Amsterdam Bike Lane Will Get Full CB 7 Vote, Despite Transpo Committee

The proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue will repurpose a motor vehicle lane and parking spots to create safer conditions for biking and walking. Image: DOT

Upper West Siders may finally get a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue — but it won’t be due to the support of Manhattan Community Board 7’s transportation committee. Last night, in a split 4-4 vote, the committee failed to support a resolution in favor of DOT’s plan for a protected bike lane from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Despite that, CB 7 Chair Elizabeth Caputo said she would bring the proposal to the full board for a vote on February 2. DOT hopes to build the new design over the course of three months this spring.

Amsterdam is a neighborhood street passing through the Upper West Side’s residential and retail core, but its four northbound moving lanes encourage reckless driving speeds. First presented in NovemberDOT’s plan will repurpose a motor vehicle lane and about 25 percent of Amsterdam Avenue’s on-street parking to make room for a protected bike lane and raised concrete pedestrian islands, as well as left-turn bays at 79th Street, 86th Street, and 96th Street [PDF]. In response to concerns at November’s meeting about double-parked delivery vehicles, DOT added metered commercial parking at various points along the corridor.

Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine have endorsed a protected bike lane for Amsterdam. Rosenthal and Caputo spoke in favor of the plan last night, and audience support was overwhelming — few people spoke against the proposal during the public comment section of the meeting. Yet the committee could not muster a majority vote in favor.

Co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert bemoaned the loss of parking and pushing an endless list of alternative routes. Zweig, who was reappointed to the board by Rosenthal and Borough President Gale Brewer last year, put loss of parking at the top of his list of concerns.

Three-quarters of Upper West Side households don’t own cars, and a DOT survey of 436 people on Amsterdam found that only 10 arrived by driving. On nearby Columbus Avenue, retail continues to thrive after the installation of a protected bike lane, and injury crashes fell 25 percent, according to DOT [PDF]. Zweig wasn’t swayed and continued to request that DOT come back with a proposal for Amsterdam Avenue that excludes a bike lane, absurdly arguing that protected bike lanes would put pedestrians on sidewalks more at risk of getting hit by out-of-control drivers:

Given the fact that a bicycle lane here provides a great decrease in parking in the area, which will be detrimental to the people who need it in this neighborhood — people who need a place to park a vehicle because they need to get out of town where public transportation may not take them. Due to the fact that parking removal is only for interest of putting in a bicycle lane here, which is not needed for the greater traffic — although I agree that a northbound route would be helpful. Due to the fact that we do need a safer Amsterdam and there are other ways to shorten the crossing that DOT could do, they’ve just chosen to do the bike lane which has the downsides of removal of parking.

Remember also: That line of parking and parked cards protects pedestrians on the sidewalks. On Columbus Avenue, the narrow streets have created more accidents. Yes, it appears the figures show less accidents with injury, but there are more accidents. It means there are more vehicles that are going to be careening and you never know when that vehicle that careens in a minor accident is going to end up on the sidewalk. The parked cars do a good job of protecting that. By creating the mixing zones, you’re removing 25 percent of the spaces that protected those blocks. We’re removing those spots and making those portions less safe for those incidents where we hear in the news where a car has gotten off the roadway. And we don’t know how many times they get stopped by a parked car. Well, that 25 percent along Amsterdam — there’s going to be homicide looking at pedestrians. My main point here is that DOT could make a safer Amsterdam, and do some changing in the lanes without making the burden that a bike lane poses both for left-hand turns, both for signaling, both for problems with traffic that could be improved more without the bike lane and for the problems of parking for the neighborhood.

Never mind that the neighborhood lacks a protected northbound bike lane, or that bicycling on the corridor has nearly tripled since 2007, according to DOT — and is only going to rise with the further expansion of Citi Bike in the coming years. Never mind that 59 percent of drivers on the corridor drive over the speed limit during off-peak hours. Or that between 2009 and 2013, Amsterdam Avenue saw 513 traffic injuries, including 36 severe injuries, and two fatalities. Or that across the borough of Manhattan, crashes causing injury have dropped 20 percent on streets with protected bike lanes. Forget all that, because Dan Zweig has some hunches.

During the meeting, local resident Willow Stelzer presented a petition with 3,600 signatures, as well as a coalition letter with the support of 209 businesses and cultural institutions. It wasn’t enough to convince parking-obsessed committee members that the proposal would not shutter businesses along the corridor.

