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What’s Next for 6th Ave Protected Bike Lane and Crosstown Routes on UES

At the request of community advocates, DOT wants to install three new crosstown dedicated bike routes on the Upper East Side. Image: DOT

DOT’s plan calls for three painted crosstown bike lane pairs on the Upper East Side [PDF]. Image: DOT

Two Manhattan bike projects went before community boards last night. The CB 8 transportation committee heard from DOT about the agency’s plan for crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side, and CB 4 endorsed the protected lane on Sixth Avenue, which DOT plans to install in the fall.

The crosstown painted lanes would span the width of the Upper East Side, providing safer east-west access for a neighborhood that currently has only one bike lane pair — 90th and 91st streets. The new bike lane pairs are East 67th and 68th streets between Fifth and York, 77th and 78th Streets between Fifth and John Jay Park, and 84th and 85th Streets between Fifth and East End. After the eastern termini at Cherokee Place and East End Avenue, shared lanes will guide cyclists to parks and the East River Esplanade greenway.

On the western side, all three routes terminate at Central Park. A 72nd Street bike lane could feed into the only major on-street bike path that cuts directly across the park, but DOT is not pursuing that.

Last night’s presentation to CB 8 was met with the typical NIMBY response, which NY1 previewed a few weeks ago. According to bike lane supporters who attended, opponents’ arguments focused on reasons why one street or another would not work for the lanes. But Council Member Ben Kallos spoke out in favor of the proposal and vehemently defended the need to ensure cyclists’ safety in the neighborhood. No vote was held, and DOT will present again next month.

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Amsterdam Ave Protected Bike Lane Finally Happening After 28-13 CB 7 Vote

Hundreds of people packed into Goddard Riverside Community Center last night to speak out in favor of DOT's proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. Image: Luke Ohlson/Transportation Alternatives" width="529" height="397" /></a> Hundreds of people packed into Goddard Riverside Community Center last night to speak out in favor of DOT's proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Luke Ohlson/Transportation Alternatives

Hundreds of people packed into Goddard Riverside Community Center last night, most to speak in favor of DOT’s proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. About a hundred more were denied entry because the venue reached capacity. Photo: Luke Ohlson

By a count of 28 in favor and 13 opposed, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted last night to endorse DOT’s plan for a protected bike lane along Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street. The vote affirmed a safety project that Upper West Siders have worked toward for several years, but the meeting itself devolved into farce, with some board members making a last-minute attempt to stop the redesign despite the long public process, endorsements from major elected officials, and the large crowd who turned out to support it.

More than 200 people packed the meeting room at Goddard Riverside Community Center, the vast majority in favor of the project. With a larger meeting room, the crowd would have been a lot larger — at least 100 people were denied entry after the room reached capacity.

DOT’s plan would calm traffic on Amsterdam Avenue by replacing a general traffic lane with a parking-protected bike lane and concrete pedestrian islands [PDF]. With four northbound moving lanes, Amsterdam’s current design leads to dangerous speeding and higher-than-average injury rates. The bike lane would provide a safe northbound complement to the southbound protected lane on Columbus Avenue. The project is on track to be implemented in the spring.

Local City Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine spoke in favor of the project last night. But some board members appointed by Rosenthal and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer did their best to stop it.

In a ploy to prevent any change, former CB 7 Chair Sheldon Fine proposed a substitute resolution that called on DOT to address safety on Amsterdam Avenue without the protected bike lane. The resolution requested that DOT instead make the Columbus Avenue bike lane two-way, a design that doesn’t exist on any wide NYC avenue with frequent intersections and would introduce new conflict points between turning drivers and northbound cyclists. Fine argued that this wouldn’t amount to tossing several previous CB 7 votes out the window, but most people on the board weren’t buying it.

“This conversation has been going on for five years,” board member Mel Wymore told Fine. “What you’re proposing is first of all sandbagging a two-year process and secondly, the DOT had already told us that what you’re proposing would not be the safety improvements that we’re asking for here. We need a good bike lane not for the bikes, but to calm the traffic and save lives.”

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Why Arguments Against the Amsterdam Protected Bike Lane Don’t Hold Up

Tomorrow night, CB 7 will vote on whether to endorse DOT's proposal for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Image: DOT

Tonight, CB 7 will vote on DOT’s proposal for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street [PDF]. Image: DOT

This is the day Manhattan Community Board 7 will finally vote on DOT’s redesign of Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street, which will calm traffic and bring safety improvements — including a protected bike lane — to what is now a surface speedway cutting through the heart of the Upper West Side. It’s been a long time coming: CB 7 first asked DOT to design a protected bike lane for Amsterdam in 2009, and local residents have been asking for safety improvements longer than that.

