DADDY MOREBUCKS: Rich Upper West Siders Seek Cash to Continue Bike Lane Fight

The Central Park West protected bike lane, which will not be restored to an unprotected lane. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The Central Park West protected bike lane, which will not be restored to an unprotected lane. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The wealthy Upper West Side condo owners who are suing to block a protected bike lane on Central Park West are looking for cash from their equally super-rich neighbors to help them continue the fight — and wage a public relations war against the street-safety project, Streetsblog has learned.

The condo board at 25 Central Park West has sent a letter to the presidents of several other tony towers along the park asking for contributions for the expensive, and likely fruitless, legal battle, and for a campaign to influence the public.

“Not surprisingly, the letter omitted critical information about the benefits of the redesign or the fact that our community board voted for this redesign (overwhelmingly),” said someone who has seen the letter. This Upper West Side resident was also particularly offended that the letter sought donations to start a “PR campaign” against the protected bike lane.

“I would be outraged if my condo or co-op fees were being used to support this,” the resident said.

A resident of another building — whose president is believed to have received the letter — has already started circulating his own missive to his neighbors, demanding that the building decline the 25 CPW solicitation.

“Not only do I support the bike lane, as do many of my neighbors, but there’s no way they should use building maintenance money for a lawsuit like this,” that resident said.

The lawsuit filed last month by the condo board of The Century at 25 Central Park West seeks to halt the construction of a protected bike lane on the grounds that the Department of Transportation did not properly review the alleged environmental impact of eliminating private car storage along the curb from 59th Street to 110th Street. Plaintiffs believe that drivers will spend more time cruising around the mostly residential neighborhood — belching more toxic exhaust into the air — if there are fewer spaces for them to store their cars in the public right of way.

The suit has already fallen at the first hurdle — last week, a Manhattan judge turned down the plaintiffs’ request for a halt to the construction of the lane while the larger issue is argued. The work on the lower-portion of the bike lane is now almost complete, even as the parties prepare to return to court on Aug. 20.

Two people who saw the letter think that the Century condo board is using building maintenance funds to wage its legal crusade. A spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s office said such a move would not be illegal — unless the building’s bylaws specifically forbade such a use of maintenance money.

Do the board’s bylaws forbid it? It’s impossible to know because condo buildings are not required to file their bylaws with the state Attorney General unless the original developer still controls the board. That’s not the case at 25 CPW.

But legal experts said it’s still a questionable use of building resources.

“It is not illegal to use building funds for a lawsuit related to the building’s well-being and maintenance, but it is illegal to use the funds for a lawsuit that is not related to that objective,” said a lawyer, who happens to live on the Upper West Side. “For example, a building can certainly sue a resident not paying their maintenance. On the other hand, it cannot sue a tenant at one of the board members’ vacation homes for not paying their rent.”

Directors of a corporation such as 25 CPW have broad latitude to spend the shareholders’ money, but not so broad as to enable them to spend it on a lawsuit to stop safety improvements across the street, the lawyer added.

“It’s a breach of their fiduciary duty,” the lawyer said.

Legal or not, the spokesperson for the attorney general said the office would only get involved if a resident of the building lodged a formal complaint (which can be done here, hint hint).

The lawyer for 25 Central Park West, Richard Leland, did not respond to a request for comment. At a hearing last week, he told reporters that he “never” talks to the press.

It is unclear why the residents of the building need more money, as they are among the richest people in the city. According to the Census, 52 percent of the 388 households in the building earn more than $200,000 per year. How much more is unclear. Other Census data show that the average household income is $430,300.

Madison Lyden was killed on Central Park West on Aug. 10, 2018. Her mother is blasting residents of the Upper West Side who are trying to block a protected bike lane.
Madison Lyden was killed on Central Park West on Aug. 10, 2018. Her mother is blasting residents of the Upper West Side who are trying to block a protected bike lane.

The ongoing fight comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the death of Australian tourist, Madison Lyden, who was killed by a sanitation truck driver on Central Park West on Aug. 10, 2018, after she was forced out of the existing painted bike lane and into traffic by an illegally parked cab.

In an exclusive piece for Streetsblog, Lyden’s mother, Amanda Berry, decried the legal action that seeks to deny a legacy of safety for her dead daughter.

“To the entitled, wealthy, Central Park West apartment owners fighting this protected bike lane: SHAME, shame on you!! This news shocked me, it devastated me like a personal assault,” Berry wrote. “If this bike lane had been built years ago when it was first proposed, my daughter Madison would be here today without a doubt! Madison would be close to finishing her Masters in Psychology now.”

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