CBS 2: Don’t Touch the Highway Running Through the Upper West Side

Yesterday’s CBS 2 attempt to trash potential street improvements for Amsterdam Avenue gets it wrong before the story even starts.

As she introduces reporter Lou Young, anchor Dana Tyler says a plan for a new bike lane on Amsterdam “has gotten the green light.” Reality: The Community Board 7 transportation committee last week passed a resolution to ask DOT to consider a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands, removing one of four car lanes, and retiming signals. As of now, there is no plan, and the full board won’t vote on whether to ask DOT to come back with one until November.

Tyler’s routine sloppiness pales in comparison to the alternate universe conjured by Young.

From behind the wheel, Young describes Amsterdam Avenue as a wide open “highway,” beloved by commuters in a hurry to get out of town. “Can this highway handle bike routes?” he asks. “Well, that’s the question.” As for whether a residential neighborhood like the Upper West Side should have a highway like Amsterdam running smack through the middle of it — well, apparently that’s just not the question for Mobile 2.

Young starts his segment with an obviously staged conflict in the Columbus Avenue bike lane between a wrong-way delivery cyclist and store owner Nicholas Zingone, who while standing next to a delivery van in front of his store says that, thanks to the bike lane, no one can park in front of his store. Viewers may recognize Zingone’s as the same grocery that complained about the Columbus Avenue bike lane when CBS 2 did this segment the first time, nearly three years ago. That florist griping about the loss of parking? His vans are notorious for blocking the bike lane in front of the store, and for years he’s been taking out his frustrations on the bike lane — not the placard abusers and poorly priced meters that are the root cause of curb dysfunction in the neighborhood.

It’s the same cast of characters who kvetched about change on Columbus back in 2011. So, did CBS 2 dig into whether the redesign has actually affected business? Nope. The only solid data on retail performance indicates that Columbus Avenue is doing fine with the bike lane, but hard numbers like commercial vacancy rates don’t fit the he-said/she-said template.

For his story entitled “UWS Residents Don’t Want Bike Lanes on Amsterdam Avenue,” Young talks to one resident — who likes the bike lane and pedestrian islands on Columbus. There’s also a helpful comment from Peter Arndtsen of the local business improvement district, who says the city needs to do something about speeding drivers on Amsterdam.

This should be the crux of the piece: The “highway” celebrated by Young is, in reality, a neighborhood street currently designed for motorist speed. The local community board is considering asking the city to make it safer to walk and bike there. Young could have cited safety gains on Columbus, or the popularity of the redesign among residents. He could have spoken to Upper West Side business owners who appreciate streets that are more pleasant for the vast majority of their customers, or the residents who’ve been working hard to make Amsterdam safer.

Instead, the most honest aspect to Young’s story is that he filed it from behind the windshield.

  • The red light phase on Amsterdam (and even more so on Broadway) is far too short for pedestrians to cross, particularly with small children. When walking with my 4 y.o. daughter, I either have to start crossing exactly as the light changes or else pick her up and run across. Furthermore, by the time the light has changed, there is usually a mass of speeding cars approaching as the green lights are timed so that they arrive the second the light turns.

    As for crossing town on a bike, the only pair of bike lanes that can take one from park to park, the 90/91 pair, have no improvements other than simple strips of white paint and some stencils. These streets could really use some advanced stop lines for cyclists, a pre-green for pedestrians and cyclists, and perhaps a properly timed “green wave” proceeding crosstown at 12 MPH or so. Better yet, the lanes should really be on the curb side of the street, protected by parking. As it is, these lanes are blocked by cars at some point along the route about 99% of the time.

  • The red light phase on Amsterdam (and even more so on Broadway) is far too short for pedestrians to cross, particularly with small children. When walking with my 4 y.o. daughter, I either have to start crossing exactly as the light changes or else pick her up and run across. Furthermore, by the time the light has changed, there is usually a mass of speeding cars approaching as the green lights are timed so that they arrive the second the light turns.