In November, six of the nine committee members present spoke in favor of the proposal, but some of those people were not at last night’s meeting. When Stelzer asked the crowd to raise their hands if they supported the proposal, the response was overwhelming. The full community board tends to be more supportive of street redesigns — and has voted on three separate occasions for a resolution asking DOT to install one on Amsterdam Avenue.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal told Streetsblog afterward that she was disappointed by the vote. She has both moved the project forward by publicly endorsing it and contributed to the committee’s obstructionism by reappointing Zweig.

A positive vote on the redesign seems likely at the full board meeting on February 2, but regardless of the outcome, DOT can move forward with this safety improvement in the spring if the agency chooses.

  • So, Rosenthal is responsible for putting members on the board, not for installing committee chairs or doing committee assignments.

    I don’t think it’s right that we argue that Zweig and Albert should not be appointed to the board at all. That is a troublesome line of reasoning. They should have a place on the full board.

    What they shouldn’t be doing is chairing this committee until the end of time.

  • Reader

    If we were talking about a viral epidemic and the chair of the “public health committee” acted in the same way Zweig does – using anecdotes and a clear bias toward anyone willing to talk about a vaccine – I doubt anyone would reason that Zweig still deserves a place on the board.

    And I doubt anyone would thread such a needle that Rosenthal isn’t exactly to blame since she didn’t appoint him to the committee, just the board.

    He needs to go. Lives are at stake.

  • If this were a public health situation, he’d be tarred and feathered and sent to Canada. I’m not saying I would want that, just saying the public would be agitated over such a response, the way that many are agitated here.

    But there are indeed people in the community with these views. We should argue that their positions shouldn’t advance in a democratic forum, but we can’t argue that they should not vote at all.

    The part that agitates me is that a committee chair has too much control over an agenda, and not enough oversight. Sometimes the misdeeds are not-at-all accidental, either.

  • Reader

    This isn’t a “reasonable people can disagree” situation. Those situations exist on CBs all over the city and can be worked around through polite conversation and compromise.

    This is a situation where an unelected, unaccountable private citizen constantly delays life-saving projects to advance a personal agenda: the preservation of parking.

    Zweig has used procedural tricks and obfuscation. He refuses to believe DOT statistics just because. What place does he have in any position of influence or power over people’s daily lives?

    There are plenty of colorful characters on community boards worth defending. Zweig isn’t one of them.

  • Mark Walker

    My daily errands take me across Amsterdam at 96th or just above. I would love a safer crossing. Thanks to board chair Caputo for doing the right thing. I hope the full board will do so as well.

    Brian makes an interesting argument below that Zweig and Albert could be defanged by losing their committee assignments while remaining on the full board (I even gave it a “like”) although one might argue that getting them off the board altogether would accomplish the same thing. But if one adopts Brian’s argument, it is up to Caputo to reassign them to different committees. She knows the damage they’ve caused and how at odds with the average Upper West Sider they are. She should give it serious thought.

  • Joe R.

    That might be fine if community boards stuck solely to matters they were knowledgeable about AND which only affected the local community. This might be whether to allow a liquor store on such and such corner, or perhaps ask for a new school if many students had to travel far to get to existing ones. Interfering with street design has no place on a community board for two reasons. One, and most importantly, few if any members are transportation or civil engineers. We don’t have community board members making changes in building blueprints or materials exactly because they’re not qualified to do so. They have no business doing the same in street design, or putting in stipulations (i.e. don’t remove any parking or travel lanes, or install a traffic light on such and such intersection) which might conflict with other goals DOT is trying to achieve. Two, these streets ultimately affect those outside the community because they’re used by people outside the community. If the same process existed when we were building the subways, we would now have a nearly useless system of disjointed subway lines running perhaps a mile or two here or there, not a comprehensive system we have today which serves a large part of the city.

    Given that we refuse to forbid community board involvement in street design, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that those who actively obstruct safety, and reprioritizing streets for modes other than personal autos, should be removed from community boards.

  • sbauman

    Bicycles are already an important transportation mode on the Columbus/Amsterdam Aves corridor. NYMTC’s 2014 Hub Bound Report shows this.

    Bikes are 12% of the vehicle cordon count at Columbus & 60th between 6am and midnight (the hours for which bikes are counted). Their peak hour use (5-6pm) is 20%. They carry 87% more people over the 60th St cordon than the Columbus Ave bus.