The case for a protected bike lane and pedestrian refuges is clear. Despite serving as a neighborhood main street, Amsterdam is currently designed like a highway, with four northbound travel lanes that encourage speeding. From 2009 to 2013, two people were killed and another 36 severely injured along the project’s length, according to DOT. Just last month, on January 18, 73-year-old sculptor Thomas McAnulty was killed by a motorcyclist while walking across Amsterdam at 96th Street. Protected bike lanes are proven to reduce fatalities and severe injuries, and the neighborhood currently lacks a northbound complement to the bike lane on Columbus Avenue.

Thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses and neighborhood groups have signed on in support of redesigning Amsterdam, but opponents of the project are still trying to undermine it ahead of tonight’s vote. Here’s a look at why their arguments don’t hold up.

The safety argument. Bizarrely, CB 7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig has argued that a protected bike lane on Amsterdam will make the street less safe, because removing parking spaces will expose pedestrians to drivers who fly onto the sidewalk. The truth is that the same basic design strategies the city is proposing for Amsterdam have reduced injuries by an average of 20 percent on the Manhattan avenues where they’ve been installed. Adding the bikeway will narrow the roadway, reducing the prevalence of speeding, and adding pedestrian refuges will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians while leading drivers to take turns more carefully. New York knows from experience that these changes save lives.

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CB 4 Transpo Committee Endorses Sixth Ave Protected Lane

A rendering from DOT's November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

A rendering from DOT’s November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

DOT is set to move forward with a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue from 8th Street to 33rd Street after members of the Community Board 4 transportation committee gave the project a thumbs-up last night.

In November, the committee declined to support the proposal because members felt the new design did not do enough to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Of particular concern was the lack of raised concrete pedestrian islands and split-phase signals, which give cyclists and pedestrians dedicated time to cross streets without conflicts with turning traffic. Since then, CB 2 and CB 5 committees both endorsed the plan.

Last night, committee members reiterated many of their concerns but ultimately voted to endorse the plan.

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Looking to Join Your Community Board? TA Makes It Easy to Apply

As Streetsblog readers know, too many community boards care more about on-street parking than street safety or housing affordability, even in districts where the majority of residents don’t own cars. DOT rarely implements safety measures over board objections (which Council Member Ritchie Torres would like to change).

While a small number of boards are asking DOT to be more bold with street redesigns, it’s more common to see board members threatening proposals intended to save lives.

New voices can make a major difference on community boards. By gaining a few people familiar with street design best practices, some boards have become much more receptive to projects that prioritize walking, biking, and transit in recent years.

Transportation Alternatives makes it easier for people who want safer streets to apply for spots on their local boards through its community board join ups. These events offer one-stop shopping for information and applications, complete with notary publics to make it official.

The Queens event has come and gone, unfortunately, but if you live in one of the other boroughs and you’d like to make a difference in your neighborhood, here’s where to go this month:

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Torres: DOT “Abdicating Its Public Safety Function” to Community Boards

Council Member Ritchie Torres has a proposal to survey community board demographics in an effort to promote more accurate and diverse representation. Among other information, the survey would reveal the share of community board members who own cars, which tends to be much higher than car ownership among the general public.

Council Member Ritchie Torres. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Member Ritchie Torres. Photo: William Alatriste

Torres, who represents neighborhoods in the central Bronx, says getting a clearer sense of car ownership on community boards is a key goal of the bill (Intro. 1046). In fact, the legislation is the first piece in a “personal crusade” to change the way DOT defers to community boards on street safety, he told Streetsblog on a phone call yesterday. Highlighting the out-sized representation of car owners on community boards is just the beginning.

Torres said no other city agency besides DOT lets community boards decide the fate of public safety projects. With DOT letting the whims of car-owning community board members take precedence over public safety, Torres is concerned that important improvements will fall by the wayside.

In his district, he asked DOT to include bike lanes in a redesign of Tremont Avenue, which he expects to generate some pushback from the community board. But if parking and traffic are the community board’s primary concerns about the redesign, that won’t be an accurate reflection of the area’s public safety needs.

Here’s a short Q&A with Torres about his bill, lightly edited for length.

In April, at a hearing on community board term limits, you said that, “the real issue is not whether there should be term limits, but why do we allow community boards to be stumbling blocks to safe streets? We don’t require community board approval when we’re making decisions about fire safety or policing policy. It’s a matter of reminding DOT that your first obligation is not to appease the community board. It is to do what has been empirically shown to prevent traffic violence on our streets.” What drove you to propose this legislation — and to include car ownership as one of the surveyed demographic points?