    As for crossing town on a bike, the only pair of bike lanes that can take one from park to park, the 90/91 pair, have no improvements other than simple strips of white paint and some stencils. These streets could really use some advanced stop lines for cyclists, a pre-green for pedestrians and cyclists, and perhaps a properly timed “green wave” proceeding crosstown at 12 MPH or so. Better yet, the lanes should really be on the curb side of the street, protected by parking. As it is, these lanes are blocked by cars at some point along the route about 99% of the time.

  • The red light phase on Amsterdam (and even more so on Broadway) is far too short for pedestrians to cross, particularly with small children. When walking with my 4 y.o. daughter, I either have to start crossing exactly as the light changes or else pick her up and run across. Furthermore, by the time the light has changed, there is usually a mass of speeding cars approaching as the green lights are timed so that they arrive the second the light turns.

    As for crossing town on a bike, the only pair of bike lanes that can take one from park to park, the 90/91 pair, have no improvements other than simple strips of white paint and some stencils. These streets could really use some advanced stop lines for cyclists, a pre-green for pedestrians and cyclists, and perhaps a properly timed “green wave” proceeding crosstown at 12 MPH or so. Better yet, the lanes should really be on the curb side of the street, protected by parking. As it is, these lanes are blocked by cars at some point along the route about 99% of the time.

  • Charlie

    Local news is just manufactured drama. “A person in NYC is upset about something. Story at 11.”

  • Mark Walker

    Amsterdam is not a highway and should not operate like one. The car lanes should be downsized to reflect the citywide speed limit of 30 mph, or 20 mph in the vicinity of schools like the Catholic school on 97th, where Ariel Russo was killed. Though I am a ped and not a cyclist, I like the way the bike lane works on Columbus and would like to see more of the same on Amsterdam. I feel it makes me safer. I would also like to see a list of merchants who oppose livable streets improvements on Amsterdam. I live in the area and patronize several restaurants and other merchants on the street on almost a daily basis. If some of them are standing in the way of progress, I would like to identify them and take my business elsewhere.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    Can someone (from DOT, or TA, or whomever) get a pamphlet together “Common Sense Bikelanes” that has a column for each of the following: Drivers, Business Owners, Cyclists, Pedestrians.

    IIRC car traffic moves better on 1st and 2nd ave. since those bike lanes were installed. Just because there are fewer lanes doesn’t mean your trip will be slower.

    Truck deliveries seem to work just fine, and business is booming. All the cars speeding by at 40mph have no chance of going to your store. All those people “going out of town” (a spurious claim, but I will go along with it) are not shopping at your store.

    Cyclists is self explanitory

    Pedestrians are far safer. Again, id quote statistics.

    Anytime a bike lane was proposed, I’d canvass the neighborhood and hand these out.

  • Mark Seaman

    I love it. If folks from outside the neighborhood view Amsterdam Avenue as a highway, it’s a pretty strong case for fixing the street. Along with hundreds (maybe thousands) of other parents, I walk my son to school across Amsterdam Avenue every day. We need this street to be safe for kids, not a speedway.

  • What’s up with Lou Young purposely – dangerously – stepping in front of a cyclist at 1:40? After he admits Zingone does the same in his piece?

  • Anonymous

    The West 76th/77th lane pair also goes park-to-park.

    I absolutely hear you, though. My new morning commute after school dropoff involves getting crosstown from 92nd/CPW back to the greenway. Drivers of larger vehicles in particular do not respect the bike lane and drive with two wheels on or past the lane marking with annoying consistency.

    Leaving aside the usual double-parking considerations.

  • Reader

    Maybe the reason that Zingone’s business has gone down in the past year or so is because of increased competition from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Fresh Direct. And the people who drive to get groceries aren’t going to little mom-and-pop stores like this. They’re going to the Fairway in Harlem where the parking is easier, the prices are lower, and the selection is wider.

    As is often the case, there’s more to the story than the brilliant minds at CBS 2 are capable of explaining while driving their mobile studio through the most walkable neighborhood in the country.

  • Anonymous

    The lack of a cross-town Select Bus Service connecting upper east to upper west is ridiculous. Just the boarding at 79th Street takes way too long b/c everyone has to dip their MetroCard in single file.

