After a Packed Meeting, CB 7 Punts on Amsterdam Ave Complete Street Study

Few people have ever accused Manhattan Community Board 7 of expiditiously resolving to do something about dangerous streets. After devoting two hours last night to discussing a resolution asking DOT for a complete street study of Amsterdam Avenue (which the board’s transportation committee passed last month), CB 7′s reputation for inaction and delay remained intact: The board voted 28-11 to put off the issue until its next meeting on December 3.

Amsterdam Avenue at 97th Street: Four lanes of dangerous traffic, but CB 7 hasn't decided whether to do anything about it. Photo: Google Maps

Amsterdam is the only four-lane, one-way avenue in the neighborhood, and has a higher number of traffic injuries and fatalities than other avenues carrying northbound traffic on the Upper West Side, according to Transportation Alternatives. (In the neighborhood, Broadway is divided by pedestrian malls and tracked as separate northbound and southbound streets in official crash statistics.)

Discussion started off with a failed one-two punch from transportation committee member Lillian Moore and committee co-chair Dan Zweig. Moore claimed that board members who both support the resolution and are Transportation Alternatives members have a conflict of interest, while Zweig doubted (yet again) the data showing improvements to traffic flow on Columbus Avenue since its redesign.

“It’s no more relevant whether or not someone is a member of TA as to whether they’re a member of AARP, AAA, or the Sierra Club,” TA’s Tom DeVito said today. Parliamentarian Shelly Fine backed him up last night, saying that board members should disclose affiliations but can vote on resolutions so long as they or family members do not have a financial stake in the outcome.

Resolution co-sponsors quickly dispensed with Zweig’s attack, pointing out that the traffic flow data comes from DOT and is included in presentations Zweig, as committee co-chair, has already received from the agency.

At the start of the meeting, nearly 200 people were in the room. Of the 48 people who spoke last night before public testimony was cut off due to time constraints, exactly three-quarters were in favor of the study. DeVito also gave the board a petition with 1,800 signatures and a letter of support signed by 204 business owners and managers.

Council member and borough president-elect Gale Brewer spoke early in the meeting. While she didn’t explicitly call on the board to pass the Amsterdam Avenue resolution, she said she liked the existing lane on Columbus Avenue. “My district office is right on the Columbus Avenue bike lane,” she said. “I think it’s doing a great job.” Brewer added that she looks forward to Citi Bike expanding to the Upper West Side along the protected bike lanes.

Brewer also stressed the importance of working with business owners to ensure that a street redesign meets their needs, as well. “I thank you for doing that,” she told advocates and community board members. “I know how hard you’re working.”

The speakers who urged CB 7 to support the study included Upper West Side children, parents, seniors, and business owners. After about two hours of discussion, they did not get to see a result last night. Board chair Elizabeth Caputo, helming her first CB 7 meeting, brought the testimony to a close because of time constraints, then suggested a resolution to delay a vote until the next meeting.

TA’s DeVito said today that he was disappointed the board did not vote on the resolution last night, but is hopeful it will pass next month. “Upper West Siders are as eager as ever to see this happen,” he said.

A representative of Borough President Scott Stringer said last night that applications are open to members of the public interested in joining their local community board. While Stringer’s office is launching the application process, the appointments will be made by Brewer for terms starting April 2014. Despite officially serving only advisory roles, community boards often act as gatekeepers for local transportation decisions. Having people who understand city streets and transportation issues on the board can make the difference between maintaining a dysfunctional, dangerous status quo and improving conditions for walking, biking, and transit in your neighborhood.