    The figures are not that dramatic for Amsterdam, which lacks facilities. Bicycles account for 5% of the cordon count vehicles between 6am and midnight. They peak at 9% between 6-8pm. They account for only 61% of the passenger count of the Amsterdam Ave bus.

    These numbers represent a typical October day in 2014. This was before Citibike was extended north of 60th St. I’d expect the October 2015 figures to increase. We will have to wait a year for these figures to be published. I’d also expect the figures on Amsterdam to be more like those on Columbus, once decent bicycle infrastructure is in place.

  • CB7 Watcher

    Here’s why the committee’s vote was so different from what it appeared it would be in November: 1) Within the past month and without notice, board chair Caputo removed from the committee a member who has publicly supported the Amsterdam redesign and appointed in her stead a member who has a record of opposing the Columbus redesign and who was not on the committee when DOT made its original presentation in November.; 2) A committee member who expressed strong support in November inexplicably changed his mind; and 3) a board member who would have voted for the redesign was unable to attend last night’s meeting.

  • Joe Enoch

    This is the most important expansion to our bike network our community is considering at the moment and it’s so so so frustrating that it’s being obstructed by the very person Helen Rosenthal could have and should have removed from his post.

    I think there’s still a good chance this short stretch of bike lane gets installed. But if it doesn’t because of Zweig’s endless obstructions, it’s on Rosenthal. She’s responsible for all of his automobiles>humans votes. She ran on a pretty strong street safety campaign, but of all her actions, nothing has had a greater impact than her decision to re-appoint this anti-bike lunatic to the very committee that votes on these decisions.

    If Zweig is successful in his campaign to keep Amsterdam Avenue as dangerous as possible, the blood of all the ensuing injuries and deaths on that stretch of road is on her hands.

  • Reader

    This just shows why matters of street safety and network connectivity need to be taken out of community board hands.

  • Maggie

    Who slots Zweig in as committee chair? Is this Elizabeth Caputo? Penny Ryan? I tape recorded the comments last night and listened to them this morning and just couldn’t believe this guy is empowered to weigh in and block street safety projects in my neighborhood. The idea that we can’t afford to lose any parking spaces by creating a safe bike lane, because then drivers will inevitably crash onto the sidewalk and injure pedestrians more easily – this is completely, dangerously unacceptable, to consider this appropriate for leadership on the Upper West Side today.

    I ended up fully convinced that there are people on the transpo committee who absolutely will dither and flail on and on and on, till someone else dies on Amsterdam Avenue. Whether it’s a delivery cyclist, a kid out for a ride or a walk with their mom or dad, a parent or grandparent coming home from work to their family, a tourist on a Citibike or a surgery resident commuting on a Citibike – it was clear that CB7’s transportation committee co-chair doesn’t care about bicyclists’ safety on Amsterdam Avenue.

    Enough is enough, CB7. How do we get a leadership change?

  • Komanoff

    Isn’t Dan Zweig supposed to be an old-timer? He must have a selective memory, to argue that curbside parking protects pedestrians from being run over on sidewalks.

    Zweig evidently disremembers the killing in January 1996 of 19-month-old Constance Dupuy and the maiming of her baby sitter, Krystyna Maliszewska, when a driver gunned his vehicle over the curb and smashed into the two of them in front of 2569 Broadway near West 97th Street.

    The Times reported the incident in full: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/24/nyregion/veering-car-kills-girl-and-injures-sitter-on-upper-west-side.html.

    That’s far from the only time curbside parking has led directly to pedestrian deaths. I’ve brought it up because it’s in CB7 and because I’ve never forgotten it. It’ll be 20 years next weekend. Constance would be 21, the same age as my older son.

  • “Community boards don’t get to decide. I do.” —Bill de Blasio

  • Is there any information on which committee members were in attendance and how they voted?

  • jooltman

    NYC DOT should make a distinction between including the community in discussions about life-saving street redesigns (good) and allowing the community to play transportation engineer/designer expert (bad.) There are national standards ((NACTO Urban Street Design Guide) that should be applied IN EVERY INSTANCE after explaining the scientific data and implementation plans to the community. Preferring parking over complete streets is not just a peccadillo on the part of Community Board members around the city; It will result in further death and injury. It cannot be indulged.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention providing parking also encourages car ownership and use, which in turn makes the streets more dangerous. It should be a stated NYC policy to drastically reduce the supply of parking, regardless of what other street changes are made. The only hope we have of ever reaching the goals of Vision Zero would be in part by dramatically reducing traffic levels citiwide.

