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CB 7 Votes 35-0 for DOT to Study Amsterdam Avenue Protected Bike Lane

CB 7 members, including longtime transportation committee co-chairs Andrew  Albert and Dan Zweig, left, vote for a resolution asking DOT to study a complete street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Steve Vaccaro/Twitter

CB 7 members vote for a resolution asking DOT to study a complete street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Steve Vaccaro/Twitter

Before an audience of more than 100 people last night, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted 35-0, with five abstentions, for a resolution asking DOT to perform a complete streets study of Amsterdam Avenue, including safer pedestrian crossings and a protected bike lane. The unanimous vote came after a long session of procedural wrangling over the resolution’s language, but sets the stage for the agency to move forward with redesigning the street.

Despite the vote, last night’s meeting was also a reminder that key members of board, especially transportation committee co-chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, are set on obstructing proven street safety measures to the extent they can.

The meeting kicked off with a request from CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo about disclosure. Although conflict of interest rules are intended for situations where board members may stand to gain financially from the board’s actions, Caputo asked members to disclose any affiliations they may have with groups advocating for resolutions to be passed. (She did not require board members to disclose other relevant information, like whether they park on Amsterdam Avenue regularly.)

The request came after bike lane opponents at last month’s meeting, led by board member Lillian Moore, began asking members of Transportation Alternatives who are on CB 7 to recuse themselves from voting. Last night, Ken Coughlin, who is a transportation committee member and also serves on TA’s board, set the record straight.

“We have our conflict of interest rules to prevent the prospect of somebody putting their own private gain over the community interest,” he said. “It’s no secret that I’m a [TA] board member. It was on my community board application. [Council Member] Gale Brewer was well aware of it; in fact, it may be the reason she appointed me. We’re all appointed to this community board because we’re civically engaged, and I imagine Gale saw this as evidence of my civic engagement.”

“I did,” Brewer shouted from the back, to applause from the audience.

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Tonight on the Upper West Side: Critical Vote on Amsterdam Avenue

Amsterdam Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets on the Upper West Side. Tonight Community Board 7 can take a stand and save lives by asking the city to study a safety overhaul.

After months of meetings, tonight Manhattan Community Board 7 is expected to vote on a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study of Amsterdam Avenue. Getting to tonight’s vote involved months of marathon meetings and debate, and supporters of safer streets can’t let up now.

The resolution being considered tonight asks DOT to study changes to Amsterdam Avenue, including the conversion of a motor vehicle travel lane to a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands.

Last month, after hours of public testimony — three-quarters in favor of the resolution — the board delayed taking a vote until tonight. While there will not be testimony at tonight’s meeting, organizers say it’s important for supporters to show up and be counted before board members take a vote. The meeting starts at 6:30 at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, 1000 Tenth Avenue.

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CB 5 Closes in on Requesting Complete Streets Study for 5th and 6th Avenues

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars; bike riders and walkers on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, with people walking and biking on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The campaign for a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly design on crowded Fifth and Sixth Avenues has crossed its first major milestone, with Community Board 5′s transportation committee advancing a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study.

The resolution, which passed the committee last Monday in a unanimous vote, is set to be taken up by the full board on December 12. “It’s just acknowledging that there’s a problem and that they need to be studied,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Janet Liff. “The proposal is really to take a look at the concept of a complete street, which includes pedestrian space, bulb outs, bike lanes, and express bus service.”

TA’s campaign for to make Fifth and Sixth Avenues safer is “emphasizing that pedestrians do come first,” Liff said. Committee chair Raju Mann also told Streetsblog that discussion of the resolution last month focused primarily on pedestrians.

Even with scarce accommodations for bicycling, Fifth and Sixth Avenues continue to rank among the busiest Manhattan avenues for cyclists. Over an 18-hour period in September 2012, DOT counted more than 5,000 people biking on the pair of avenues, exceeding every other northbound/southbound pair in Manhattan, though Eighth and Ninth Avenues, which have protected bike lanes, sometimes do see more bicycle traffic [PDF].

When activist group Right of Way painted guerrilla bike lanes on Sixth Avenue in September, DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow said the agency would consider street design requests from the local community board. Monday’s vote puts CB 5 closer to making that request happen.

Short stretches of Fifth and Sixth Avenue are also part of Community Boards 2 and 4. Caroline Samponaro, TA’s senior director of campaigns and organizing, said approaching those boards would be a “next step” after securing support from CB 5. In addition to a coalition letter signed by block associations, commercial landlords, and small businesses, TA’s online petition for the complete streets study has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. “People are aware that on just two avenues in each direction there are these improvements,” she said. “They’re asking: ‘What about us?’”

