CB 7 Members, Upper West Siders Back Amsterdam Ave Protected Bikeway

Image: DOT

The room was packed last night for DOT’s long-awaited plan for a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side [PDF], with about 120 people turning out at the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. Most residents and committee members praised the plan, though no vote was held. DOT says it could implement the redesign between 72nd Street and 110th Street as soon as next spring.

The plan calls for a protected bike lane on the left side of the street, as well as pedestrian islands and various left turn treatments, including dedicated bike signals and motor vehicle turn bays at 79th Street, 86th Street and 96th Street. One motor vehicle lane and about 25 percent of the corridor’s on-street parking spaces would be repurposed.

With four motor vehicle moving lanes, Amsterdam is not designed like a neighborhood street. There were 513 traffic injuries, including 36 severe injuries, and two fatalities on the street between 2009 and 2013. When it’s not rush hour, 59 percent of drivers exceed the speed limit. Local residents have mobilized for many years to get the city to improve safety on Amsterdam. In July, CB 7 voted for the third time in six years to request action from the city on a protected bike lane on the street.

Despite those votes, transportation committee co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert have consistently tried to stall street safety initiatives. At last night’s meeting, Zweig and Albert stayed mostly quiet while their fellow committee members expressed strong support for DOT’s redesign.

Six of the nine committee members expressed support for the proposal. “If we’re going to achieve Vision Zero, we need a new vision for our streets, and I think this takes us a long way there,” said committee member Ken Coughlin, urging DOT to move swiftly on the proposal. “If the health department came to us and there was an epidemic and they said, ‘Well we have this vaccine that’s going to stop it,’ why would they wait three or four months to implement it?”

The audience expressed overwhelming support for DOT and its proposal. Out of the 30 or so people who spoke during the public testimony, only a few were against the plan. Much of the opposition focused on the supposed ineffectiveness of the existing Columbus Avenue bike lane. But that design has led to a decrease in injuries while the retail environment of the street remains as strong as ever.

Families for Safe Streets’ Mary Beth Kelly, who has been a stalwart advocate for safe streets since her husband was killed nine years ago while cycling on the Hudson River Parkway, expressed her gratitude to DOT for the proposal. “We as a compassionate city should never ever allow this,” she told the committee. “If we know that there are answers to be found in creating boulevards like this … we have no possible morally correct answer but to do it.”

DOT has promised to come back in January with a plan that reflects feedback heard at last night’s meeting, but DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg spoke confidently about the current proposal. “I just want to say how proud I am of our team,” she told the audience. Speaking after the meeting, Trottenberg expressed a commitment to implement the proposal in the spring: “Knowing the community has waited a long time for this, we are hoping to get it up as soon as possible.”

DOT officials told the audience last night they hope to get a vote of support from CB 7 and begin construction in the spring of 2016.

Still, residents expressed frustration with the years-long process, urging swifter action by the community board and DOT. “My greatest fear is that we’re going to wait to put in those safety improvements until someone dies,” Willow Stelzer told the committee.

A number of attendees also expressed concerns that DOT is leaving Amsterdam Avenue below 72nd and above 110th for later proposals. Once the bike lane is impemented in the corridor in question, DOT will begin to develop Phase 2 of the redesign, south of 72nd. “We know we can make north of 72nd work,” DOT’s Sean Quinn told the audience, but any improvements to the south will require input from community members and businesses in that area.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal endorsed a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in April. “I was so happy to see the very well-thought-out proposal,” Rosenthal said last night. “And I was interested to hear the community board’s questions and the community’s feedback — all of which was constructive.”

CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo remained non-committal on the proposal, but expressed a desire to move forward with last night’s community feedback. “I think it was a great diversity of opinion and we look forward to working to implement the feedback into the plan,” she said.