  • Joe R.

    Has anyone bothered to tell Zweig bollards do an even better job of protecting sidewalks without the attendant traffic flow disruption and inducement to car ownership curbside parking results in? Not to mention that rows of parked cars are a bigger eyesore than bollards would be.

  • Zweig is an ass.

    Caputo should be challenging the records of these two old-timers by comparing their statements to the actual public records of the neighborhood, and seeing if there is anything that resembles consistency. Probably not.

    Caputo does have the responsibility of appointing GOOD board chairs, regardless of seniority or tenure. I’m sure there are at least 47 other board members who would be better transpo chairs. (There are only 50 on the board, and I’m noting that Caputo also couldn’t do it as board chair)

    The real story here is that Zweig and Albert, and so many others in the community board leadership tier, are people who got a favor from someone in a local political context. There are many good people serving in both community boards and democratic clubs in NYC (as well as in other local nonprofit orgs) but that in and of itself should not be a major influence in chair appointments. Being an obtuse head of a governing body is an inappropriate venue for hoarding prestige in local politics.

  • Brian Howald

    Exactly.

    There’s an advisory role of providing local input that can very easily be missed by a large city agency in executing its projects, but let’s not pretend that community board members are transit/traffic professionals.

  • Zweig is engaging in what’s called “concern trolling.” He probably doesn’t care about whether or not people are hit on the sidewalk, otherwise he’d remember or at least be convinced by examples like yours.

    He’s just using the specter of people being mowed down as a cover to keep a few parking spaces.

    DOT must not listen to him.

  • Bob

    glad to see it here – but why not made 6th ave three lanes as well? If the “cars need it argument” doesnt apply on Amsterdam, why does it apply on 6th? I continue to not fathom the 6th ave decision (nevermind not addressing 5th ave)

  • Maggie

    Does that mean Caputo can swap committee leadership?

  • KeNYC2030

    Votes to approve: Coughlin, Robbins, Robotti, Semer
    Votes to disapprove: Albert, Booker, Glazer, Zweig

  • BrandonWC
  • Maggie

    Albert, Zweig, Booker, and Glazer voted against. Against a strongly supportive community, Zweig literally begged to have any safety improvements except for allowing people safe places for bicycling along Amsterdam Avenue. Booker had a general disbelief in DOT’s expertise on traffic and refused to vote yes until NYPD provided him with data. When supportive committee members asked which data he needed, since it’s all public data and the NYPD doesn’t have objective data on UWS traffic safety, Booker refused to tell the public what data he wanted before being prepared to vote.

    Robbins, Coughlin, Semer, and Robotti voted yes, as did noncommittee members Caputo and Diller.

    hugely grateful for the yes votes – all of them. The meeting was almost a farcical illustration of what goes wrong when a CB committee no longer represents the actual community. Helen Rosenthal, Gale Brewer – this is a mess. Please remove Zweig before someone else dies on a safety project he derailed.

  • vnm

    I don’t think Brian was defending Zweig. I think he was asking A) who is responsible for continuing to reappoint him as co-chair of the Transportation Committee? and B) why does that person (we still don’t know who it is), continue to reappoint him? Let’s recognize that it is one thing to be a member of Manhattan Community Board 7 (he’s there thanks to Helen Rosenthal), and it’s another thing to be chair of the Transportation Committee, who sets the board’s agenda and has the loudest megaphone.

  • Curb Jumping NYC

    Let’s examine Zweig’s claim that parked cars prevent cars from careening on the sidewalks:

    Amsterdam Av, June 2, 2015:
    https://twitter.com/CurbJumpingNYC/status/606192812581781505?s=09

    Amsterdam Ave, December 1, 2015: https://twitter.com/CurbJumpingNYC/status/672037140780482561?s=09

    Amsterdam Ave, December 22, 2015: https://twitter.com/CurbJumpingNYC/status/679869578252578816?s=09

    Columbus Av, all of 2015:
    None reported

  • Mike

    Anybody know if they’re planning anything for Amsterdam north of 110th? The stretch from 110th to 120th is a speedway with multiple pedestrian fatalities over the last couple years. The combination of the hill and the overpass make for poor visibility to go with the high speeds.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    12% of traffic should recieve 12% of roadway

  • Reader

    A person with this much antipathy toward bikes and traffic calming that lose parking still has no place on the full board, since that’s who ultimately has to approve things that come out of committee. There are lots of examples of projects getting approved by a transportation committee only to be shot down at the board level.

