CB 7 Votes 35-0 for DOT to Study Amsterdam Avenue Protected Bike Lane

CB 7 members, including longtime transportation committee co-chairs Andrew  Albert and Dan Zweig, left, vote for a resolution asking DOT to study a complete street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Steve Vaccaro/Twitter
CB 7 members vote for a resolution asking DOT to study a complete street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Steve Vaccaro/Twitter

Before an audience of more than 100 people last night, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted 35-0, with five abstentions, for a resolution asking DOT to perform a complete streets study of Amsterdam Avenue, including safer pedestrian crossings and a protected bike lane. The unanimous vote came after a long session of procedural wrangling over the resolution’s language, but sets the stage for the agency to move forward with redesigning the street.

Despite the vote, last night’s meeting was also a reminder that key members of board, especially transportation committee co-chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, are set on obstructing proven street safety measures to the extent they can.

The meeting kicked off with a request from CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo about disclosure. Although conflict of interest rules are intended for situations where board members may stand to gain financially from the board’s actions, Caputo asked members to disclose any affiliations they may have with groups advocating for resolutions to be passed. (She did not require board members to disclose other relevant information, like whether they park on Amsterdam Avenue regularly.)

The request came after bike lane opponents at last month’s meeting, led by board member Lillian Moore, began asking members of Transportation Alternatives who are on CB 7 to recuse themselves from voting. Last night, Ken Coughlin, who is a transportation committee member and also serves on TA’s board, set the record straight.

“We have our conflict of interest rules to prevent the prospect of somebody putting their own private gain over the community interest,” he said. “It’s no secret that I’m a [TA] board member. It was on my community board application. [Council Member] Gale Brewer was well aware of it; in fact, it may be the reason she appointed me. We’re all appointed to this community board because we’re civically engaged, and I imagine Gale saw this as evidence of my civic engagement.”

“I did,” Brewer shouted from the back, to applause from the audience.

“I just like smart people who are committed who have a constituency,” she told Streetsblog after the meeting. “It could be a block association, it could be TA, your PTA — you can’t just be one person with an idea. You’ve got to have other people you work with over time.”

During the meeting, transportation committee co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert began offering a series of amendments, many of which would preclude the possibility of a protected bike lane or otherwise delay or distract from the task of making Amsterdam safer.

The room was full as the committee began debating resolutions and amendments. Photo: Stephen Miller
The room was full as the committee began debating resolutions and amendments. Photo: Stephen Miller

Zweig offered one amendment that would ask DOT to install concrete sidewalk extensions at intersections before studying other changes. “Some things need to be done for pedestrians now,” Zweig said, insisting that concrete bulb-outs could be installed more quickly than other interventions. He eventually acknowledged that his amendment would make it more difficult to install a protected bike lane later. Mel Wymore suggested that DOT install temporary bulb-outs built with paint instead of concrete, but it was concerns from other board members about the impact on rush-hour parking restrictions that caused Zweig’s amendment to collapse.

In addition to a study of Amsterdam, the resolution that passed asks for a broader study of other avenues on the Upper West Side. An amendment from Albert also encourages DOT to study a protected bike lane on other avenues carrying northbound traffic if the agency finds that it would not be feasible on Amsterdam.

As he had at previous meetings, Zweig challenged data presented by DOT about the impact of the Columbus Avenue redesign. “They claim there are certain things that make Columbus Avenue safer. In fact, if you looked at the stats and look behind the numbers,” Zweig said, “You found that it became more dangerous.”

In fact, DOT’s numbers show that along the initial one-mile segment of the Columbus Avenue bike lane, pedestrian injuries have dropped 41 percent, and total crashes with injuries have dropped by 19 percent.

The final resolution includes an amendment from Zweig that says “prior measurement and observation of the use, effectiveness, safety, and accessibility of the Columbus Avenue redesign has yielded uncertainty regarding its overall success in any of these areas.” Initially, this was not accepted as a friendly amendment by Su Robotti and Roberta Semer, who were sponsors of the original resolution, but they later backtracked and allowed it to be added. Zweig and Albert, who have opposed or abstained from similar votes in the past, ended up voting for last night’s resolution.

Other board members challenged crash data compiled by Transportation Alternatives showing that Amsterdam has a higher crash rate than other northbound routes on the Upper West Side.

“All of the data that we rely on is provided initially by [police] precincts… Those numbers get reported and standardized by DOT, and that goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles,” TA’s Tom DeVito told Streetsblog.”That’s a credible source. If there’s any dispute of that, then I think it’s incumbent upon people who are disputing it to marshal reliable data of their own.”

DOT has said it would consider any requests from the community board. After a long, well-publicized process from CB 7 leading to last night’s unanimous vote asking DOT to investigate specific design treatments on Amsterdam, the ball is now in the city’s court. “When DOT will start the study, and the solutions they come up with, will determine the path forward,” DeVito said.

  • Komanoff

    Love the Ken Coughlin – Gale Brewer tandem. Sounds like they did the legendary Woody Allen – Marshall McLuhan bit perfectly. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXJ8tKRlW3E)

  • Mark Walker

    I hope JSK will initiate the study before she leaves office. We don’t know who her replacement will be or how committed that commissioner will be to safe streets.

  • J

    I don’t get it. Way back in 2009, CB7 voted 28-7 in favor of a resolution asking the city to develop proposals for protected bike lanes on both Columbus and Amsterdam. The resolution passed last night merely ask for a study.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/10/08/cb-7-approves-reso-favoring-protected-uws-bike-lanes/

  • petercow

    Thank you, Gale Brewer.

  • Ian Dutton

    Big pats on the back for Ken Coughlin and Gale Brewer on this one! The idea that if you are part of a larger advocacy group, your voice should count for less, is totally contrary to any public discourse. The leadership of CB7 clearly has an agenda that is contrary to safer, livable streets and are frustrated to find that they have fallen out of the times with respect to their neighbors.

  • David Vandenberg

    Thanks Ken! And Gale!

  • HamTech87

    It seems strange that City Council members have term limits, but co-chairs of a Community Board Transportation committee do not.

  • qrt145

    I guess they get away with it precisely because they are unelected!

  • KeNYC2030

    Sometimes life IS like this!

  • KeNYC2030

    As a result of a change to CB7’s bylaws proposed by member Mel Wymore and ratified by the full board last February, committee chairs are now subject to six-year term limits going forward.

  • Maani

    Actually, the resolution only asks for a study, WHETHER OR NOT a protected bike lane (or any bike lane) is included.

  • Beth

    Just gorgeous! Now if we could have the Ken Coughlin – Gale Brewer – Bob Dylan triptych. . . . . . .

  • JK

    Great… and an aside on having a fair and consistent CB process: the CB’s either have to ask for organizational disclosure for everything or nothing. It is utter nonsense to have a special “TA disclosure” for street design issues. How many CB members have a direct pocket book interest in matters before them, like street fair permits for instance, that benefit the organizations that pay them? Do these members publicly recuse themselves with great fanfare? Do members of parks advocacy groups on the parks committee have to disclose this and recuse themselves? The MBPO needs to issue a guidance on this.

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