CB 7 Committee Asks DOT, 7-0, for Amsterdam Avenue Complete Street Study


After a three-and-a-half-hour meeting that itself followed a nearly three-hour deliberation last month, the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee voted 7-0, with three abstentions, for a resolution asking DOT to study safety improvements for Amsterdam Avenue. The resolution asks DOT to consider a protected bike lane, pedestrian islands, removing one of the avenue’s four car lanes, and retiming signals. It now moves to the full board for a vote on November 6.

There are many more injuries and fatalities on Amsterdam Avenue than on other northbound avenues on the Upper West Side, according to CrashStat.org. Last December, Transportation Alternatives clocked 81 percent of Amsterdam Avenue drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, with one in five drivers on a weekday afternoon traveling 40 mph or faster.

“I’ve got a major concern about speeding,” said Peter Arndtsen, district manager of the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District. “Something has to be done.” Arndtsen said that while the BID does not oppose or support a bike lane on Amsterdam, it would like a bus lane considered. During public testimony last night, TA showed a video of business owners on both avenues who support the protected bike lanes. Over 200 area businesses and community groups have signed on to TA’s campaign. The Columbus Avenue BID also urged the board to support a protected bike lane on Amsterdam.

This is the latest chapter in a long campaign for protected bike lanes on the Upper West Side. Community Board 7 has hosted many hours-long meetings on the issue over the years — first for Columbus Avenue, which was considered as two separate phases, and now for Amsterdam.

Last night’s three abstentions came from committee member Lillian Moore and longtime co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, who all spoke against a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue before the vote. All three insisted they don’t oppose bike lanes, they would just prefer studies for bike lanes on other avenues.

During committee discussion of the resolution, Zweig said he didn’t trust the data showing the reduction in traffic injuries following the installation of protected bike lanes. “We had statistics from DOT that had a great deal of problems,” he said, referring to his insistence earlier this year that DOT eliminate one year of data because it showed there were a high number of crashes on Columbus Avenue before the bike lane was installed. DOT refused to cherrypick the data according to Zweig’s wishes.

Zweig then began ranting about personal experiences with cyclists riding on the sidewalk, the wrong way, and against red lights. He also said the City Council needs to pass a law requiring cyclists to use protected bike lanes where they have been installed. “Let’s get the enforcement,” Zweig said. “Let’s pass that and get that moving before we even think of asking DOT to study anything else.”

“I acquired the reputation of being anti-bike lane. You may have seen it in all the bike lobby press,” said Zweig, who opposed lanes on both Amsterdam and Columbus. He then repeated his statement from last month that protected bike lanes are “the only ones worth doing.” Just not on streets where community members are asking for them, apparently.

A tale of two avenues: Amsterdam at 87th Street, left, has four lanes of car traffic and no bike lane, while Columbus at 87th Street, right, has three lanes, a protected bike lane, and pedestrian islands. Photos; Google Maps

There were about 100 people in the room at last night’s meeting. During public testimony, 46 people spoke, and 30 of them were in favor of the protected bike lane plan. But that didn’t stop opponents from dismissing their testimony. “You’ve got a very strong lobby. You come here and you just fill the place up,” Moore said. “They didn’t really speak to the people in the community.”

Catherine Unsino, who said she used to bike in Manhattan frequently but gave it up after she felt it was too dangerous, testified against the protected bike lane because she claimed it doesn’t help the neighborhood’s seniors or those with mobility challenges. “We’re talking about improving transportation options for the most agile,” she said.

Immediately after Unsino, Sarah Young explained that because she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that affects the joints, there are days when she cannot walk much, but must still get to her job. On those days, she said, biking is the best option because it minimizes the wear on her body. “The most dangerous part is biking to work on Amsterdam Avenue,” she explained.

Louise Klaber, 78, testified that she began riding a bike in New York in the past five years because of the new bike lanes and supports installing one for people to ride north in the neighborhood. “I don’t bike on Amsterdam Avenue,” she said, because it’s too dangerous without the lane.

