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CB 7 Committee Asks DOT, 7-0, for Amsterdam Avenue Complete Street Study

3:33 PM EDT on October 16, 2013

After a three-and-a-half-hour meeting that itself followed a nearly three-hour deliberation last month, the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee voted 7-0, with three abstentions, for a resolution asking DOT to study safety improvements for Amsterdam Avenue. The resolution asks DOT to consider a protected bike lane, pedestrian islands, removing one of the avenue's four car lanes, and retiming signals. It now moves to the full board for a vote on November 6.

There are many more injuries and fatalities on Amsterdam Avenue than on other northbound avenues on the Upper West Side, according to Last December, Transportation Alternatives clocked 81 percent of Amsterdam Avenue drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, with one in five drivers on a weekday afternoon traveling 40 mph or faster.

"I've got a major concern about speeding," said Peter Arndtsen, district manager of the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District. "Something has to be done." Arndtsen said that while the BID does not oppose or support a bike lane on Amsterdam, it would like a bus lane considered. During public testimony last night, TA showed a video of business owners on both avenues who support the protected bike lanes. Over 200 area businesses and community groups have signed on to TA's campaign. The Columbus Avenue BID also urged the board to support a protected bike lane on Amsterdam.

This is the latest chapter in a long campaign for protected bike lanes on the Upper West Side. Community Board 7 has hosted many hours-long meetings on the issue over the years -- first for Columbus Avenue, which was considered as two separate phases, and now for Amsterdam.

Last night's three abstentions came from committee member Lillian Moore and longtime co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, who all spoke against a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue before the vote. All three insisted they don't oppose bike lanes, they would just prefer studies for bike lanes on other avenues.

During committee discussion of the resolution, Zweig said he didn't trust the data showing the reduction in traffic injuries following the installation of protected bike lanes. "We had statistics from DOT that had a great deal of problems," he said, referring to his insistence earlier this year that DOT eliminate one year of data because it showed there were a high number of crashes on Columbus Avenue before the bike lane was installed. DOT refused to cherrypick the data according to Zweig's wishes.

Zweig then began ranting about personal experiences with cyclists riding on the sidewalk, the wrong way, and against red lights. He also said the City Council needs to pass a law requiring cyclists to use protected bike lanes where they have been installed. "Let's get the enforcement," Zweig said. "Let's pass that and get that moving before we even think of asking DOT to study anything else."

"I acquired the reputation of being anti-bike lane. You may have seen it in all the bike lobby press," said Zweig, who opposed lanes on both Amsterdam and Columbus. He then repeated his statement from last month that protected bike lanes are "the only ones worth doing." Just not on streets where community members are asking for them, apparently.

There were about 100 people in the room at last night's meeting. During public testimony, 46 people spoke, and 30 of them were in favor of the protected bike lane plan. But that didn't stop opponents from dismissing their testimony. "You've got a very strong lobby. You come here and you just fill the place up," Moore said. "They didn't really speak to the people in the community."

Catherine Unsino, who said she used to bike in Manhattan frequently but gave it up after she felt it was too dangerous, testified against the protected bike lane because she claimed it doesn't help the neighborhood's seniors or those with mobility challenges. "We're talking about improving transportation options for the most agile," she said.

Immediately after Unsino, Sarah Young explained that because she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that affects the joints, there are days when she cannot walk much, but must still get to her job. On those days, she said, biking is the best option because it minimizes the wear on her body. "The most dangerous part is biking to work on Amsterdam Avenue," she explained.

Louise Klaber, 78, testified that she began riding a bike in New York in the past five years because of the new bike lanes and supports installing one for people to ride north in the neighborhood. "I don't bike on Amsterdam Avenue," she said, because it's too dangerous without the lane.

On October 3, board chair Mark Diller organized an informational meeting between board members and DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione about Amsterdam Avenue. Last night, board members who attended the meeting had completely different reports on what DOT said. Ken Coughlin, who supports a protected bike lane on Amsterdam, said DOT expressed confidence that with some adjustments like converting a section of the east-side parking lane to a travel lane during rush hours, Amsterdam could handle its volume of traffic with three full-time car lanes as opposed to its current four. Coughlin compared the situation to Second Avenue in Kips Bay, where CB 6 recently voted to support a DOT plan to replace one of that avenue's four car lanes with parking, providing a protective barrier along the bike lane there.

But according to Moore, DOT expressed concerned about the effect of removing a lane of car traffic on Amsterdam. Streetsblog contacted DOT for clarification, but the press office said only that if the board requests a study, "questions on traffic volumes and capacities are just the sort of subjects that would be included in a traffic analysis of the corridor."

”My purpose in getting everybody into that room is that we would all hear the same thing," Diller said after the meeting. “You can’t help but hear it in the way that your filter leads you to."

At the end of the meeting, non-committee board members voted on the resolution asking DOT for a study of Amsterdam Avenue. Diller, whose term as chair expires at the end of the month, voted in favor, while Elizabeth Caputo, who will be taking over as chair, was one of two board members who abstained. On the transportation committee, meanwhile, there are no term limits: Zweig has headed the committee for at least a decade; co-chair Albert has held his position even longer.

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