Upper West Side Residents Fed Up With CB 7 Inaction on Complete Streets

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 7’s transportation committee debated the merits of bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian refuges to Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues between 59th and 110th Streets. This would be a big gain for the Upper West Side, which currently only has one mile of protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. After years of debate and negotiation, residents are growing impatient with the committee’s indecisiveness on street redesigns that make walking and biking safer.

The existing Columbus Avenue bike lane runs from 77th to 97th streets. Photo: DOT

Supporters, who outnumbered opponents in last night’s audience, provided testimony that emphasized the safety benefits of the street redesigns. Resident Detta Ahl said that the protected bike lanes give her the confidence to ride her bike in the neighborhood. On the street, “I am in rough water, with sharks,” she said. “When I’m in the protected bike lane, I am in a pool, with a lane line, and a lifeguard.”

Willow Stelzer noted that pedestrians and drivers have benefited as well. “It’s not just about bicyclists,” she said. Since the refuge islands were installed on Columbus Avenue, she said, her mother feels safer crossing the street.

The committee chairs, Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, faced tough criticism last night for the committee’s lack of movement on complete streets. “Leadership for the Upper West Side is lacking,” said Henry Rinehart. “We’re falling behind other neighborhoods.”

Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband was killed while riding his bike on the Hudson River Greenway at 38th Street, also expressed frustration with the slow pace. “He’s been dead for six years and I’ve been showing up at these meetings,” she said. “You just want to sit and waste our time.”

“This committee has not been proactive to date about bike lanes,” said former board chair Mel Wymore, who currently sits on the transportation committee and is running for City Council. While noting that “community board members are volunteers,” Wymore said that “to request leadership from a community board is completely fair game.”

Wymore is proposing a subcommittee to focus on long-term vision and planning for transportation in the neighborhood.

Some community board members remained unconvinced of the merits of a street redesign, citing the loss of parking while raising doubts about the safety and crash reduction benefits. A protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue would require elimination of a motor vehicle lane, which was not necessary on Columbus. Some board members, including the chairs, were concerned about the impact this could have on traffic on the avenue, which is a truck route.

Board member Ian Alterman claimed to be “really neutral about bike lanes,” despite his strident opposition to the Columbus Avenue redesign. “Bike lanes are not the be-all and end-all of safety,” he said after the meeting.

Almost everyone agreed that speeding is a serious problem in the neighborhood, with board member Ken Coughlin noting that the 20th and 24th precincts have paid little attention to the issue. The two precincts issued only one speeding citation in the months of May, June and July. “The police cannot or will not enforce the laws,” he observed. “These are self-enforcing devices,” Coughlin said of the bike lanes and pedestrian islands.

The committee will vote on the protected bike lanes after DOT presents its proposal on November 13.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, that comparison between delivery workers and drunk drivers has to be nominated for the fallacy of the year! Drunk drivers are not capable of driving safely for physiological reasons, and there is no way around that. All drunk drivers are bad–that’s why it is not a witch hunt to target drunk drivers. Delivery workers as group are being stereotyped and treated as boogeymen because some of them behave recklessly. (And let’s not even get into how drunken drivers are hundreds of times deadlier than delivery cyclists…)

  • Joe R.