On October 3, board chair Mark Diller organized an informational meeting between board members and DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione about Amsterdam Avenue. Last night, board members who attended the meeting had completely different reports on what DOT said. Ken Coughlin, who supports a protected bike lane on Amsterdam, said DOT expressed confidence that with some adjustments like converting a section of the east-side parking lane to a travel lane during rush hours, Amsterdam could handle its volume of traffic with three full-time car lanes as opposed to its current four. Coughlin compared the situation to Second Avenue in Kips Bay, where CB 6 recently voted to support a DOT plan to replace one of that avenue’s four car lanes with parking, providing a protective barrier along the bike lane there.

But according to Moore, DOT expressed concerned about the effect of removing a lane of car traffic on Amsterdam. Streetsblog contacted DOT for clarification, but the press office said only that if the board requests a study, “questions on traffic volumes and capacities are just the sort of subjects that would be included in a traffic analysis of the corridor.”

”My purpose in getting everybody into that room is that we would all hear the same thing,” Diller said after the meeting. “You can’t help but hear it in the way that your filter leads you to.”

At the end of the meeting, non-committee board members voted on the resolution asking DOT for a study of Amsterdam Avenue. Diller, whose term as chair expires at the end of the month, voted in favor, while Elizabeth Caputo, who will be taking over as chair, was one of two board members who abstained. On the transportation committee, meanwhile, there are no term limits: Zweig has headed the committee for at least a decade; co-chair Albert has held his position even longer.

  • “Catherine Unsino, who said she used to bike in Manhattan frequently but gave it up after she felt it was too dangerous, testified against the protected bike lane because she claimed it doesn’t help the neighborhood’s seniors or those with mobility challenges. “We’re talking about improving transportation options for
    the most agile,” she said.”

    Is this real life?

  • erica holder

    I was at this meeting, and was struck by the age divide: older people against a bike lane — apart from two youngish guys, one of them from Jerry Nadler’s office, complaining that they would lose their parking spaces — and younger people in favor. What was depressing was that these older opponents, who would benefit most from changes making Amsterdam easier for pedestrians to cross, seemed resigned to the danger posed by motor vehicles, just throwing up their hands and saying that there was nothing that could be done to make cars slow down and trucks stop double parking, so why bother doing anything?

  • We need some sort of reverse “Scared Straight” program where we send these people to Amsterdam so they can see all of the seniors and people with mobility challenges who have no problem whatsoever getting around.

  • JK

    Along with a protected bike lane on Amsterdam, what we need is for incoming Borough President Gale Brewer to do what she knows is right, and send Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig into retirement with a note of thanks and a pat on the back. They have had more than their fair share of a say over the Upper West Side’s streets for over a decade.

  • Albert

    Not to ignore the actual age divide—which is at least significant—but there were plenty of gray-haired supporters of the resolution in that room as well, many of whom spoke eloquently in favor of a bike lane and gave visual evidence to one of its potential benefits—their fit & trim older bodies.

    Too many people brought up in car culture simply have an understandable (if regrettable) knee-jerk response against any change to that culture, whether illogical or not, but don’t lose heart—there are plenty of us boomers and older who’ve seen through the surface glitz of car culture to the insidious heart of it. Those who haven’t yet will hopefully listen to the AARP, which itself strongly supports complete streets.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    Thank you for pointing this out. I just found this: http://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/press-center/info-06-2013/AARP-Supports-Legislation-to-Ensure-Safe-Streets-for-All-Walking-Driving-Cycling-or-on-Public-Transportation.html
    and it’s clear from a quick google search that AARP has been on board with this for at least the last few years. Next time I’m at a CB meeting — or other community meeting on transpo — I’ll make use of this. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, wondering how to show older and middle-aged people who are opposed to complete streets how it’s in their self-interest on so many levels.

