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Manhattan CB 7 Committee Keeps Dithering on Amsterdam Avenue Safety

6:01 PM EDT on September 25, 2013

Despite starting off with a somber reminder of the damage created by dangerous driving, Manhattan Community Board 7's transportation committee ended its meeting last night gridlocked over whether to support meaningful street safety improvements.

One of the committee's first actions was to ask DOT to add an honorary street sign at the corner of 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in memory of Ariel Russo, age 4, who was killed by an unlicensed teen driver fleeing police in June. But when it came time to discuss fixing one of the most dangerous streets in the neighborhood, Amsterdam Avenue, the leaders of the committee didn't show much urgency.

Amsterdam is the only four-lane one-way avenue in the neighborhood, and has a higher number of crashes than other northbound avenues on the Upper West Side, according to crash statistics compiled by Transportation Alternatives. Nearly 200 local businesses and community groups have signed on to TA's campaign for a protected bike lane and pedestrian refuges on the street.

Last night, more than 20 members of the public spoke before the committee, with a majority in favor of a protected bike lane. The committee then began its own discussion, with members digressing into topics ranging from bicycle registration to street trees. The tenor of discussion, which TA's Tom DeVito characterized as more positive than a previous committee meeting in the spring, was reminiscent of the board's multi-year deliberation on a similar proposal for Columbus Avenue.

In what may be a sign of progress, committee co-chair Dan Zweig said protected bike lanes "are really the only ones worth doing," but he suggested one for Central Park West, not Amsterdam. Later in the meeting, CB 7 chair Mark Diller also said his "first preference" for a protected bike lane was CPW.

For years, the Community Board 7 transportation committee has been run by Zweig and Andrew Albert, who have developed a reputation for stalling street redesigns. That much seemingly hasn't changed.

As the meeting came to a close after three hours, Albert sought to sidestep the question of physical traffic-calming improvements entirely. "If you really want to make Amsterdam Avenue safer," he said, "All you have to do is change the timing of the lights."

Democratic City Council nominee Helen Rosenthal and Manhattan Borough President-elect Gale Brewer, who currently represents the district in the City Council, were both in attendance last night. As the presumptive council member and borough president starting next year, they would be responsible for most of the appointments to CB 7, with Brewer having the ability to dismiss current members. The committee is scheduled to meet again on October 8.

A proposal to improve pedestrian safety on cross streets -- West 95th, 96th, and 97th Streets from Central Park West to Riverside Drive -- met with a more fruitful discussion last night. The study, which CB 7 is undertaking with consultants NelsonNygaard with $17,500 in funding from Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Inez Dickens, and Gale Brewer, includes the intersection where Russo was killed.

Draft recommendations [PDF] include curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and turn restrictions at intersections. On West 97th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, the plan suggests chicanes to slow traffic. At the intersection of Broadway and 96th Street, which has a lot of pedestrian traffic going to and from the subway station in Broadway's median, the plan recommends banning left turns and significantly expanding pedestrian space.

The board, which has already met with DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione about the study, is looking to finalize recommendations and present the plan to DOT before the end of the year. "Some of the things here can be done on a trial basis. They can be painted on the road and then taken out if they don't work," Diller said, suggesting that the board prioritize the intersection of 96th Street and Broadway, followed by the block of 97th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, before moving on to other recommendations in the report.

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