Riverdale Avenue. Photo courtesy DOT

The proposed treatment is proven to reduce speeding and crashes, Posner said.

But meeting attendees, like state Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, argued that combining two lanes of traffic into one would cause a more dangerous situation.

“While I know your efforts are sincere in trying to improve safety, I think what you’re going to do is make safety worse,” the Riverdale Democrat said. “You’re going to make traffic worse and it’s going to cause more confusion. And when traffic is worse, when people are getting upset waiting in line, that’s when people do stupid things when they’re driving.”

Dinowitz and others said they want a left-turn signal without the road reconfiguration, but Posner said left turn signals were not feasible and Kalb said they’re more likely to be approved if the roadway is converted as proposed.

Other attendees were concerned about congestion, particularly during PS 81 drop-off and pick-up times, which already causes what residents described as mayhem pouring into a travel lane.

According to DOT, the excess roadway combined with low traffic volume results in an open roadway that encourages speeding. Photo courtesy DOT

Former board member Mike Heller, who also served as the committee chair, said the plan would cause a “traffic nightmare.”

Committee member David Gellman, who was open to the plan, said the change would have minimal impact on travel time on the road, approximating that it would add less than a minute to a one-mile stretch.

Committee members Edward Green and Mary Ellen Gibbs, who both rejected the proposal, took issue with the proposed bike lanes.

Green said he believes projects like this one “are being used as a guise to pass agendas of activists for certain other things,” like bike lanes. Gibbs said vehicles would be “smacking down bikers and pedestrians at the same time.”

But Kalb, the interim commissioner, said the project is focused on calming traffic, and the bike lanes are an add-on to utilize extra space.

Committee chair Debra Travis, who did not vote to reject the road diet, told the Bronx Times she expects DOT will pursue the plan, as the agency is required to act when made aware of safety concerns.

Read about the tension that led up to the presentation here.

This article was updated at 6:22 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6 to add the vote of a board member whose microphone wasn’t working, changing the tally from 4-2 to 5-2.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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