Tonight on the Upper West Side: Critical Vote on Amsterdam Avenue

Amsterdam Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets on the Upper West Side. Tonight Community Board 7 can take a stand and save lives by asking the city to study a safety overhaul.

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 changes to Amsterdam Avenue, including the conversion of a motor vehicle travel lane to a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands.

Last month, after hours of public testimony — three-quarters in favor of the resolution — the board delayed taking a vote until tonight. While there will not be testimony at tonight’s meeting, organizers say it’s important for supporters to show up and be counted before board members take a vote. The meeting starts at 6:30 at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, 1000 Tenth Avenue.

  • J

    The bruising fight for each bike project highlights the need for NYC to develop a broader vision for bike infrastructure. The city has a 1996 bike master plan that outlines “bike routes”, whatever that means, with no guidance on facility type and no means of prioritizing routes. Individual projects come up, with no public vision for how those facilities will connect with each other or even where protected lanes might be located. Without a broader vision, each project must go through a hard battle. It’s a tough sell for advocates, who are forced to say “we hope this protected bike lane will one day connect to other protected bike lanes to form a network”. It’s not a very convincing argument. Also, many projects are implemented that actually make it harder to implement future protected bike lanes. Again, there is no real plan in place to provide that type of guidance.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. Cities like DC and Seattle are establishing broad visions for networks of protected bike lanes, greenways, and bike boulevards to knit those cities together with bike facilities for users of all abilities (the 8-80 standard).

    Seattle Plan:
    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/bikemaster_materials.htm
    Seattle Proposed Bike Network (pdf):
    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/bmp/nov13/Seattle%20BMP%20Master%20Map.pdf

    DC Plan:
    http://www.wemovedc.org/ideastomovedc/
    DC Proposed Bike Network (pdf):
    http://www.wemovedc.org/resources/round3/draft-blended-approach-by-mode.pdf

  • Joe Enoch

    Anyone know what happened? I put in a solid two hours last night before I had to leave for a late dinner.

    I will say, what I saw was a system anti-safe street council members were exploiting for the mere means of delay. Just about everyone had their own motion to add to this requested study which then required the inevitable “second” and then a long discussion on the process by which to include these motions.

    The most preposterous motion I heard was one that asked to consult with NYPD and NYFD and “ambulances” (whatever that means). This was requested because one old lady at the last meeting gave a public comment that she had a conversation with a firefighter who said he didn’t like the bike lanes. Also, hasn’t the DOT already had these discussions? Isn’t it inherent that they will measure the impact of all public (and private for that matter) services when they conduct a study?

    It was frustrating to say the least.

  • Jonathan

    You astutely point out that the system is rigged to listen only to people who have multiple free hours to spend away from work or family.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    Yes, having a plan is important, but read Seattle Bike Blog or Tales from the Sharrows or Greater Greater Washington. There are always scrimmages at the local level, regardless of vision and guidance, and the same arguments and many of the same stalling tactics are used in those places. It’s not at all clear these plans make the battles easier.

  • Brooklynite

    Agree. Having a big master plan in place will do nothing to change this dynamic at the local level. In fact, it will probably only make things more difficult. When bike projects deviate from the master plan — as they inevitably will — that will just be another cudgel for the bike haters to use to fight the projects. See the PPW bike lane battle. One of the core arguments in the law suit was that the PPW bike lane deviated from the mid-’90s bike master plan.

  • Brooklynite

    The Community Board system as currently constructed gives far too much voice and priority to people who are, for all intents and purposes, mentally ill and devoid of knowledge and expertise in relevant subjects.

  • J

    I agree that there will always be local battles, but my experience is that those battles are easier to win with fewer compromises when they are put in context of a community-based vision for the city. That is certainly the case in DC, where they’ve basically built out the former plan (from 2005), and now we’re moving on to much more ambitious plans. Same in Seatlle, where they’re replacing their 2007 plan with one of the best bike plans I’ve seen in the US. With a solid bike plan, each project is no longer a local project with only local winners and losers, but one that benefits people from many parts of the city, and is a critical link in the network.

    In NYC, it’s hard to even discuss how each project forms part of a larger network of protected lanes, since no public vision for such a network exists.

  • J

    No, the core argument was that the city didn’t follow proper environmental review procedure and didn’t go through landmark review. The bike plan was never a major component.

