CBS 2: Don’t Touch the Highway Running Through the Upper West Side

Yesterday’s CBS 2 attempt to trash potential street improvements for Amsterdam Avenue gets it wrong before the story even starts.

As she introduces reporter Lou Young, anchor Dana Tyler says a plan for a new bike lane on Amsterdam “has gotten the green light.” Reality: The Community Board 7 transportation committee last week passed a resolution to ask DOT to consider a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands, removing one of four car lanes, and retiming signals. As of now, there is no plan, and the full board won’t vote on whether to ask DOT to come back with one until November.

Tyler’s routine sloppiness pales in comparison to the alternate universe conjured by Young.

From behind the wheel, Young describes Amsterdam Avenue as a wide open “highway,” beloved by commuters in a hurry to get out of town. “Can this highway handle bike routes?” he asks. “Well, that’s the question.” As for whether a residential neighborhood like the Upper West Side should have a highway like Amsterdam running smack through the middle of it — well, apparently that’s just not the question for Mobile 2.

Young starts his segment with an obviously staged conflict in the Columbus Avenue bike lane between a wrong-way delivery cyclist and store owner Nicholas Zingone, who while standing next to a delivery van in front of his store says that, thanks to the bike lane, no one can park in front of his store. Viewers may recognize Zingone’s as the same grocery that complained about the Columbus Avenue bike lane when CBS 2 did this segment the first time, nearly three years ago. That florist griping about the loss of parking? His vans are notorious for blocking the bike lane in front of the store, and for years he’s been taking out his frustrations on the bike lane — not the placard abusers and poorly priced meters that are the root cause of curb dysfunction in the neighborhood.

It’s the same cast of characters who kvetched about change on Columbus back in 2011. So, did CBS 2 dig into whether the redesign has actually affected business? Nope. The only solid data on retail performance indicates that Columbus Avenue is doing fine with the bike lane, but hard numbers like commercial vacancy rates don’t fit the he-said/she-said template.

For his story entitled “UWS Residents Don’t Want Bike Lanes on Amsterdam Avenue,” Young talks to one resident — who likes the bike lane and pedestrian islands on Columbus. There’s also a helpful comment from Peter Arndtsen of the local business improvement district, who says the city needs to do something about speeding drivers on Amsterdam.

This should be the crux of the piece: The “highway” celebrated by Young is, in reality, a neighborhood street currently designed for motorist speed. The local community board is considering asking the city to make it safer to walk and bike there. Young could have cited safety gains on Columbus, or the popularity of the redesign among residents. He could have spoken to Upper West Side business owners who appreciate streets that are more pleasant for the vast majority of their customers, or the residents who’ve been working hard to make Amsterdam safer.

Instead, the most honest aspect to Young’s story is that he filed it from behind the windshield.