When I think of community boards, the phrase that comes to mind is “personnel is destiny.” I would argue that outsized representation of car owners leads to over-representation of opponents of safe streets. I would argue that community boards have become the cult of car ownership. We have a personnel problem on our community boards.

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Most New Yorkers Don’t Own Cars. Do Community Boards Reflect That?

Most households in New York City, about 56 percent, don’t own cars. But if you’ve ever attended a community board meeting about redesigning a street, you might have come away thinking that car storage is the single most important function our streets serve.

Community boards tend to fixate on parking and driving despite low car ownership in the communities they represent. Photo: Chris Potter

That’s a big problem, since DOT often defers to community boards when deciding whether to move forward with its redesigns. Many a bus lane, bike lane, or pedestrian improvement has been watered down or abandoned at the behest of a local community board that refused to accept a reduction in parking in return for faster transit or safer streets.

Even in neighborhoods where the car ownership rate is as low as 20 or 30 percent, such as Manhattan CB 9 or Brooklyn CB 9, parking and traffic often dominate conversations about important street safety projects. If the car ownership rate among members of these community boards reflected the neighborhood at large, it’s hard to imagine that the elimination of a few parking spaces would be a sticking point so often.

Currently, there’s no way to tell with any degree of specificity how the composition of community boards compares to the neighborhoods they’re supposed to serve. Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres wants to change that.

Torres has introduced a bill (Intro. 1046to survey the demographics of community boards each year. Under the proposal, community boards would have to disclose members’ names, employment information, neighborhoods of residence, and length of service. They would also have to provide a count of open spots on boards and committees. Members would be encouraged to volunteer other demographic information, such as race, income, language spoken at home, and — of special note for the issues Streetsblog covers — if they own a car.

Torres told Gotham Gazette last week that community boards should welcome putting diversity and representation on the agenda. “My message to community boards is this: There’s nothing to fear from diversity,” he said. “The goal isn’t perfect proportionality but broad-based representation.”

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Manhattan Community Board 9 Votes for Broadway Road Diet

Manhattan Community Board 9 voted last night to approve DOT’s plan for safety improvements along Broadway in West Harlem. The road diet will slim Broadway between 135th Street and 153rd Street from three lanes in each direction to two, widening curbside parking lanes and adding a six foot buffer on either side of the Broadway Malls.

This section of Broadway is a Vision Zero priority corridor, with a high injury rate as well as a high concentration of senior citizens living nearby, who account for four of five pedestrian fatalities since 2007.

The redesign has the support of Council Member Mark Levine. Assembly Member Denny Farrell spoke out against the proposal over the summer but later scaled back his opposition. A well-organized local advocacy campaign by West Harlem residents helped overcome the board’s initial hesitance about the project.

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DOT Has Ruled Out a Crosstown Bike Lane on 72nd Street [Updated]

DOT is studying routes for crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side, but it looks like 72nd Street, which could provide a seamless route across Central Park, won’t be one of them.

With the arrival of Citi Bike, neighborhood advocates have been pressing DOT to add more crosstown bike connections on the Upper East Side, which currently has only a single east-west pair on 90th Street and 91st Street. During a recent “street scan” to assess potential bike routes, 72nd Street was one of three options that volunteers with TA and Bike New York considered.

The transportation committee chairs of Manhattan Community Board 8 revealed at a meeting last night that DOT has ruled out 72nd Street as an option, according to a resident who attended. (Streetsblog has asked DOT to confirm.) They delivered the news to about two dozen people who had just testified against the specter of making 72nd Street safe for biking. A change.org petition had been circulating before the meeting in opposition to “the 72nd Street bike path.”

Neighborhood resident Joe Enoch was among the smaller group of people who testified in favor of a bikeway on 72nd Street. “When I tried to explain that 72nd Street might make sense because it’s a natural connection to Central Park and the West Side, there was literally a chorus of boos and then my time was up,” he told Streetsblog via email. “I was literally booed off the stage at a community board meeting.” One woman shouted “Boloney!” at him, he said, and later apologized.

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De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” which streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” when streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be.

This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn avenues; abandoned a project that would have converted a dangerous slip lane in Harlem into a public plaza; and stalled a road diet for 111th Street in Corona, despite support from Council Member Julissa Ferreras.

This is bad policy that can have catastrophic real-world consequences. This week an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian while making a turn that would have been eliminated had DOT not bowed to community board demands to scrap the plan.

Bill de Blasio has recently been taking a firmer tone about the limits of community board influence on housing policy, and last week Streetsblog suggested the same approach should apply to street design.

Maybe the mayor read that post, because in a Wall Street Journal feature on Vision Zero published Monday, de Blasio explicitly gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg the latitude to implement safety improvements that don’t get a “yes” vote from community boards:

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