By Molly Sugarman
The city’s Department of Transportation used an Earth Day celebration last Sunday to seek public input on a proposal that would permanently slow down traffic on West 103rd Street and make the street more inviting to pedestrians and cyclists. The changes will affect 103rd Street from Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Drive.
The plans for the change were on display at the StreetArts Earth Day event on Sunday. The event was sponsored by Park to Park 103, a nonprofit whose goal is to make the entire Upper West Side stretch of 103rd Street – from Central Park to Riverside Park – open for pedestrians and bicycles, with sharply limited vehicle use, as well as benches and parklets to encourage interactions among residents, and walking tours to showcase the history of the area.
At the event, people could look at and comment on the drawings as well as take away a postcard with a link to a three-question DOT survey. Here are the plans:
To give people the space needed to socially distance during the pandemic, New York City created the Open Streets program. Some Open Streets were blocked off completely on weekends for open-air dining and strolling. On others, traffic was curtailed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. No through traffic was allowed, except those dropping off people or packages. West 103rd is in the latter category.
Signs and metal barriers have indicated that the street is not open to through traffic and that, for those who do pass the barriers, the speed limit is 5 mph.
The proposed changes would make those restrictions permanent, by modifying the sidewalks. The proposal would also involve loss of parking spaces on 103rd and on the cross streets. The number of spaces lost is “in flux,” according to Rachel Albetski, from StreetPlans, an urban planning organization working with DOT. Albetski was on hand Sunday to explain the plans to people and answer questions.
The changes proposed—but not yet finalized—will be presented to Community Board 7 at a future meeting, the date of which is not yet known. DOT has not released its schedule yet, Albetski said.
Redesign elements proposed by DOT for 103rd Street include:
Shared Street from Amsterdam to Broadway
The most significant changes are proposed for the block of 103rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, which would become a Shared Street. Also known as a “pedestrian-priority” street, a shared street is designed for slow travel speeds where pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists all share the right of way, according to the DOT Street Design Manual.
“Street users generally negotiate the right-of-way cooperatively rather than relying on traffic controls, allowing the entire street to effectively function as a public space,” according to the DOT manual.
Curb Extensions from Broadway to Riverside Drive
The proposed redesign includes curb extensions on every corner of West 103rd in the designated area. These extensions would curve around onto the cross streets – Amsterdam, Broadway, West End Avenue, and the Riverside Drive access road.
Curb extensions are an “expansion of curb line into the lane of the roadway adjacent to the curb (typically a parking lane) for a portion of a block,” according to the DOT Street Design Manual.
According to DOT, such extensions improve pedestrian safety by reducing crossing distances and giving pedestrians better sightlines to see oncoming traffic. The extensions also discourage truck turns, force vehicles that do turn to slow down, and slow down traffic by narrowing the roadway.
The downsides, according to DOT, include possible impact on underground utilities, complications for deliveries and garbage removal, possible impact on snowplows and street sweepers, and loss of parking on both sides of both streets at the intersection.
Mid-block Narrowing from Broadway to Riverside Drive
To further slow traffic, mid-block “pinch points” will physically narrow the street. Such narrowing is proposed mid-block between Broadway and West End Avenue, and between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. Pinch points are sidewalk extensions that go into the parking lanes on both sides of the street. Pedestrians can see oncoming better and the street is narrowed.
Slowing mid-block traffic is the main benefit of these outcroppings. The downside is the loss of parking on both sides of the street.
The plans can change as DOT and StreetPlans get more input from the public, both online and at events such as Sunday’s.
Examples of all these measures can be found in the DOT Street Design Manual.