    Not doing a plan plan for fear of ever deviating from it doesn’t make sense. Plans are never that binding, and mainly serve as guides for future planning efforts. Part of the problem with PPW, is that there was no plan. It just sort of happened. While It does link other high-quality paths (Eastern Parkway and Prospect Park), there are zero plans to link it to a network of similar facilities. In many ways it is a standalone project, not a part of something bigger.

    It is easier to oppose one lane in one location, than to oppose a bike lane network linking the city. The PPW opponents were clever in saying, “we’re not opposed to bike lanes, it’s just that we don’t want on ein thos location.” When you have a bike plan, you can respond, “ok, but in our bike plan, we studied a variety of corridors and found that this is the most appropriate corridor. If we can’t put the lane here, this entire link in the network is severed, so by opposing this, you’re effectively opposing the entire network in this area”. That argument couldn’t be made without a plan for protected lanes.

  • Brooklynite

    In theory what you say is nice. In reality…

    1. You know who the biggest fan of the Bicycle Master Plan is in NYC? Norman Steisel, NYC’s #1 bike lane hater. He knows what you can do with a master planning process…

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/12/20/the-nbbl-files-norman-steisels-ideas-became-jimmy-vaccas-bills/

    “I propose that the City Council enact legislation that would require the development of an updated citywide master plan for bike paths,” Steisel wrote. Later, he elaborated that “an effective citywide planning process must involve, in addition to NYC DOT, the Community Boards, the Borough Boards (and Borough Presidents), the City Council, and the Department of City Planning and Planning Commission… In addition, other governmental agencies (among them, Police, Fire/EMS, Sanitation, Education, Health and Hospitals, Parks, Economic Development, Landmarks, and the Art Commission) should participate.”

    2. NYC had a bike master plan for ten years prior to the advent of Janette Sadik-Khan at NYC DOT. The existence of the bike master plan did little to motivate Sadik-Khan’s predecessor to build bike infrastructure. Under Iris Weinshall it was still a big fight for T.A. and neighborhood advocates at the local level to get bike projects built.

    3. JSK’s DOT did put forward a big, citywide strategic plan called “Sustainable Streets” with broad goals for bike infrastructure. That plan was developed in the context of an even bigger plan — Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030. The existence of these big planning documents did nothing to prevent bike lane fights at the local level. Being able to say, “This bike lane is part of a bigger plan” did nothing to deter opponents at the local level.

    To the contrary, what we have learned in the last six years is that DOING trumps PLANNING. Putting projects down on the street quickly and cheaply as pilot projects using temporary materials has been a great approach. Communities can have more intelligent discussions over actual projects on the ground rather than projects on paper. It moves projects from abstraction to reality and cuts through the fear of the unknown that so often hinders new ideas from being implemented.

  • J

    1) Why is this is bad idea? As long as the city can still implement projects in the short term, this would clear away a bunch of hurdles and provide guidance for future work. I am as wary of Mr. Steisel’s motives as anyone, but I still think an up-to-date bike plan is something that is sorely needed in NYC.
    2) As I said before, the 1996 plan was crappy. I’m not advocating for a crappy plan that describes potential routes without any reference to actual infrastructure improvements.
    3) The “Sustainable Streets” plan is a policy document, without reference to real infrastructure. I’m talking about an infrastructure plan which describes where different facilities should be located.

    I also disagree that doing always trumps planning. You can often DO quite a bit, but when it’s not coordinated to work as a system, it doesn’t function very well. Case in point, we have southbound protected bike lanes, many with dedicated bike signals (which are very expensive) on Broadway from 59th to 47th, from 42nd to 35th, from 33rd to 27th, where they end. Is there a bigger plan to connect those lanes to each other? We can only hope. Are there plans for a northbound component? Don’t know. Are there plans for East-West connections to other protected lanes? It’s anyone’s guess. Right now, these corridors aren’t anywhere near as useful as similar corridors, since they were built in isolation, and not part of a bigger plan for protected lanes.

    Even with the other bike lanes, the network is growing in an ad hoc fashion, leaving big gaps, which create obstacles for less-experienced cyclists. A better vision for where we’re going would help to make it obvious that if we’re going to build these lanes (which we clearly are), we might as well do it right and create continuous corridors and figure out where those corridors should be located.

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