Safety First! De Blasio Overrules Manhattan Community Board For Amsterdam Ave. Fix

The daily congestion of Amsterdam Avenue is just find by Community Board 9. Here's a typical snapshot taken at 135th Street. Photo: Isaac Blasenstein
The daily congestion of Amsterdam Avenue is just find by Community Board 9. Here's a typical snapshot taken at 135th Street. Photo: Isaac Blasenstein

Mayor de Blasio will move ahead with critical safety improvements along a dangerous stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, overruling a Manhattan community board that has for years opposed the changes — the latest example of a growing trend of setting aside the objections of boards that put the supposed interests of drivers ahead of safety for all.

The de Blasio administration informed Community Board 9 this morning of its decision to install the so-called “road diet” between 113th and 162nd streets — where 27 cyclists, 58 pedestrians and 116 motorists have been injured, and one killed, in 927 reported crashes in just the two years since the Department of Transportation first presented its plan to the panel in March, 2017.

“I lived along Amsterdam Avenue in my college days, and even then, speeding on this street endangered residents of Morningside Heights and Harlem,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, announcing the decision for the mayor. “The changes we will bring to Amsterdam Avenue this summer are proven measures that will calm traffic and create safer spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.”

There is little controversial about the street design plan [PDF], which would reduce the current speedway from two lanes of travel in each direction to one, plus left-hand turning bays that help prevent backups, and a painted bike lane on each side. No parking will be lost in the redesign — but board members have long objected on the mistaken belief that automobile drivers will have longer commutes.

“All it’s going to do is slow traffic down,” the board’s Transportation Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Thompson famously said at a meeting last year. “Every time you say you’re taking out a lane, you’re slowing traffic down. I don’t care what they’re saying, it slows traffic down.”

The proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue would cut dangerous speeding while reducing the flow of traffic — something the community board leadership refuses to believe. Image: DOT
The proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue would cut dangerous speeding while reducing the flow of traffic — something the community board leadership refuses to believe. Image: DOT

Thompson has a long history with ignoring facts. She has also said that she does not believe census figures that show only 20 percent of households in the district own cars.

“I don’t know what [the number] is, but I know it’s not that,” she said.

The mayor had considerable backing for his move, with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the local Council Member Mark Levine urging the redesign. Brewer, at one point, told CB9 that the amount of carnage on the roadway “is absolutely unacceptable.”

As recently as last week, both pols sent a letter to de Blasio requesting that he “immediately move forward” with the plan, which would complement improvements made below 110th Street because the existing wide roadway “encourages drivers to regularly drive twice the legal speed limit.”

It was just such a driver, albeit also under the influence of drugs, who hit and killed Erica Imbasciani on March 22. In the hours after that killing, many activists again called on CB9 to set aside its opposition, but the board actually doubled-down on its intransigence. In a virtually unprecedented move, board Chairman Padmore John called a press conference days later to defiantly restate its opposition to the street safety plan that might have saved her.

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
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

“The board is adamant that this tragedy should not be used to force these [safety] measures on us,” John said, maintaining through it all that CB9 “unanimously supports safety improvements on Amsterdam Avenue.” That support was, in fact, non-existant; as evidence of the board’s support, John provided reporters with a resolution that the board had passed one day before Imbasciani’s death that declared, “the board cannot give support for this project.”

He claimed the board only objected to the city proposal, not safety improvements in general. The city has tweaked its plan several times to reflect local concerns, but the plan remained in limbo until Mayor de Blasio’s approval on Thursday.

Trottenberg gave a nod to the helpful support of local officials.

“We thank the community’s elected officials — Borough President Brewer, Council Member Levine and State Senator [Robert] Jackson — for their leadership and unqualified support for a project that we believe will save lives,” she said.

The mayor has increasingly shown he will move ahead with street safety plans despite objections by local community boards. He did as much along Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx and, most famously, last year when he approved protected bike lanes through Sunnyside.

But the Department of Transportation has been under fire recently for seeming to go out of its way to seek the approval of even community boards that do not reflect the needs of their populations or the positions of elected officials in the area. More and more activists and local pols are demanding that DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg make decisions simply based on the well-documented track record of safety after redesigns rather than seeking approval from people who will never give it.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso blasted Trottenberg earlier this year for her practice of allowing community boards to “dictate how and when bike lanes should be built based on anecdotes and personal experiences instead of expertise.”

“No more community board conversations,” Reynoso added. “Use safety to dictate exactly what you should be doing. It’s frustrating. … You always go to these community boards. … Just stop. … Build them where you think they are appropriate. The Police Department would never ask a community board for permission to operate in a building if they thought drugs were being sold there. No, they just do the work because they think it’s appropriate.”

