(re: “Don’t dismiss street plans for Riverdale Avenue just yet,” Dec. 21)
I have been a Community Board 8 member for nine years, and currently the chair of the traffic and transportation committe.
CB8 is a city agency currently comprised of 40 members, appointed by the borough president, half of whom are recommended by city councilmembers representing the area. While our members come from different neighborhoods in the board, each has a common purpose — to make our community better.
The community board is subject to open meetings laws, which requires that all meetings, votes and minutes be noticed to the public. There are 15 standing committees, and presently, two special committees. Agencies and stakeholders come to the board and public through the committees. Board members and the public can raise issues of concern at these meetings on their own initiative.
Given the involvement of the public and the large, diverse membership of the community board, our resolutions are more representative of public opinion than any other measure. While city officials and agencies need not follow the votes of community boards, it is generally in the public interest not to ignore them.
The North Riverdale Merchants Association asked community board members to be part of a working group on the streetscape project. As the chair of the board at the time, I kindly rejected the invitation since the plan would ultimately be presented to the board, and I wanted to avoid any potential conflict.
For more than a year, the community board asked the NRMA to come to its traffic and transportation committee. We wanted an opportunity for the board and public to engage with NRMA prior to its final report.
NRMA did appear in October, after finalization of its plan was sent to the city’s transportation department in July. The letter “… asks DOT to consider and act on recommendations in the report as soon as possible.”
The October meeting was attended by about 100 residents. NRMA presented its plan and the floor was open for questions and comments. NRMA replied to some questions, and recorded others to be answered after the meeting.
The greatest concern echoed by the public was the “road diet” (reduction of traffic lanes) on Riverdale Avenue. There was about three hours of testimony submitted by more than 50 individuals, including elected officials, residents, board members, NRMA members and the public.
The committee thanked the NRMA for its effort in presenting a plan to make the community better.
In November, the committee held another meeting, noticed to the public. After additional testimony was given, the committee discussed a resolution to be presented to the full board. After hours of testimony, individual study of the streetscape report, reading of emails sent to the board office, the committee passed a resolution which approved certain items in the streetscape report, and rejected others.
This process represents extensive outreach to the community, full disclosure of the streetscape report, public notice, consideration of testimony, questions and comments and discussion and debate among committee members, before adopting a resolution.
In a recent opinion letter, the board was criticized for misinterpreting three ideas in the streetscape report. However, the community board read the plain language of the report and responded accordingly. While I could provide page numbers to the specific verbiage in the report, I will only address the “road diet,” which has been the biggest community concern.
The writer claims the streetscape report takes no position on a “road diet.” However, the report calls for the immediate study of the “road diet” on Riverdale Avenue (page 47). It is apparent that the report supports its implementation the same way it recommends every other idea in the report.
The reduction of traffic lanes on Riverdale Avenue worried many residents. There is a balance in safety and functionality of roadways. Hence, each change to a roadway must be carefully measured by its effects on these two factors. As an example you can completely close Riverdale Avenue to vehicular traffic, thereby making it safe from motor vehicle accidents. That would, however, be done at the expense of functionality of the road because it closes down a major thoroughfare of our community.
The “road diet” would close down Riverdale Avenue in many sections. There are five public bus routes, three schools, a college, two faith-based institutions, numerous residential buildings and businesses between West 254th Street and the city line.
If there were only one traffic lane in each direction, the roadway would be effectively shut down each time a car, delivery truck or bus double-parked in the traffic lane.
Any person who has been on Riverdale Avenue knows how often that would occur. These are facts an engineering study is not required to consider — simply common sense.
W.E.B. Du Bois said, “Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched — criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led — this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.”
The purpose of the resolution was to offer the public, through the community board, a voice about what affects them in the streetscape report.