No plan to stop narrowing Riverdale Ave | The Riverdale Press

By Stacy Driks

Community Council 8 says no. Local officials say no. But the city’s transportation department remains a yes. And in the end, when it comes to narrowing Riverdale Avenue, only their vote counts.

The DOT says it is moving forward with a plan that will change the way cars navigate a stretch of North Riverdale’s main thoroughfare between West 254th and West 263rd streets. And that could happen before the end of the summer.

“This project will provide designs that have been shown to reduce speed, calm traffic and slow drivers on a street where there have been multiple fatalities in recent years,” DOT spokesman Vin Barone said. “We look forward to improving safety for all road users on Riverdale Avenue while creating an important new connection for the Borough’s cycling network.

The plan is simple: turn four traffic lanes into three. The middle lane will allow drivers to make left turns only. At the same time, the DOT will add biking lanes in both directions, next to parallel parked cars.

It’s a plan that’s been in the works for at least two years, but when news broke the DOT was moving forward with the shrinkage, at least one state lawmaker called it a misguided project.

“Frankly, I don’t think the DOT should be doing the road diet,” Congressman Jeffrey Dinowitz said. “As far as I know, they have never observed traffic conditions during school arrival or departure times.”

Nearly a hundred people voiced their own opinions at a meeting of the CB8 traffic and transport committee last March, a mixture of objections and support.

The DOT is not beholden to the Community Board, itself purely an advisory body. Still, Dinowitz said, that doesn’t mean its members should be ignored.

“My job is to represent the views and interests of people in our community, that’s what it’s all about,” the Assemblyman said. “But instead, we have ideologues making decisions about our neighborhoods as if we have the same access to public transportation as they do in Lower Manhattan and West Brooklyn.”

The Assemblyman had his own plans for Riverdale Avenue. He fought for left turn signals for northbound traffic on West 256th and West 259th streets.

“These requests (have fallen) on deaf ears,” Dinowitz said in an August 1 press release.

Keith Kalb, acting Bronx Borough Commissioner of the DOT, said the lawmaker’s proposal just won’t work.

Even CB8 president Laura Spalter said she wanted to know how the DOT came up with their studies, which led them to make their decision to narrow the road in the first place. She asked for data such as the time of day they recorded problems on the road, or maybe even the day it happened.

Still, Spalter remained empty-handed until July. But when the DOT finally responded, it wasn’t what she expected.

“I was very upset when I saw the study, because it wasn’t a study,” she said.

Spalter shared four screenshots with The Riverdale Press she said demonstrate the current commute times and the Riverdale Avenue proposal.

“We had a lot of questions that we didn’t answer,” she said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs a shuttle along Riverdale Avenue to transport Metro-North Railroad passengers, also appears to be left in the dark. The MTA never even heard of the “road diet” project, said Spalter, who was briefed on it by email.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that the DOT didn’t even speak to the MTA before coming up with this road diet plan,” Dinowitz said.

“This is yet another example of DOT ideologues operating in silos trying to apply a unique blueprint to a community that just isn’t the same as what they’re used to in other places.”

But the MTA eventually met with city officials, approving the route plan. It was a deal that Spalter said she was never made aware of. For her, this was yet another example of agencies ultimately ignoring the community board.

Other groups – like the Riverdale Main Streets Alliance – fear for the safety of anyone on or near local streets. The group – led by Damian McShane – wants more than just road paint. In fact, the alliance commissioned a report in 2016 with a similar proposal in mind.

But the narrowing of Riverdale Avenue was only a small part of a bigger plan. The association’s goal was to repave the entire street and replace the curbs.

“I think to some extent we’ve been painted as the engines of that, but that road diet isn’t the end,” McShane said. “We see it as the start of what needs to happen.”

But Dinowitz doesn’t believe the DOT plan improves safety. In fact, lawmakers say it could create even more danger for pedestrians and drivers.

And while there are indeed accidents and fatalities on this particular stretch, Riverdale Avenue isn’t the only one, Dinowitz said. There are other streets that need more attention.

Since the proposal in March, five crashes have been reported within the 10-block radius, resulting in three injuries. But between 2019 and 2020, the DOT reports 86 accidents on this part of Riverdale Avenue, injuring a cyclist, seven pedestrians and 14 motorists.

Two pedestrians and a motorist were killed.

CB8, however, had its eye on West 238th Street and Bailey Avenue, where double-parkers, speedsters and pedestrians chasing buses without checking for incoming traffic have been a problem. Like Riverdale Avenue, it is not far from Yonkers and is crossed by lines Bx10 and Bx3.

However, Riverdale Avenue is a major thoroughfare with at least five bus routes – three of which are express – and a Metro-North shuttle. Dinowitz insists there will be heavy traffic if the four lanes carrying it all in this corridor are reduced.

And as for the cycle paths, would it work even if there was no cycle network?

“But to be honest, I don’t think it’s about creating a usable bike path to help our community members get around more easily,” Dinowitz said. “I think it’s more about making it harder for people in cars, and bike lanes are the DOT excuse.”

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