    @Maani:disqus The reason I used the words “witch hunt” regarding delivery cyclists and electric bikes has to do with the fact that they’re more a low-level annoyance than a threat of the magnitude the City Council has made them out to be. Since the time Stuart Gruskin was killed by a delivery cyclist motor vehicles have killed hundreds while cyclists (including delivery cyclists) have killed zero. It’s fairly obvious to me which threat the City Council should be focusing on just going by statistics alone. I ask you to show me the statistics which justify the draconian laws against both delivery cyclists and e-bikes (and please don’t give me Jessica Lappin’s silly “statistic” of 72% of UES pedestrians being “almost hit” by delivery bikes because almosts don’t count under the law, and some people will say a bike passing ten feet away almost hit them). Just because a bunch of people may complain about something doesn’t mean that it needs to be regulated or banned. In fact, the very definition of a witch hunt is taking questionable actions based on mass hysteria not backed by facts, as is the case here.
    What irks me even more though is that the laws being passed to deal with the delivery bike “problem”, which at best exists in a few Manhattan neighborhoods, will apply citiwide. Why should e-bikes be banned in Eastern Queens where I live? Here they’re very useful for less than fit riders given the distances, and nobody here is really complaining about them. If the new laws only applied to a few target neighborhoods in Manhattan I might not have a problem with them but they don’t. I’m sick and tired of Manhattan’s problems dragging down the entire city. I’m also sick and tired of a City Council which passes “feel-good” laws not based on solid facts or statistics. Take for example the ill thought out requirement to lock up spray paint. It didn’t make a dent in graffitti, but it has succeeded in inconveniencing merchants and customers, to the point that many stores no longer carry spray paint because it’s just not worth the bother.It isn’t just the enforcing of existing laws which are the problem here, but the laws themselves. Laws requiring lights and/or reflectors on bikes I have no problem with. They make sense from a safety standpoint. Bells are a gray area but I might lend support to requiring them for commercial cyclists (but not non-commercial cyclists). The laws for reflective vests and especially helmets for delivery cyclists make absolutely zero sense. I’ve read tons of studies on helmets. The valid studies which pass peer review at best show helmets to be of marginal benefit. Most show helmets to be of no benefit whatsoever. As for vests, try riding with a vest (or a helmet) for hours delivering in July or August. There are better ways of putting the name of the restaurant on the bicycle than making the rider wear a vest. I do however fully agree that restaurants, not delivery cyclists, should be solely responsible for any legal sanctions. I merely differ in what the laws regarding delivery cyclists should be.You say that delivery cyclists on average are the most irresponsible riders out there. Point of fact I agree, and I’ll add that commercial drivers (taxis, delivery trucks) are the most irresponsible drivers out there. It’s the nature of the beast that when you make money based on number of deliveries or number of fares you’re going to cut corners. Now here’s the rub. I’m 100% certain the new regulations and enforcement on delivery cyclists will do one of two things. Either restaurants will no longer consider it worthwhile to deliver, or they will start using cars because they will save little or no money/time continuing to use bikes. Do you really want a bunch of delivery cars, most probably driven by unlicensed drivers, rushing to complete their errands? And trust me, that’s how it will be. I’ve already dealt with enough of these types of businesses to know that they have no problems letting unlicensed drivers drive. In fact, I was asked several times by my boss at one job to drive company vehicles (each with 8 to 10 passengers) when he knew full well I had no license and little experience driving. Certainly the end result of this will be far worse than the present issues with delivery cyclists.Getting to the issue with delivery cyclists, the major complaints I hear are riding on sidewalks, riding the wrong way, and going through red lights. All of these can be addressed in one way or another through more enlightened means. I’ll start with an anecdote. A school which had a problem with students taking a short cut through the lawn to get to a building instead of using the designated path. The school tried enforcement, fencing off the grass, etc. but nothing worked. Eventually what did work was to just make the path where the students were going to walk anyway.Let’s apply this anecdote to delivery cyclists. Fact is delivery people need to make deliveries as fast as possible. It makes far more sense to provide them the legal means to do this than to continually bat them over the head with more laws and more enforcement. Remember that we will never have the resources for blanket enforcement, so 99% of the time the delivery cyclists will continue doing what they need to do with impunity. The first two issues-sidewalk and wrong way riding, are actually pretty easy to fix. Delivery cyclists often need to go against normal traffic flow. Sometimes to do so they’ll ride in the street against traffic, and sometimes they’ll take to the sidewalk. The answer then is to provide contraflow bike lanes on all one-way streets. This will keep the delivery cyclists in the street where they belong, and more importantly where pedestrians will know to expect them. That solves 95% of the problem because sidewalk and wrong-way riding are really the most dangerous things delivery cyclists do. As a cyclist, I really can’t condone either but I understand their rationale for doing so.The third major complaint about delivery cyclists (actually I hear this complaint about ALL cyclists) is not stopping at red lights or stop signs (and I’m just as guilty here of doing both these things). Here we get into a law which treats cyclists like motor vehicles, and essentially requires them to do something most are not physically capable of doing. The sheer number and timing of traffic signals on many NYC streets would require cyclists to start and stop every three or four blocks. This is difficult to impossible even for a commuter cyclist going a fairly short distance of a few miles. Forget about a delivery cyclist who is on his/her bike all day being able to stop at every red light (although ironically this would be possible if the cyclist were on an illegal e-bike). This isn’t even getting into the fact that stopping and waiting the full cycle at every red light may reduce average speeds to walking speed or less. To top it all off, passing red lights is usually safer because you get to ride free from cars for a while, and you avoid being in the platoon of accelerating vehicles when the light goes green. Anyway, there are several ways to address this issue. One would be to provide (albeit expensive) elevated bike lanes where cyclists pass above everything. This would actually also address the other two complaints. A second way is to reduce the volume of motor traffic to the point that you can get rid of most traffic signals. A third way is to just legalize “reds as yields”, so that the major cycling advocacy organizations can finally educate riders on how to safely pass red lights, as well as when you shouldn’t because of either poor lines of sight, or high cross traffic volumes. The third way is obviously the most cost-efficient. It neatly ties into my earlier anecdote. Fact is, barring major infrastructure changes the vast majority of cyclists are not stopping at red lights all the time. Once we accept this fact, we can educate them on how to practice this as safely as possible (i.e. eliminating parking near intersections improves lines of sight). Pretending this issue will go away if only we had enough enforcement is like trying to drill a hole in water. It won’t because plain and simple NYC just has too many traffic lights.Finally, let’s get to the e-bike issue. First of all, the ones which comply with federal law can only go 20 mph, not 30 mph, although I’ve little doubt some models out there can exceed 20 mph, and I personally feel 30 to 40 mph should be the allowed speed. Second, they’re no more silent than regular bikes. Any bike, electric or otherwise, going 25 or 30 mph is going to make enough wind noise to easily be heard. I know this because pedestrians hear me and stop crossing when I’m riding at high speeds. Even if that wasn’t the case, a simple legal requirement of a loud horn to warn pedestrians solves the issue. The idea that e-bikes should make a sound ALL the time is ridiculous. That’s the whole point of using them instead of motor vehicles-so we can have a little peace and quiet on our streets. The idea of licensing is also silly unless we allow e-bikes which can achieve speeds far in excess of what a regular pedal bike can achieve. Remember that a strong rider on a regular pedal bike can easily exceed 30 mph on a gentle downgrade. I’ve personally hit 65 mph once, and gotten over 50 mph maybe a handful of times. OK, I can’t maintain these speeds on level roads, but I used to be able to sprint to about 35 mph. Some riders can sprint past 40 mph on the level. That’s where I might make the cutoff for licensing and additional training for e-bikes. If it goes 40 mph or less, it’s a regular bike for legal purposes. Any more, and it’s treated like a motor scooter. Remember that the vast majority of motor vehicles on city streets travel at 35 to 40 mph. Smaller, lighter vehicles doing the same speeds are hardly dangerous provided they’re ridden in a safe manner. The hard fact is e-bikes are targeted only because they happen to be mostly ridden by delivery cyclists. As a result, they are sometimes operated unsafely. Please learn to distinguish how a vehicle is operated from the merits of the vehicle. I could say because many cars are operated unsafely they should be banned also but that wouldn’t make any more sense than banning e-bikes. E-bikes and other small, electrically-powered vehicles are exactly what you want more of in a city like New York. They’re probably more suitable for here than anywhere else in the country.On a closing note, a lot of the friction between pedestrians, delivery cyclists, and other cyclists wouldn’t even exist if they weren’t fighting for the scraps of street space left over from motor vehicles. Really, the streets are too crowded for everyone. If your community board and others really wished to do something positive based on statistics, they would take proactive steps to greatly reduce the disproportionate amount of street space given over to motor vehicles. Reducing motor vehicle volumes to what they were 75 years ago would have more positive benefits than the questionable course of action being taken now.