    He shouldn’t be the transportation chair, but what about his behavior there would make anyone think he has the ability to fairly decide any matter?

  • BBnet3000

    No, because when a street crosses a CB boundary it becomes a different street. /s

  • AnoNYC

    Considering that Amsterdam Ave becomes a two-way street north of W 110th St, what would be the best way to integrate a future bicycle lane expansion?

  • AMH

    This is a public health situation. Encouraging cycling is key to public health, and the epidemic of deaths at the hands of drivers is a public health emergency!

  • CB7 Watcher

    You bet.

  • Maggie

    Zweig also encouraged Commissioner Forgione to rip out the Prospect Park West bike lane. And Isaac Booker listened to DOT’s presentation that their interviews with 439 people shopping on Amsterdam turned up only ten people who came by car and 429 people who didn’t, then said he would never support a complete street that would remove parking for customers’ automobiles. “Where are the customers supposed to park?”

  • Maggie

    The comments on Emily Frost’s DNA article are a shitshow.

  • Max Ellis

    I attended the CB 7 meeting on Amsterdam and continue to be amazed at people’ confusion of issues. They use the term Protected Bike Lane to represent Lane Reduction and Calming of Amsterdam Avenue. No one there argued how a bike lane helped bicyclists, only that it served to narrow the pedestrian crossing distance. Even Transportation Alternatives does not make a case for a bike lane on Amsterdam other than a policy statement “protected is better than unprotected’ and if one does not agree they are not worth speaking to.

    The bike lane is solely a device to narrow the street- there were no statements or evidence from DOT that bicyclists want a lane- all you had was some people say they like to bike but do not ride on Amsterdam- how about asking people who do? I bike/commute home on Amsterdam 3 days a week and ride on the weekend and it has never posed a problem for me. I sued to commute to work on Columbus until the bike lane went it and I found it both much slower but also more dangerous than without a ‘protected lane’, and I am one of those “senior citizens” that people say they are protecting. DOT stated that they do not take responsibility for maintaining the road surface within the lane once it goes in- on Columbus the surface has highly deteriorated and is not cleared- but the law mandates tickets for anyone riding outside the lane. (This during a time of decriminalization of other behaviors). The lane is both regressive and disadvantageous for cyclists.

  • bryduke

    Strongly opposed – there are already bike lanes on Central Park West, Columbus and very wide side lanes on both sides of West End, not to mention a bike lane all the way up the river. How about one street you can actually drive and park on? We’ve already got more biking options than the UES which is twice the width! Seems more an issue of laziness on behalf of the bikers than safety to me.

  • Maggie

    You’re kidding. There are already fourteen northbound car lanes across the 0.7 mile wide UWS. Four(->three) lanes on Amsterdam Ave, three on Broadway, two on Central Park West, one on West End Avenue, and one on Riverside Drive, double-wide parking lanes on both, not to mention three car lanes on the West Side Highway. One street you can actually drive and park on?? Sure, fine, but we need it with a protected bike lane.

    Amsterdam Avenue needs calmer motor traffic, safer crossings, safer cycling, and a safe place for the local businesses to make bike deliveries.

  • bryduke

    I assume you missed the point about reducing parking spaces by 25% – and that’s NOT counting all the additional spaces reserved for commercial vehicles.

  • Maggie

    I didn’t miss that point. I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for seven years without a car. 75% of the local households don’t own cars. Many people, myself included, think a safe bike lane on Amsterdam is vital. A staggering 98% of the people shopping and strolling on Amsterdam Avenue don’t come there by car.

    Feel free to disagree, but it shouldn’t take another Upper West Side funeral to get a safe bike lane. Majorities of the Upper West Side and an incredible number of local businesses are in support. If the tradeoff is 25% of parking spaces / much needed commercial loading zones / a protected bike lane for the people who live and work on Amsterdam Avenue, the choice is clear. I think the people who whine about this maybe don’t realize how myopic they look.

  • Tyson White

    The additional loading zone parking is something that was needed anyway and has little to do with the bike lanes.

  • Tyson White

    Same story this summer with the death of 7-year old Ethan Villavicencio:

    “Police sources said the driver, Kwasi Oduro, was apparently trying to back into a parking spot when he lost control…”

    http://m.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/boy-7-killed-car-plows-bronx-restaurant-article-1.2247298?cid=bitly

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