UWS Residents Silently Protest Manhattan CB 7 Inaction on Street Safety

[Last night, residents of the Upper West Side staged a silent protest at the general meeting of Manhattan Community Board 7, hoping to get the attention of a board that has repeatedly failed to take action on street redesigns proven to reduce injuries and deaths.

Local residents fighting for street safety improvements find themselves stymied year after year by CB 7 transportation committee chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, who are appointed to the board by local council members and the borough president. After the protesters left last night, Council Member Helen Rosenthal specifically thanked Albert and Zweig “for helping everything go by so smoothly this year,” referring to redesigns of local streets that the community board delayed acting on until several high-profile deaths made stasis untenable.

Lisa Sladkus, a co-founder of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, sent in this record of how street safety advocates have been repeatedly ignored and brushed aside by Zweig and Albert over the last eight years.

— Ben Fried]

Although the Upper West Side of Manhattan is a residential neighborhood, its streets are plagued with out-of-control traffic, resulting in hundreds of injuries and multiple deaths each year. Many of the crashes that occur in our district are preventable. By designing our streets to prioritize people instead of cars and trucks, we could make our neighborhood safer for everyone.

In 2007, a group of concerned citizens formed the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance (UWSSR) in an effort to take back our streets. This group worked to educate members of our community on the dangers of walking and biking in our district and pushed the community board to embrace the notion that we have a responsibility to provide a safe living environment for those who work, live, and commute through our district. At every juncture, the leadership of the transportation committee of Community Board 7 was indifferent or outright hostile to the expertise, hard work, and vision that the UWSSR had to offer.

The two co-chairs of the committee, Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, have stonewalled and sabotaged safety initiative after safety initiative. They have refused to engage or communicate with these community members and have worked to frustrate their efforts to make our streets safer. In doing so, it is our belief that they have also made the Department of Transportation less willing to work in our district. UWSSR brought these concerns to both elected officials and the leadership of CB 7, but the CB 7 tradition that committee chairs hold their seats for life has trumped safety and ethics concerns, and no action has been taken.

These failures to act have led to the continuation of the dangerous street conditions that plague the Upper West Side.

Last year, three people were killed by motor vehicle drivers in quick succession (two on the same night, merely blocks apart), including nine-year-old Cooper Stock. The people of the Upper West Side are demanding changes to make our streets safer. With this urgent task before us, it is completely inappropriate that Zweig and Albert, two known opponents of street safety on the Upper West Side, be left in positions of power on this crucial issue.

The record below is presented to back up the charges above. By no means is it exhaustive, nor does it include conversations that were confidential or off-the-record.

2008 – 2009: Community members produce Blueprint for the Upper West Side, including ideas for safety fixes on 96th and 97th streets. Zweig and Albert ignore it.

In 2007 and 2008, community members interested in improving the streets of the Upper West Side formed the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance Campaign (UWSSR). The UWSSR put together a street safety blueprint for the neighborhood and held several large public events to promote the blueprint and communicate these ideas. Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert expressed no interest in the Blueprint or the ideas and safety fixes contained within it. Zweig and Albert never engaged or communicated with these community members concerned about the streets of the UWS.

February 2009: CB 7 transportation committee refuses to work with community members to request bike racks, no formal action taken, bike racks never installed.

At the transportation committee’s meeting, the UWSSR presented a letter it had sent the committee listing locations in the district where bike racks could be sited in adherence with DOT’s rules for bike rack placement. Members of the public spoke in favor of the bulk bike rack request. No members spoke against this.

At the committee’s meeting the following month, the co-chairs claimed that bike racks were important and that they would ask DOT for a list of approved locations. After receiving the DOT list, they said they would survey locations and then submit a bulk request (ignoring the work that the UWSSR had already done).

In late March 2009, I asked co-chair Andrew Albert, by email, if he needed any further assistance or information from the UWSSR and noted that the group looked forward to a progress report at the CB 7 April full board meeting. Albert never responded, nor was there a progress report at the full board meeting.

Because of the lack of a progress report, I asked Albert the status of the bike rack request in person. Albert told me that the transportation committee had requested rack locations from DOT and that the committee would complete its own survey.

At the April transportation committee meeting the following week, Albert informed me that CB 7 had forwarded a bulk request for racks to City Racks, but declined to divulge the list of locations.

An UWSSR letter to DOT’s Ryan Russo inquiring about the status of the rack request went unanswered.

Racks never appeared on the street, and we have no way of knowing if a formal request was ever submitted. A formal resolution was never brought up in the transportation committee nor in any of the minutes. While bike racks are not a safety related concern for the UWSSR, this example lays the framework for the pattern of misleading communication and disregarding the public’s concerns and work.