Council Speaker Corey Johnson has also said the city needs to defer less to community boards when lives are on the line.

 

Brewer Levine Amsterdam Redesign 19.04.16 by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

  • Vooch

    That stretch of Amsterdam is a killer speedway. Let’s hope the redesign reduces speeds to the 25MPH limit

  • Reader

    I don’t agree with the celebratory “Safety First!” headline.

    “…27 cyclists, 58 pedestrians and 116 motorists have been injured, and one killed, in 927 reported crashes in just the two years since the Department of Transportation first presented its plan to the panel in March, 2017.”

    If it was “safety first” then all of those people wouldn’t have had their lives destroyed in the two years since DOT first presented its plan. If it was “safety first” DOT would have performed its legal obligation to notify the community board and then repainted the street without seeking approval first.

    If it was “safety first” then the process would not have been held hostage by people who are not interested in facts or Census Bureau data about car ownership rates.

    If it was “safety first” our elected officials wouldn’t wait to take the temperature of the room or face months of pressure from community members before they act.

    There are no heroes here, except for the tireless advocates for whom it really is about safety first.

  • Jame

    Also, how is slowing down cars on a residential-ish street where people walk, pickup the bus, etc a bad thing.

  • JK

    As long as the mayor is going to overrule CB 9, how about a protected bike lane instead of a door zone painted lane? The mayor will pay for his decision with some minor political damage, why not reap the most possible safety and public benefit? The idea behind the road diet was to win community board approval. There is plenty of room for protected lanes, just make median smaller.

  • “No more community board conversations,” Reynoso added. “Use safety to dictate exactly what you should be doing. It’s frustrating. … You always go to these community boards. … Just stop. … Build them where you think they are appropriate. The Police Department would never ask a community board for permission to operate in a building if they thought drugs were being sold there. No, they just do the work because they think it’s appropriate.”

    I love this guy! It’s too bad that we are going to be robbed of his leadership soon on account of term limits.

    (Preemptive response to the expected retort that we’d never have had Reynoso in the first place if not for term limits: A counterfactual assertion is impossible to prove. But we know that voter turnout is low in local elections; therefore beating an incumbant or a machine candidate is possible. Therefore, if someone is going to float unprovable speculation, I am going to meet that with unprovable speculation of my own that says that Reynoso could have been elected anyway.)

  • jd_x

    Great news. But why can’t they move the bike lane to the other side of the parked cars and get rid of the center turning lane (at least outside of intersections) and use the width to create a buffer between the parked cars and the bike lane?

  • MatthewEH

    Good, this can’t come soon enough.

    I feel like there are substantial visibility problems with making a pair of parking-protected bike lanes on a two-way street, though. Not unless you entirely bar drivers from making left turns. Otherwise you’ve created a sure-fire recipe: left-hooks for cyclists transitioning into the intersection.

    A two-way protected lane alongside one side of the street only works if the road follows a natural barrier. We don’t have that here either.

  • jd_x

    The Dutch, Danish, etc as well as all research have demonstrated repeatedly that protected bike lanes are safer, especially if you add protected intersections (and no reason there can’t be protected intersections here). To get rid of visibility issues at curb cuts, the nearby parking spaces need to be daylighted.

    Honestly, there is no debate about the safety of protected bike lanes and intersections. The issue is getting political leadership to place bicyclist/ped safety over motorist convenience.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    They’re allergic to having the profile of the street change or for drivers to have to use the steering wheel except when turning. So if there’s a turn lane at some intersections, it has to be a blank space for the ENTIRE remainder of the street length.

  • r

    That would take parking at intersections for turn lanes and mixing zones and Trottenberg won’t allow that. In today’s DOT, parking is more important than human life.

  • Daphna

    It’s ironic that the two people who have appointed these obstructionist keep-the-streets-deadly community board members, Mark Levine and Gale Brewer, and who could change the community board 9 members each year but don’t, are the ones who lobby de Blasio to ignore the opinions of their appointees. Why not simply appoint different people to CB9???

  • Tyson White

    Useless. Will just be used for double parking.

  • I am delighted but this is early 2000 design lets do the right thing … should be parking protected and equipped with offset crossing to protect against dangerous left turns,

  • Lisa Orman

    completely agree, Daphna. it makes ZERO sense. the very people who are the most empowered are acting disempowered by their own choices.

  • muffinstumps

    This lane will be absolutely useless if built as described. The “bike lane” will be filled with double parking, cabs dropping off & picking up and delivery trucks. We will be forced to take the one driving lane with the cars, and we all know how patient and considerate they are when we do that. Useless. Absolutely useless.

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