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CB9 is ‘Adamant’ in Still Opposing Amsterdam Redesign Despite Fatal Crash Last Week

4:00 PM EDT on March 26, 2019

Community Board 9 Chairman Padmore John (at podium) said last month that the board would not support a DOT plan to make Amsterdam Avenue safer as (from right) Victor Edwards, Martin Wallace and Carolyn Thompson look on. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Over our dead body (as opposed to that other dead body!).

Community Board 9 doubled-down on its rejection of a city safety plan for upper Amsterdam Avenue on Tuesday — and, in fact, specifically argued that the changes should not be made even though pedestrian Erica Imbasciani was run down on the speedway-like stretch last week.

Erica Imasciani was killed on Amsterdam Avenue last week, but CB9 still opposes a city plan to calm traffic on the speedway. Photo: Facebook
Erica Imasciani was killed on Amsterdam Avenue last week, but CB9 still opposes a city plan to calm traffic on the speedway. Photo: Facebook
Erica Imasciani was killed on Amsterdam Avenue last week, but CB9 still opposes a city plan to calm traffic on the speedway. Photo: Facebook

"The Board is adamant that this tragedy should not be used to force these [safety] measures on us," board Chairman Padmore John said at a hastily called press conference to address several days of media focus on the board's years-long opposition to the redesign between 113th and 162nd streets.

John said CB9 "unanimously supports safety improvements on Amsterdam Avenue," but then distributed the evidence of that "support": A resolution — which passed by a non-unanimous 23-2 vote on Thursday — that declared, "the board cannot give support for this project."

Standing by John's side was Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who fully supports the DOT plan as currently designed. After hearing John reject the safety measure, Brewer was equally adamant:

"DOT, in my opinion, has proposed a plan that would reduce many of the problems associations with Amsterdam Avenue and rationalize a roadway in a way that would reduce speeding and double-parking that permeates the corridor," she said. "DOT's life-saving Vision Zero work has proven to be a tremendous success around our city. It reduces the number of crashes and deaths that we see on our streets. Clearly, Amsterdam Avenue should be a recipient of these benefits."

She cited five deaths along the roadway, plus 36 severe injuries between 2010 and 2014 (in all, since the DOT first presented its plan to CB9 in March, 2017, there have been 927 reported crashes on that stretch of Amsterdam, resulting in injuries to 27 cyclists, 58 pedestrians and 116 motorists, plus the death of Imasciani).

The amount of carnage, Brewer said, "is absolutely unacceptable."

"It is time to redesign Amsterdam Avenue to prioritize the safety of our fellow neighbors and residents," she concluded.

Padmore John
Padmore John
Padmore John

A reporter asked John how he and his board members could claim to be for safety when they have blocked the plan for two years, and he said the board only wants minor changes, such as tweaks at the intersection of W. 125th Street, plus confirmation that the road diet won't "clash with delivery times for trucks."

But the board's latest round of demands — which are so tiny in an overall 50-block plan — that they reflect more than just a different view of engineering from the professionals at DOT. John said that the board doesn't trust the city.

"On Broadway, the DOT came to us with very similar plans and we were supportive of that," he said of a redesign a few years back. "Once it was implemented, board members saw that some things were not working and we brought them back to DOT, but nothing was changed. So we want to support the [Amsterdam] plan, but with the changes we requested."

If, indeed, CB9 supports the broader redesign effort, as John contends, it would represent a major shift in the panel's thinking. For two years, CB9 has thrown up many roadblocks to the safety plan, with Transportation Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Thompson repeatedly arguing against removing a lane of travel because it would allegedly cause congestion, a contention that reams of data have shown is unfounded.

“You’re still removing a lane. And that’s what we don’t want,” she said in 2017.

Streetsblog asked Brewer why she doesn't replace recalcitrant members of CB9 with new blood that supports street safety. Thompson, for example, has been on the board for three decades and has steadfastly objected to street redesigns, bike lanes and other safety improvements. Brewer has reappointed her several times.

"I am happy to reappoint the members," she said. "I don't take people off just because I disagree with them. I reappoint them if they have good attendance, etc. I love community boards. I work with them. I don't get frustrated. ... And when it's all done, everyone will be happy."

She denied she was frustrated with the board's open defiance of a safety plan she favors.

"I get frustrated with a lot of things, but not community boards," Brewer said. "I love community boards. I get frustrated with the mayor, the governor, the president. Those are the people I get frustrated with. ... It is challenging when people are not supportive, but once it's instituted, it works out fine."

Transportation Alternatives seized on John's statement that a fatal crash " should not be used to force [safety] measures on us."

"We agree," said the group's spokesman, Joe Cutrufo. "We shouldn't wait for a tragedy to make our streets safer. We should redesign streets before people get killed. It may be too late to know whether a redesign would have prevented this specific crash. But sadly, we know the tragic consequences of not redesigning Amsterdam Avenue."

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