September 2009: CB 7 transportation committee chairs oppose bike lanes.

After a presentation by DOT, the CB7 transportation committee passed by a narrow margin a resolution asking the DOT to propose a design for protected bike lanes on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. Despite the large turnout and enthusiastic community support for the proposal, the committee was largely concerned with the loss of parking. Co-chair Andrew Albert, who voted against the resolution, complained that we already have “too much traffic, double parking, buses, trucks, and inconsiderate cyclists.” This, despite numerous before-and-after studies proving the safety benefits of protected bike lanes in NYC and around the world.

May 2010: UWSSR organized ten area schools around a campaign entitled “Corridor 96.”

Corridor 96 advocated for specific safety changes (and asked for a more in-depth analysis by the DOT) for 95th, 96th, and 97th Streets from Riverside to Central Park West. UWSSR surveyed every single block and wrote a four page list of specific safety changes that included daylighting, leading pedestrian intervals, better street markings, raised and colored crosswalks, additional crossing guards, etc.

Despite support from 10 area schools and interest from DOT, the transportation committee would not formally discuss the Corridor 96 campaign or commit to supporting any of its ideas. Instead, the committee wasted precious years and instead commissioned a separate report by Nelson/Nygaard in 2013 focused on pedestrian safety. After this report was released, the transportation committee once again sat on it and did nothing until a rash of pedestrian deaths in 2014 forced their hand.

May 2010: Zweig and Albert oppose DOT proposal for protected bike lane on Columbus.

DOT presented the transportation committee with its plan for a parking-protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue from 96th to 77th Street. Although the standing-room-only crowd was overwhelmingly in support of the project, the two co-chairs issued their negative verdict in long statements immediately preceding the vote, effectively precluding rebuttal.

Dan Zweig: “I am concerned about calming traffic too much. Instead we should try 110th to 100th Street as a trial…This protected bike lane is premature, and this is clearly not the best mile to choose. Although you can fill a room and do surveys, this isn’t the best plan. This isn’t the best time or place for protected bike lanes.”

Andrew Albert: “I don’t believe this avenue is the right avenue. This is going to affect local businesses. This corridor is already too crowded with trucks.” Albert warned that gridlock could be the result of narrowing the existing lanes from 12 feet to 10 feet.

The committee fails to advance DOT’s proposal in a tie vote, 5-5.

June 2010: Zweig denies the safety benefits of protected bike lanes.

Overriding the committee, CB 7 chair Mel Wymore brought the Columbus Avenue resolution to the full board for consideration. At this meeting, Dan Zweig’s opposition shifted from the lane being in the wrong place at the wrong time to the proposed lane being too short. We “only got 20 blocks,” he lamented. Zweig also declared that despite the demonstrated safety improvements on other avenues with protected bike lanes, “This design isn’t safer for pedestrians. The narrowing of the lanes won’t calm traffic.”

Andrew Albert claimed that the lanes “aren’t wide enough now.”

Despite the opposition from the transportation committee co-chairs, CB 7’s full board passed the resolution asking for a parking-protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue from 96th to 77th Streets.

November 2010: Zweig attempts to silence community members opposed to his views.

The transportation committee agenda included a discussion of the Columbus Avenue redesign. Zweig announced at the start of meeting that only critics of the redesign would be heard, even though the published agenda did not indicate this. When pressed to explain why only critics would be heard, Zweig said, “We have an agenda we want to push through on this.” Although many supporters of the redesign attended and eventually spoke, the committee minutes for this meeting are slanted in favor of the redesign’s critics.

January 2011: No follow-up on community member’s suggestions by Zweig and Albert despite promises to do so.

During the “new business” section of the transportation committee meeting, a community member offered a proposal that northbound Broadway between 73rd to 79th Streets, which sees sparse motor vehicle traffic, could better serve the community as a pedestrian plaza. The co-chairs promised to ask DOT about the pedestrian plaza idea. The entire discussion did not merit inclusion in the meeting’s minutes, and the idea was never mentioned again at the committee.

October 2011: Zweig and Albert misrepresent and distort data in attempt to undermine bike lane.

The transportation committee heard presentations by the DOT on preliminary data on the Columbus Avenue redesign and by City Council Member Gale Brewer on the results of her survey of community reactions to the redesign. The committee minutes make no mention of data showing fewer crashes and the reduction in speeding on Columbus since the redesign. The only finding cited in the minutes is an increase in biking on the bike lane.

