Upper West Side Residents Fed Up With CB 7 Inaction on Complete Streets

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 7′s transportation committee debated the merits of bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian refuges to Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues between 59th and 110th Streets. This would be a big gain for the Upper West Side, which currently only has one mile of protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. After years of debate and negotiation, residents are growing impatient with the committee’s indecisiveness on street redesigns that make walking and biking safer.

The existing Columbus Avenue bike lane runs from 77th to 97th streets. Photo: DOT

Supporters, who outnumbered opponents in last night’s audience, provided testimony that emphasized the safety benefits of the street redesigns. Resident Detta Ahl said that the protected bike lanes give her the confidence to ride her bike in the neighborhood. On the street, “I am in rough water, with sharks,” she said. “When I’m in the protected bike lane, I am in a pool, with a lane line, and a lifeguard.”

Willow Stelzer noted that pedestrians and drivers have benefited as well. “It’s not just about bicyclists,” she said. Since the refuge islands were installed on Columbus Avenue, she said, her mother feels safer crossing the street.

The committee chairs, Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, faced tough criticism last night for the committee’s lack of movement on complete streets. “Leadership for the Upper West Side is lacking,” said Henry Rinehart. “We’re falling behind other neighborhoods.”

Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband was killed while riding his bike on the Hudson River Greenway at 38th Street, also expressed frustration with the slow pace. ”He’s been dead for six years and I’ve been showing up at these meetings,” she said. “You just want to sit and waste our time.”

“This committee has not been proactive to date about bike lanes,” said former board chair Mel Wymore, who currently sits on the transportation committee and is running for City Council. While noting that “community board members are volunteers,” Wymore said that “to request leadership from a community board is completely fair game.”

Wymore is proposing a subcommittee to focus on long-term vision and planning for transportation in the neighborhood.

Some community board members remained unconvinced of the merits of a street redesign, citing the loss of parking while raising doubts about the safety and crash reduction benefits. A protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue would require elimination of a motor vehicle lane, which was not necessary on Columbus. Some board members, including the chairs, were concerned about the impact this could have on traffic on the avenue, which is a truck route.

Board member Ian Alterman claimed to be “really neutral about bike lanes,” despite his strident opposition to the Columbus Avenue redesign. “Bike lanes are not the be-all and end-all of safety,” he said after the meeting.

Almost everyone agreed that speeding is a serious problem in the neighborhood, with board member Ken Coughlin noting that the 20th and 24th precincts have paid little attention to the issue. The two precincts issued only one speeding citation in the months of May, June and July. ”The police cannot or will not enforce the laws,” he observed. “These are self-enforcing devices,” Coughlin said of the bike lanes and pedestrian islands.

The committee will vote on the protected bike lanes after DOT presents its proposal on November 13.