    Let’s have a SBS service with painted lane, signal priority, off-board ticketing kiosks, and room for a great bike lane. Target 79th, 86th, and 96th and people would be zipping back and forth in no time. Crosstown trips could then almost be called “rapid transit.”

  • krstrois

    Seriously! They might as well have rolled in a statue of Robert Moses and done a little ventriloquism behind. “HIGHWAYS” out of town. Hello, it’s some of the most desirable real estate in the country being wasted on dangerous “highway” right in the middle of the city.

  • Driver

    “There’s parking and turn signals in the old traffic lane” As he points to evidence of this.

    “and delivery trucks continue to double park” As he points to evidence of this

    “In places, there’s only one clear lane of traffic.” Don’t look, as he just made this one up, and doesn’t want you to pay any attention two the two traffic lanes behind him while he says this.

    If TV news doesn’t work out, he always has a career as a used car salesman.

  • There’s a bike lane on 76th? Can’t remember from in person, but it’s not on my map. 106, though, has buffered lanes from park to park, but that’s too far up for me.

  • Joe R.

    The highway comment is probably one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a surface street, not a highway. If commuters want to get out of town in a hurry, I suggest the LIRR, Metro North, or NJ Transit. Those will all get them out a lot faster than Amsterdam Avenue.

  • HEAR HEAR. I would at least start with 86th, since 79th the museum gets in the way of efficient travel and 96th doesn’t extend as far east as 86th. M86 also has slightly longer route, so greater overall benefit. Also 86 and 96 each connect to one major express subway stop, whereas 79 does not. Either 86 or 96 would make a great first cross-park SBS. I hear complaints regarding how slow the M86 from fellow riders practically every time I’m on it. Not sure why more people aren’t talking about SBS for M86.

  • Anonymous

    Beg pardon – 78th. It stops at the museum, but then you just dogleg on Columbus for a block, and 77th is two-way for the block between Columbus and CPW

  • I see, good to know, thanks. Still, I wish they’d have put them a bit further south to connect with terrace rd going through CP.

  • Andrew
  • Good to know I’m not the only one that thinks the M86 line needs SBS upgrades. In the mean time, why is that all we hear about is 125th street SBS? It looks to me like no further work has been done to explore 86th street SBS since this community workshop in 2009.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the link! 🙂

  • Daphna

    Thanks for Brad for this article. I wish more people were exposed to this accurate streetsblog journalism instead of to the false narrative presented by Lou Young and Dana Tyler at CBS 2.

  • Matthias

    The document talks about expanding BRT. We don’t have any BRT!

  • Anonymous

    Who is the unnamed schmuck in the tie with the made-up claim that “for a lot of businesses this is a killer?” I can make shit up too.

  • Andrew

    If your name is Walter Hook, then maybe we don’t have BRT.

    But in reality, BRT is a general term referring to various techniques to expedite bus service. Bus lanes, traffic enforcement cameras, traffic signal priority, and off-board fare payment are all common BRT techniques.

    While we could legitimately argue whether our implementations of BRT go far enough, they still BRT.

  • Andrew

    We’re getting three SBS lines (Bx41, B44, M60) within the span of a year – there’s only so much staffing to go around and implement these things.

    I don’t know if there’s any progress on the M86 in particular – I hope there has been!

  • Prosecute recklessness

    My elderly parents just moved to a street off Amsterdam (from the suburbs) so they can live car-free. They walk and take the buses everywhere.

    Crossing Amsterdam is always a challenge for them, since they walk slowly and the distance is long. Columbus is a bit better because of the new pedestrian refuges alongside the bike lanes.

    But what really irritates me is that this CBS News reporter would drive while distracted by doing a news story. So reckless. He and his news organization should be setting an example, not demonstrating reckless behavior. He could easily have done the entire story while not behind the wheel.

  • Anonymous

    At the Community Board’s Transportation Committee hearing several people proudly advanced the notion that because Amsterdam Ave is a “designated” state highway, it should not be subject to any traffic calming.

    The trucks and non-MTA buses should be moved over to the Henry Hudson, Highway 9, and out of our residential neighborhood.

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