Manhattan CB 7 Committee Keeps Dithering on Amsterdam Avenue Safety

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.

CB 7 committee members seem to agree that Amsterdam Avenue, shown at 97th Street, is too dangerous, but can't make up their minds about a proposal to calm traffic. Image: ##!data=!1m8!1m3!1d3!2d-73.970102!3d40.794418!2m2!1f27.77!2f93.63!4f75!2m4!1e1!2m2!1swnmBNOmFduzYR5uD-kjs5w!2e0&fid=5##Google Maps##

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.

CB 7's transportation committee is poised to endorse a plan that would ask DOT to widen pedestrian medians and restrict turns, including at Broadway and 96th Street, above. Image: ##\Nygaard##

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 Nelson\Nygaard 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.

  • Eric McClure

    Keep your stinking sign, CB7. Thanks to your failure to act in the interest of safety, it likely won’t be the last.

  • Anonymous

    Where are the bright young people that should be out there kicking these alta-cockers into retirement and taking their places on CBs? Chasing money on Wall Street no doubt.

  • Anonymous

    I find it ironic that Inez Dickens has no problem funding a traffic study
    leading to traffic calming in another district, but refuses/abstains when it is proposed for her own.

    Focusing on the topic at hand, I live near this area, and 96th and 97th streets are indeed a conflict zone between pedestrians and cars. While leading pedestrian intervals have been added to many of the intersections in the area, many people choose to ignore walk/don’t walk signs, causing issues with cars turning left on dedicated signals. However, I fear that banning left turns on 96th street and West End as well as at Broadway will drive a lot of traffic that exits the northbound Henry Hudson onto neighboring streets that will not be able to handle the volume. 95th street is already highly trafficked by cars exiting the SB Henry Hudson, and the left turn at Amsterdam is also a hazardous one as shown in the presentation. I would have no problem implementing a left turn ban at West End, but greater use of medians at the 96th and Broadway intersection while still allowing left hand turns strikes me as a better solution.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Seeing as it took over two years to get the Columbus Avenue bike lane put in, I say to the UWS bike activists: Keep on keeping on! Go to more meetings, meet privately with CB members, meet with Gale Brewer, Helen Rosenthal, and don’t let up on the pressure until there is a proposal to vote on in that Community Board. Amsterdam is currently the least Amsterdam-like road in the city. Let’s get it to where it’s more like Amsterdam!

  • Anonymous

    As a cyclist I would find the bike lane on CPW more useful, because there you don’t have to worry about intersections except every 10 blocks or so. But Amsterdam definitely needs to be tamed anyway, and timing the signals isn’t going to do anything for safety. Plus, who says we can’t have both? It would be better if every avenue had a bike lane.

  • Joe Enoch

    I was at that meeting and what I took out of that is that, a two-lane “class A” protected bike lane, similar to the ones in Montreal and PPW would be helpful along CPW and that Amsterdam Ave is DANGEROUS for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. So I think we should put in the two-lane bike lane along the northbound side of CPW and a northbound protected lane along Amsterdam. It’s asking a lot, but would really set the UWS apart in bicycle and ped safety.

  • Reader

    I’d argue that since it took two years of meetings to get the Columbus Ave bike lane put in due to NIMBY fears and obstruction for the CB7 committee co-chairs, and because they were proven 100% wrong as soon as it was installed, the Amsterdam bike lane should be approved and put in tomorrow.

    I mean, seriously. How wrong do these people have to be over and over again before the city starts doing what’s right for safety and not what’s right to appease two avid motorists?

  • KeNYC2030

    A two-lane bike lane along CPW would require removing all the car parking on the east side of the street or making CPW one-way for cars. Either would be an extremely heavy political lift compared to removing one car lane from an obviously overbuilt Amsterdam Avenue.

  • Danny G

    Not necessarily. Just change CPW from two car lanes in each direction to one car lane in each plus a median/left turn bay – a classic, tried-and-true, by-the-books road diet. That buys you about ten feet of space. Four feet will get you a buffer, and six feet gets you a southbound bike lane. Voila – space for a two-way protected bike path.

  • Anonymous

    While I would love a two-way lane, a one way northbound lane is not that bad, considering that there are good southbound choices very close in either direction: Columbus Ave. and the Central Park West Drive.

  • Mark Seaman

    At 96th and Broadway, it makes sense to ban left turns from Broadway. That left-turn phase creates chaotic conflicts as a lot of pedestrians start crossing north-south and then block the turning vehicles, or risk injury. During that left-turn phase, there’s also a lot of east-west ped movement from the SW corner of Broadway to the subway station in the Broadway median — people hoping that a left-turning vehicle won’t make a U-turn into them.

    Banning left turns from 96th Street onto Broadway is probably less critical. There aren’t a lot of left turns from WB 96th Street to SB Broadway (where they conflict with peds heading to the subway); on the north side of the intersection, the ped flow is much more moderate and create less of a conflict for the turning vehicles.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Yes, that’s where we will get, one avenue at a time. Then it will just be the way our big avenues are designed. Then we will say, “Weren’t our streets always like this?”

  • velocepede

    CPW should be turned into a one-way street with a protected bike lane IN ADDITION to Amsterdam Ave. It’s time to give bicycle commuting a real chance (not just paint).

  • Danny G

    CPW doesn’t need to be one-way in order to have a protected two-way bicycle path.

  • Andrew

    Only if the bike path runs along the park wall. Otherwise it would interfere with the bus stops.


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