Saturday, June 25, 2022

West Side Rag » ‘Fix the Bricks’ Is CB7 Transportation Committee’s Message to DOT; They ‘Slow Traffic and Save Lives’

Posted on May 19, 2022 at 4:18 pm by West Side Rag

By Molly Sugarman

A loud-and-clear message was sent to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) on May 10th, as local residents and Community Board 7 Transportation Committee members spoke out to save the red brick crosswalks on West 94th Street between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue.

In fact, rather than eliminating the 94th Street crosswalk zones when the road is resurfaced – as the city’s DOT proposes – more brick crosswalks should be installed throughout the area, argued several speakers at the transportation committee meeting.

The crosswalks were installed in the late 1960s, after an accident in which speeding cars on 94th Street killed one child and left another injured. Gabriella Rowe, sister of the child injured in that accident, Zoomed in from Texas this month to attend the committee meeting and recount the history of the accident and the aftermath.

According to Rowe, drag racers used to speed down 94th Street, and her brother’s injury was caused by a speeding drunk driver. In the aftermath, Rowe’s parents and other local residents campaigned for city action to reduce the hazard by slowing traffic. The city’s eventual solution was to install octagonal pavers, extending the sidewalks into 94th Street at corners and mid-block.

Narrowing the street got drivers to slow down. “It completely transformed the way people drove,” Rowe told the committee.

That transformation continues today, said Erana Stennett, a member of the transportation committee. “The only reason cars slow down is the change in pavement,” said Stennett.

Despite those endorsements, Colleen Chattergoon, a DOT representative at the meeting, said the city had planned to patch the bricks with asphalt during an upcoming resurfacing of the street. Some of the crosswalk bricks are loose and present a tripping hazard, Chattergoon said, and they are difficult for the city to maintain. But before any action is taken, Chattergoon said, the city wanted input from the CB7 transportation committee.

Chattergoon said DOT had no record of the accident leading to the death of a child in the 1960s, nor are there records detailing the installation of the brick crosswalks or any city commitment to maintain them.

Committee Member Ken Coughlin said that, until 2008, DOT was maintaining the bricks. “All of a sudden DOT is saying they can’t deal with this, which just seems absurd for an agency putting safety first,” he said.

Because the bricks are not DOT’s usual road covering, there are none in stock, according to Chattergoon, who suggested that the loose bricks be temporarily patched with asphalt until DOT designates repair of the red brick road as a capital project, something that might take five to ten years.

Support for the red bricks as a speed control measure was so strong on the committee that Chattergoon suggested an alternative measure for slowing traffic. She noted that money has become available for more speed cameras and suggested that 94th Street might be an appropriate location for one.

The committee was unanimous in its opposition to this approach. Neither speed cameras nor speed bumps garnered support from residents or committee members.

Carl Mahaney, a local advocate for alternative transportation, summed up the sentiment, “[The brick] slows traffic and saves lives. We want this to become standard across the district.”

Committee Member Polly Spain brought up another issue: lack of notification of 94th Street residents that the DOT was contemplating eliminating the bricks. “I urge the Community Board not to vote approval to have this work done,” she said.

The committee agreed with both of Spain’s points: that better notification of residents needs to occur before changes are made, and that the bricks should stay. The committee will recommend to the full board that the bricks not be removed, and that money be found to repair the brick in kind.

So enthusiastic was support for this traffic-calming measure, that the committee wants to discuss expanding the brick crosswalks and street narrowing to other cross streets throughout the district.

“I’ve argued for years we should replicate 94th on all crosstown streets,” Coughlin said. “I didn’t know the story. It’s very sad that in 50 years this is not on any other block. DOT should replicate this on other blocks. We shouldn’t wait for another death. Be proactive. Brick is fantastic, safer, and more charming.”

The board unanimously passed a resolution to, “Call on DOT not to remove the brick, nor use asphalt to patch, but find it in their budget to repair the brick in kind because it is a proven traffic calming measure.” The committee also recommended that before the issue is discussed by the full board on June 7, extensive notification should go out to 94th Street residents and block associations.

With Community Board 7 Member Sheldon Fine taking the lead, several people also pledged to buy replacement bricks.

The committee agreed to put expanding the 94th street design to other crosstown streets on next month’s agenda.


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