It’s back to the drawing board for Independence


A stretch of Independence Avenue has been the subject of special attention from Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee over the last six months. And now, thanks to a faceless neighbor with access to a copy machine, that attention will continue for at least a while longer.

As reckless driving plagued Independence late last year,  a working group from the traffic committee developed several suggestions they hoped the city’s transportation department might want to take up.

Some of those suggestions, however, were targeted by some neighbors including Whitehall co-op president Jeffrey Moerdler, even before the committee could consider them, like bicycle lanes that some believe could slow down traffic, as it would narrow vehicle lanes.

Ultimately, only a few of the working group’s suggestions made it out of the transportation committee and in front of the full community board. Suggestions like adding speed bumps, truffle paint and flexible delineators to intersections at West 235th, West 236th and West 239th streets. But that vote never happened, and the traffic committee is right back almost to where it started.

Why? Earlier this month, someone posted flyers along Independence challenging what they claimed were “approved” changes coming to the street. Like plans to “limit or block” areas in front of certain buildings and entrances to parking lots, as well as adding “unwanted” bicycle lanes along the street.

The community board’s role in such matters is ultimately an advisory one. Even if CB8 had approved those changes to Independence, DOT would look at it as nothing more than a recommendation that it could follow, change, or even ignore. 

In fact, there are times when DOT doesn’t even consult the community board, as was the case for four speed humps installed in recent months along Palisade Avenue.

Some parts of the flyer were accurate, or at least on the right track of being accurate, but other parts were not, traffic committee chair Dan Padernacht said. Bike lanes, for example, had been explored by his committee, but was indefinitely tabled last January and not part of the overall recommendation package to the full board.

The committee’s proposal would add flexible delineators at certain locations on the street in an effort to slow traffic, which some could misconstrue as blocking or limiting areas in front of buildings, Padernacht said. But that’s about where the flyer’s accuracy ends.

“The entry to our parking lots (claim), I don’t think that’s accurate, because we’re not blocking the entrance to the parking lots,” Padernacht said. “And then … adding unwanted bike lanes along Independence Avenue, we didn’t recommend that.”

But CB8 chair Laura Spalter doesn’t necessarily think the flyers’ claims came out of left field. She said indefinitely tabling a proposal is not the same as voting that proposal down. And even if the traffic and transportation committee isn’t actively discussing installing bike lanes, the idea remains alive — even if on ice.

Bike lanes weren’t the only potential recommendations tabled by the committee, however. Other concepts like making West 235th one-way traveling westbound and adding parking spaces to it also were indefinitely tabled in January. But that idea hasn’t met with the same level of controversy as bike lanes.

Spalter believes the flyers were a way for the neighborhood to express ongoing disapproval of the working group’s ideas for Independence.

“The community was clearly upset by that four-hour meeting and the hundreds of letters and calls that the community board has received against the plan,” Spalter said, referring to a traffic committee meeting last January when another seemingly inaccurate flyer — this time distributed by Moerdler — drew a large audience. 

“People are still concerned.”

So what happens now? Well, the traffic and transportation committee isn’t exactly back to square one, but it’s essentially back to where it was last January. Once again, Padernacht says he’ll invite community input on its working group’s proposals for Independence. 

While that could mean another marathon committee meeting, Spalter thinks when it comes to issues like this, one just can’t have enough community input.

“The community board represents the community,” she said. “The full board, when we take a vote, weighs very heavily the community input. As we should.” 

While the recent setbacks might be frustrating for the traffic and transportation committee,  Padernacht admits it’s simply the job volunteers like him on the community board sign up for.

“It’s not frustrating. It’s just part of government,” Padernacht said. “I would much rather be transparent and give the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on an issue. For me, it’s just part of the process.”