The minutes’ summary of the Brewer survey results is false: “Survey results are definitely a mixed picture, with an equal (or greater) number of people saying they don’t like the bike lane as saying they like it.” (In fact, of the 908 people surveyed, 40 percent said the new designs works for all users, 33 percent said it was a good start but needed some changes to work better, and only 27 percent said that it doesn’t work well.) During the committee discussion, Andrew Albert asserted that the slower speeds on the redesigned section of Columbus were solely due to increased congestion.

March 2012: Zweig and Albert stifle community members trying to make pedestrian improvements on 109th street.

A real estate group with a number of buildings on West 109th Street returned to the transportation committee for the third time to discuss their ideas for traffic calming and school bus efficiency. Despite the fact that the group got a letter of approval from the public school on the block, the committee claimed that they needed more time to make sure the school was in support of the school bus changes.

Furthermore, entire pieces of their plan were deleted when Albert claimed he had spoken to the DOT and been told they were not inclined to do mid-block bulb-outs. When asked who at the DOT Albert spoke with, he replied that it wasn’t important. The real estate group’s lawyer later spoke about how disappointed they were with the process and the way they were treated. They had spent over $10,000 putting together the plan (which the committee said it needed in order to vote on anything), and they were left feeling that CB 7 did not respect their time, effort, or ideas.

April 2012: Zweig and Albert refuse to communicate with widow whose husband was killed by a truck.

Community member Mary Beth Kelly requested meeting with Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert via email to discuss safety in the neighborhood and got no response.

April 2012: Zweig and Albert work to close play street, unfairly distort process to achieve their goals.

A small, vocal group of residents from 107th Street returned to the transportation committee for the fifth or sixth time to discuss their desire to cancel the standing play street on 107th Street by Ascension School. The school uses the block between Broadway and Amsterdam for two hours every school day, weather permitting. Despite testimony from parents, the school administration, the local block association, and other long-term neighbors in support of the play street, the committee allowed the opponents to continue bringing the item back for more discussion. The discussions on this particular play street lasted at least six hours.

Albert visited the school, assessed conditions for alternate play streets, toured the gymnasium and roof of the school as possible play locations. Following this visit, Albert wrote a one page resolution encouraging the school to research alternative play locations including on 108th Street, on the same block as a methadone clinic and parking garage, and at a local small park that would require children to cross Amsterdam Avenue.

During the course of the discussion, neighbors who opposed the play street were allowed to speak many times, despite not adding any new information. Zweig encouraged the school to choose the park site across a major street as an alternative, calling Amsterdam Avenue at noon-time “sleepy.”

November 2012: Zweig rejects hard work done by community volunteers in effort to undermine bike racks.

UWSSR intern Andrew Balmer presented a bulk bike rack request to the transportation committee. UWSSR had surveyed the commercial corridors of Broadway, Amsterdam, and Columbus from 59th Street to 110th Street. UWSSR sent letters to all property owners that would be affected and ultimately asked for 91 bike racks. The committee voted 8-2-0 in favor, but Dan Zweig voted against the resolution and wanted committee members to survey the 91 locations before they voted on them. The other committee members explicitly stated that they did not want to survey the locations and trusted that UWSSR had accurately described the locations and had done their due-diligence.

December 2012: Zweig misrepresents 8-2 vote of transportation committee to full committee board.

At the December full board meeting, Dan Zweig, who voted against the resolution, presented the bulk bike rack request. He used the opportunity to paint UWSSR outreach and surveying in a negative light. (At this same meeting, Zweig accused local business owner Henry Rinehart of lying about the outreach he did for his request for a bike corral). Ian Alterman requested that the bulk bike rack request be sent back to committee for further study. Despite the 8-2-0 committee vote, the full board voted to send the resolution back to committee.

[Subsequent to this meeting, and as a direct result of this incident, CB7 changed its bylaws to provide that a member of the voting majority on a particular committee resolution should present that resolution to the full board.]

May 2013: Committee discussion of a safer Amsterdam Avenue is sidetracked.

During the “community session” of the May CB 7 full board meeting, several members of the public called for a complete street on Amsterdam Avenue. However, the matter was not added to the agenda for the next transportation committee meeting, as would normally be the case.

Two weeks later, during the “new business” portion of the May Transportation Committee meeting, TA community organizer Tom DeVito and committee member Ken Coughlin asked that a discussion of redesigning Amsterdam Avenue be placed on the committee’s June agenda. The proposal was rejected out of hand by the committee co-chairs and Board Chair Mark Diller.

From this point on, Mark Diller assumed the role of arbitrator between Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, on the one hand, and advocates for a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue, on the other. There were no direct communications with the co-chairs, outside of actual meetings, regarding placing a discussion of Amsterdam on the committee’s agenda.

