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Amsterdam Bike Lane Will Get Full CB 7 Vote, Despite Transpo Committee

The proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue will repurpose a motor vehicle lane and parking spots to create safer conditions for biking and walking. Image: DOT

Upper West Siders may finally get a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue -- but it won’t be due to the support of Manhattan Community Board 7’s transportation committee. Last night, in a split 4-4 vote, the committee failed to support a resolution in favor of DOT’s plan for a protected bike lane from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Despite that, CB 7 Chair Elizabeth Caputo said she would bring the proposal to the full board for a vote on February 2. DOT hopes to build the new design over the course of three months this spring.

Amsterdam is a neighborhood street passing through the Upper West Side’s residential and retail core, but its four northbound moving lanes encourage reckless driving speeds. First presented in NovemberDOT’s plan will repurpose a motor vehicle lane and about 25 percent of Amsterdam Avenue’s on-street parking to make room for a protected bike lane and raised concrete pedestrian islands, as well as left-turn bays at 79th Street, 86th Street, and 96th Street [PDF]. In response to concerns at November’s meeting about double-parked delivery vehicles, DOT added metered commercial parking at various points along the corridor.

Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine have endorsed a protected bike lane for Amsterdam. Rosenthal and Caputo spoke in favor of the plan last night, and audience support was overwhelming -- few people spoke against the proposal during the public comment section of the meeting. Yet the committee could not muster a majority vote in favor.

Co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert bemoaned the loss of parking and pushing an endless list of alternative routes. Zweig, who was reappointed to the board by Rosenthal and Borough President Gale Brewer last year, put loss of parking at the top of his list of concerns.

Three-quarters of Upper West Side households don't own cars, and a DOT survey of 436 people on Amsterdam found that only 10 arrived by driving. On nearby Columbus Avenue, retail continues to thrive after the installation of a protected bike lane, and injury crashes fell 25 percent, according to DOT [PDF]. Zweig wasn't swayed and continued to request that DOT come back with a proposal for Amsterdam Avenue that excludes a bike lane, absurdly arguing that protected bike lanes would put pedestrians on sidewalks more at risk of getting hit by out-of-control drivers:

Given the fact that a bicycle lane here provides a great decrease in parking in the area, which will be detrimental to the people who need it in this neighborhood -- people who need a place to park a vehicle because they need to get out of town where public transportation may not take them. Due to the fact that parking removal is only for interest of putting in a bicycle lane here, which is not needed for the greater traffic -- although I agree that a northbound route would be helpful. Due to the fact that we do need a safer Amsterdam and there are other ways to shorten the crossing that DOT could do, they’ve just chosen to do the bike lane which has the downsides of removal of parking.

Remember also: That line of parking and parked cards protects pedestrians on the sidewalks. On Columbus Avenue, the narrow streets have created more accidents. Yes, it appears the figures show less accidents with injury, but there are more accidents. It means there are more vehicles that are going to be careening and you never know when that vehicle that careens in a minor accident is going to end up on the sidewalk. The parked cars do a good job of protecting that. By creating the mixing zones, you’re removing 25 percent of the spaces that protected those blocks. We’re removing those spots and making those portions less safe for those incidents where we hear in the news where a car has gotten off the roadway. And we don’t know how many times they get stopped by a parked car. Well, that 25 percent along Amsterdam -- there’s going to be homicide looking at pedestrians. My main point here is that DOT could make a safer Amsterdam, and do some changing in the lanes without making the burden that a bike lane poses both for left-hand turns, both for signaling, both for problems with traffic that could be improved more without the bike lane and for the problems of parking for the neighborhood.

Never mind that the neighborhood lacks a protected northbound bike lane, or that bicycling on the corridor has nearly tripled since 2007, according to DOT -- and is only going to rise with the further expansion of Citi Bike in the coming years. Never mind that 59 percent of drivers on the corridor drive over the speed limit during off-peak hours. Or that between 2009 and 2013, Amsterdam Avenue saw 513 traffic injuries, including 36 severe injuries, and two fatalities. Or that across the borough of Manhattan, crashes causing injury have dropped 20 percent on streets with protected bike lanes. Forget all that, because Dan Zweig has some hunches.

During the meeting, local resident Willow Stelzer presented a petition with 3,600 signatures, as well as a coalition letter with the support of 209 businesses and cultural institutions. It wasn’t enough to convince parking-obsessed committee members that the proposal would not shutter businesses along the corridor.

In November, six of the nine committee members present spoke in favor of the proposal, but some of those people were not at last night’s meeting. When Stelzer asked the crowd to raise their hands if they supported the proposal, the response was overwhelming. The full community board tends to be more supportive of street redesigns -- and has voted on three separate occasions for a resolution asking DOT to install one on Amsterdam Avenue.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal told Streetsblog afterward that she was disappointed by the vote. She has both moved the project forward by publicly endorsing it and contributed to the committee's obstructionism by reappointing Zweig.

A positive vote on the redesign seems likely at the full board meeting on February 2, but regardless of the outcome, DOT can move forward with this safety improvement in the spring if the agency chooses.

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