  • Andrew

    “There are many more injuries and fatalities on Amsterdam Avenue than on other northbound avenues on the Upper West Side” – I’m not sure what that means, given that Amsterdam Avenue is the only one-way northbound avenue on the Upper West Side (Columbus is southbound and the others are all two-way).

    But more to the point, Zweig and Albert have got to go.

  • Kevin Love

    Proper cycling infra provides a huge benefit for disabled people. Not to mention less people becoming disabled in the first place due to them not being hit and crushed by car drivers. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/04/cycle-paths-and-disabled.html

  • Ben Kintisch

    Great little video. The biking is good for business angle is a winning argument – even though I wish safety were convincing enough.

  • Anonymous

    Just curious how those two CB co-chairs can be so confident that they know better than 200 local business people what will make UWS more vibrant and safe? Too bad they aren’t elected by the people!

  • Anonymous

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus: CPW, Broadway, and West End Avenue all have northbound traffic. It’s “northbound,” not “northbound-only.”

  • Anonymous

    The pedestrian refuges that come with protected bike lanes are what helps those with difficulty walking. They shorten the crossing distance, and increase the visibility of pedestrians to drivers making turns.

    And fwiw, I find Columbus to be tremendously pleasant with the protected bike lane. Far nicer to stroll than Amsterdam.

  • Anonymous

    Is it worse than Columbus too? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. Then couldn’t you simply say that it’s _the_ worst avenue in the UWS (in terms of injuries and fatalities)?

  • Anonymous

    Amsterdam is a speedway.

  • Anonymous

    The presence of a Nadler staffer opposing the loss of parking spaces points out a real disconnect between politicians and most of the rest of us. These politicians rush around from meeting to meeting in cars, and probably have official Parking Free placards on their dashboards. Its like their living the advertising dream of a 1950s car commercial, but it is harming the rest of us.

    Every time I meet with politicians about safer streets, the conversation inevitably ends with a complaint from them about car-oriented difficulties.

  • Phil F

    Broadway is technically worse, but only if you combine the North and South sides as one. If considered separately, then Amsterdam Avenue is by far the worst.

  • I rode the Columbus Ave bike lane all the way into midtown for the first time yesterday (in part because Central Park was closed for the marathon). Although I was safe from car traffic, I felt very uncomfortable overall. It was extremely potholed and uneven, and for the most part runs on a rather steep sideways incline. This made it rather unnerving to ride in yesterday’s light rain, at least on my 28mm road slicks.

    Has anyone else had this experience? What good is a protected bike lane if it’s in such poor shape? Merely having the lane there is not enough. It is also necessary to smooth and level the asphalt. Given the significantly narrower tires, the standards for proper asphalt are much higher for bikes than for cars.

    Is anyone advocating for some of the money that goes into putting in a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Ave to also go into smoothing out the asphalt?

  • Joe R.

    Poor pavement condition is a problem citiwide. I often wonder how many people tried cycling, but gave it up, not because of lack of bike lanes, but rather because they trashed a wheel or got badly hurt due to a pothole. The problem exists everywhere but it’s much worse in the outer boroughs. This is an example of what I typically deal with:

    http://goo.gl/maps/ov7Tg

    It’s even worse riding over it than it looks. I might as well be riding a bucking bronco.

  • Jonathan R

    Yes, crummy asphalt is a huge problem, and I believe it’s a unmentioned factor in many cycling accidents. I FOILed one particular Delancey St accident a couple years ago and my understanding from reading the police reports was that the victim rode off the sidewalk onto the street and then wiped out on a Con Edison repair patch, whereupon she was run down by a school bus.

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After months of meetings, tonight Manhattan Community Board 7 is expected to vote on a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study of Amsterdam Avenue. Getting to tonight’s vote involved months of marathon meetings and debate, and supporters of safer streets can’t let up now. The resolution being considered tonight asks DOT to study […]