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RFK Bridge ramp could make air a little cleaner and East Harlem a little safer

Courtesy of the MTA

MTA Bridges and Tunnels have unveiled plans to lift traffic out of neighborhoods surrounding the Manhattan side of the RFK Bridge where advocates say is hostile territory to pedestrians and cyclists.

The authority plans to construct a new exit ramp northbound onto Harlem River Drive to bypass streets in East Harlem under a 15-month, $48 million design-build contract, the MTA said.

Transportation Alternatives spokesman Joe Cutrufo said the area saw the death of cyclist in 2019, the deadliest year in at least 20 in the city which saw a total 29 lives lost. Of the 29, 25 were killed by larger vehicles, trucks and buses.

“In 2019, cyclist Matt Travis was killed by a driver making an illegal turn just one block from the circuitous route drivers currently use. This new bypass will help to create a safer environment for pedestrians and people on bikes,” Cutrufo said.
 
The environmental benefits of the ramp could bring relief the community of East Harlem, which in general sees some of the highest asthma rates in the city with high volumes of traffic passing through 125th Street to the outer boroughs.
 
“Children are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, due to their greater inhalation rates,” said Leonardo Trasande director of of Environmental Pediatrics at NYU Langone Health. “Their lungs are still developing – and ozone levels have even been tied to the development of asthma.”
 
The MTA estimates that about 17,000 vehicles per day currently exit the RFK Bridge and are stalled in traffic at the end of bridge where it splits between 125th Street and 126th Street. Vehicles are then forced onto either Second Avenue, then merge onto an on-ramp next to the Crack is Wack Playground in order to get onto Harlem River Drive.
Courtesy of the MTA

But the MTA says this confusing traffic jam will be avoided in 2021 when the “gently-graded” 1200-foot ramp will be in service.

Funding for the project comes from the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Plan, according to the MTA.

Whether or not the ramp will bring positive changes in air quality for surrounding residents, it is not the first move by the MTA to bring improvements to the 125th Street corridor where activists say the people are choking on fumes. New York City Transit is piloting a zero emissions articulated bus down 125th Street which sees the highest asthma rate in the city.

The M60 route between Harlem and LaGuardia Airport is the longest in the city and will test the bus’s juice over 20 miles of roadway loaded down with customers.

For now, there is only one zero emissions bus on the M60 route, but at least four others are circulating along the East Side.

Mark Hallum