  • Joe R.

    By the way, disqus totally screwed up the formatting of my last post, combining multiple paragraphs. Apologies to anyone having difficulty reading it.

  • Joe R.

    Relevant to the entire delivery cyclist issue, and to much of the other questionable legislation passed by the City Council, is the principal of natural law which was the basis for the US legal framework until relatively recently. In a nutshell, natural law states that the  only basis for punishment under the law is if there is loss of property, injury, or death, or certainty of loss of property, injury, or death. Or put in layman’s terms, you can’t pass laws which punish people unless they have committed harm, or are reasonably certain to commit harm unless stopped. A good example of the latter might be shooting a gun in a crowded public place, or driving a motor vehicle at high speed on a crowded sidewalk. Both actions are reasonably certain to result in injury or death if continued. Examples which wouldn’t qualify for punishment under natural law would be simply carrying a gun in a crowded public place, or riding a bicycle at low speed on a crowded sidewalk. Note that both of these things are illegal under NYC law even though those laws wouldn’t pass muster under the principals of natural law. The purpose of natural law is to prevent exactly what the City Council has proven very adept at doing-making laws which unnecessary restrict the freedom of individuals and businesses merely because some legislators feel a given action *might* be dangerous, even when statistics might show 99.999% of the time it isn’t (i.e. sidewalk cycling). The laws passed against delivery cyclists and the laws prohibiting e-bikes both fit these categories. E-bikes are legal in the other 49 states. There is zero evidence that the simple act of using an e-bike in a large city will cause injury, death, or loss of property with certainty. In fact, based on the track record in the rest of the country, these bikes are no more dangerous than regular pedal bikes. In short, before passing any laws banning something, it’s necessary to have evidence that said action is always or nearly always dangerous. Sad to say, very little of the legislation passed by the City Council would meet this criteria.

  • Pascaleberner

    is there a website where we can find minutes of the meetings?


CB 7 Members, Upper West Siders Back Amsterdam Ave Protected Bikeway

The room was packed last night for DOT’s long-awaited plan for a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side [PDF], with about 120 people turning out at the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. Most residents and committee members praised the plan, though no vote was held. DOT says it […]