June 2013: Discussion of Amsterdam redesign delayed.

Board Chair Mark Diller rejected having a discussion of Amsterdam Avenue at the committee’s June meeting, proposing a broader discussion of northbound corridors at the committee’s July meeting.

July 2013: Discussion of Amsterdam redesign delayed again.

At the July transportation committee meeting, 52 community members called for a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. At the discussion’s conclusion, committee member Ken Coughlin asked that a specific discussion of Amsterdam Avenue be put on the committee’s September agenda. In an email two days later, Diller said that a further discussion of all northbound routes is still needed.

September 2013: Discussion of Amsterdam redesign delayed yet again.

Many members of the community attended the transportation committee’s September meeting to voice their support for a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. Supporters outnumbered opponents by four to one. There was no resolution; the co-chairs tabled the matter for the committee’s October meeting.

October 2013: Vote finally taken on Amsterdam redesign; Albert and Zweig abstain.

Five months after being first proposed at a CB7 full board meeting, a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue finally came to a vote on the transportation committee. The resolution passed 7-0-3, with Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig abstaining.

November 2013: Full board vote on Amsterdam redesign resolution delayed.

So many community members gave statements in support of an Amsterdam redesign at CB7’s full board meeting that there was no time for board discussion, and the vote was put off until December.

December 2013: Albert and Zweig try to undermine Amsterdam redesign resolution through numerous amendments.

During CB 7’s full board discussion of a resolution asking DOT to study redesigning Amsterdam Avenue as a complete street, Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert offered a series of amendments, many of which would preclude the possibility of a protected bike lane or delay or distract from making Amsterdam safer.

For example, Zweig offered an amendment to prioritize the installation of concrete sidewalk extensions, which by his own admission would make it more difficult to install a physically protected bike lane. When it became clear the amendment will fail, Zweig withdrew it.

As he had done in the past, Zweig challenged the veracity of DOT’s findings that Columbus Avenue was safer after being redesigned.  Zweig claimed that if you “look behind the numbers . . . [you find] that it became more dangerous.”  The final resolution included an amendment from Zweig that said “prior measurement and observation of the use, effectiveness, safety, and accessibility of the Columbus Avenue redesign has yielded uncertainty regarding its overall success in any of these areas.” Weighed down with many amendments, a resolution calling on DOT to study the feasibility of turning Amsterdam Avenue into a complete street passed the board 35-0.

After the vote, a committee was formed to hammer out the resolution’s exact wording.  The committee included Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert. Another committee member alleges that Zweig attempted to substitute major portions of his and Albert’s original anti-Amsterdam redesign resolution.

Failure to address consulting firm’s recommendations to fix dangerous intersections/streets.

At its September meeting, the transportation committee heard proposals by the consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard for addressing dangerous conditions at a number of intersections and street sections between 95th and 100th streets. Nelson/Nygaard sent the committee and the board its final recommendations in December 2013. None of these recommendations were taken up by the committee co-chairs. However, following well-publicized pedestrian deaths at those intersections in 2014, DOT implemented most of Nelson/Nygaard’s recommendations for two intersections — 96th and Broadway and 95th and West End Avenue.

In August 2014, committee member Ken Coughlin asked co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert to place Nelson/Nygaard’s remaining proposals on the committee’s September agenda. Several other committee members endorsed this idea.  Nevertheless, Albert agreed to allow only “discussion” of the proposals in the New Business section at the end of the meeting.

January/February 2014: Vision Zero Task Force announced by Chair Elizabeth Caputo following a slew of pedestrian deaths, including 9-year-old Cooper Stock.

In the months following Caputo’s announcement, Albert and Zweig worked to change Caputo’s mind and rescind her Vision Zero Task Force. People who were originally approached to possibly join the task force (safe streets advocates) were later told that they wouldn’t be included because they “couldn’t play well with others.” 

Spring 2014: Zweig waters down DOT safety improvements.

DOT proposed curb extensions at three corners of the intersection of 72nd Street and Riverside Drive to shorten long crossing distances for pedestrians. At committee, Mr. Zweig proposed an amendment to eliminate the southern-most curb extension, saying it would “inconvenience the neighborhood.” His amendment failed in committee but he proposed it again at the full board and this time it passes.

June 2014: First Vision Zero Task Force meeting does not include one mention of street safety, rampant speeding or failure to yield in the neighborhood.

Conclusion

This community deserves a transportation committee that is proactive, transparent, and can act on the will of the majority of community members. Currently, under the leadership in place, our community is not being heard and safety is being compromised because of it. The leadership of this committee needs to change.

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