Residents tell traffic engineers: ‘Leave our street alone’

Isabella Hamilton

Dawson Street between 156th Street and Longwood Ave., which the city’s transportation dept. converted from a one-way to a two-way.

City converted a Longwood block into a two-way street without telling community

On a Friday morning in July, Dr. Lucretia Jones woke up to find a warning on the windshield of her car, courtesy of the city’s transportation department. It read: “Dawson Street is now a two-way. Please turn your vehicle to face the new direction of traffic.”

Dr. Jones was outraged that the city had changed the flow of traffic on her street without notifying residents like her. 

“They did this without any community input,” she said. “We had a safe street. It’s no longer safe.”

In February, the DOT announced plans to convert Dawson Street between the corners of Longwood and Intervale avenues from a one-way to a two-way street, in response to concerns that drivers regularly sped down it, causing accidents and endangering pedestrians. It was a change the neighborhood had requested for years.

But while conducting further studies to implement that change, traffic officials concluded that the adjacent block, between Longwood and 156th, should be converted to a two-way as well —-without informing residents. Since the city finished construction in July, residents of that Longwood/156th block say cars now zoom past in both directions rather than just one, creating a problem where there was none.

“I came out that day, shocked,” said Reverend Theodora Brooks of Saint Margaret’s Church. “There was no reason.”

Isabella Hamilton

Dr. Lucretia Jones points out the problems she says the city has brought about by turning her block into a one-way.

Jones said she immediately began posting flyers and circulating a petition, urging the city to turn that block back into the one-way it had been previously. She collected over 500 signatures.

When DOT officials came to the office of Community Board 2 for a Sept. 16 meeting, they found the space so densely packed with disgruntled residents that agitated attendees spilled out into the corridor.

“The level of opposition surprised them,” said Dawson Street resident Robert Ferrens.

“Most people would just say ‘whatever,’ but we know our rights,” said Jones.

Her street is not just any old city street, Jones pointed out. It is one of the few landmarked blocks in the city. For the last 100 years, homeowners have been required by the city to preserve the façades of their homes, she said.

“I have a picture of my grandma on this street,” she said. “The New York Times took it. The only difference now is the direction of the cars.”

Transportation officials admitted they bungled things when they failed to notify the community that they were adding the Longwood-156th leg to their plans.

“It was a mistake they did not present it,” said Heidi Wolf, the DOT’s senior project manager, explaining that the department had determined the need to convert the other part of Dawson only after the agency had met with residents and informed them of the initial plan.

“Our technical people asked for the extension of the other block,” said DOT’s Bronx representative, Constance Moran, during the Sept. 16 meeting.

Over the summer, parked cars on the block between Longwood and 156th have been slammed by speeding vehicles, a motorcyclist was struck and injured and pedestrians have narrowly avoided getting hit, residents complained. Children are especially at risk, they said. There are three schools and a shelter for homeless families nearby.

But, Wolf said, contrary to residents’ contentions that Dawson at Longwood/156th was safe as a one-way, the block has been the site of numerous accidents over the years.  The city once called for the addition of speed bumps to reduce accidents, she said, but because there are numerous driveways along the street, that measure was scuttled.

Converting one-way streets with speeding problems to two-ways is a sensible way to improve pedestrian safety, says one planning expert.

“You’re less likely to step on the pedal on a two-way street,” said Michael Keane, senior environmental planner at Langan Enginereering and an urban planning professor at NYU. “The narrower the road, the slower the traffic will travel.”

But Dawson Street residents argue that the DOT’s method of collecting data near their homes was flawed from the start. The department’s studies of the traffic patterns on the street were seven years old and no longer applicable, they argue.  And though a recent DOT study on the street since it was turned into a two-way shows speeding has been brought under control, residents contend those results are based on just one hour of observation during a time when there was little traffic.

Wolf countered that off-peak hours are the most logical times to study speeding because that’s when drivers are most apt to put the pedal to the metal.

After the September meeting, Moran cautioned the community board that DOT would be unlikely to make yet another change. But two days after the meeting, the board received a call from the agency, informing them it would indeed turn Dawson between 156th and Longwood back to a one-way after all, once it receives a letter from the board confirming that that’s what residents want.

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