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Tonight: Manhattan CB 9 Set to Vote on Morningside Avenue Traffic Calming

A Morningside Avenue traffic calming plan is on the agenda tonight at Manhattan Community Board 9. Image: DOT

A plan to slow drivers and provide safer crossings for pedestrians along Morningside Avenue in Harlem is on the agenda for Manhattan Community Board 9′s full board meeting tonight. A positive vote would set the stage for CB 10, which also covers the project area and has a history of stalling livable streets projects, to take action.

The centerpiece of the Morningside Avenue plan, first presented to the community boards in September after it was requested by the North Star Neighborhood Association, is a road diet that would trim the street from two lanes in each direction to one. The plan adds a striped median with left-turn lanes and concrete pedestrian islands and also dramatically improves the angled pedestrian crossing at the split of Hancock Place and 125th Street.

The resolution supporting the plan unanimously passed CB 9′s transportation committee on November 7, after it was delayed at September’s full board meeting. It asks DOT to consider feedback from the joint forum the community boards co-hosted in October, including requests for brighter street lighting along the west side of the street adjacent to Morningside Park and improved pedestrian crossings at 124th Street.

DOT has indicated that it is unlikely to move forward with the project without community board support. City Council Member-elect Mark Levine, who will recommend community board appointments, told Streetsblog last month that he hopes CB 9′s full board votes to support the plan.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at The Fortune Society, 630 Riverside Drive. The public is invited to speak during a comment session at tonight’s meeting.

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DOT Cuts Community-Endorsed Harlem Pedestrian Space for Double Parking

DOT crews at work yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT crews yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

A big new pedestrian space next to a busy Harlem park, installed last summer as part of a community board-backed traffic calming plan, is being scaled down by the agency that created it. Why the change? DOT says it’s responding to complaints that the original design created too much space for pedestrians, and not enough for double-parked drivers.

For years, Mount Morris Park West offered a wide, four-block straightaway with sharp curves at either end. Drivers heading south on Fifth Avenue often raced around the turns, creating dangerous conditions for Harlem residents walking to and from Marcus Garvey Park. Occasionally, drivers speeding at the southern turn left the roadway and crashed into homes along West 120th Street.

Beginning last year, the Mount Morris Park West Community Improvement Association worked with DOT to develop a traffic calming plan for streets around the park. The proposal, which significantly increased pedestrian space, tightened curves and trimmed travel lanes from two to one, was unanimously supported by CB 11 in February [PDF]. After DOT made the changes in August, a group of angry residents at the board’s September transportation committee meeting demanded the city bring back the old, more dangerous roadway [PDF].

“We want the city to pull this thing up. We want these things gone,” resident Chet Whye told the Daily News. While the design isn’t gone, the more-space-for-cars crowd will be glad to hear that DOT, which had already adjusted the street’s traffic light timing to ease backups, is now shaving away sidewalk space.

“This updated design is in response to concerns expressed by some neighborhood residents that the roadway space is too narrow, and the painted sidewalk is too large,” DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote in an October 31 letter to Community Board 11 [PDF]. DOT will narrow the painted sidewalk by five feet to widen parking lanes and add painted buffers on either side of the street. “The wider profile will provide a larger area for motorists who wish to double-park,” Forgione wrote, “while still allowing room for unimpeded traffic movement.”

DOT is adding a stop light at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street, which currently has a flashing red signal and stop sign. It will also study traffic signals at 121st and 123rd Streets on Mount Morris Park West. More changes could be on the way: Forgione said that eliminating plaza space is “laying the groundwork for potential future modifications.”

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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.

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Discussion of Complete Streets for Fifth and Sixth Avenues Advances at CB 5

Sixth Avenue in Midtown: six lanes for motor vehicles, with pedestrians and cyclists squeezed into the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The sidewalks of Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Midtown are packed — sometimes overflowing — and the streets see some of the highest bike volumes in the city. While this should be one of the world’s premier walking districts, both avenues are designed primarily to move motor vehicles, and injury and fatality rates are high. Since last summer, Transportation Alternatives has led a campaign to improve conditions for walking and biking on Fifth and Sixth.

At the monthly meeting of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee this Monday, safety enhancements for these two avenues were on the agenda. TA organizer Miller Nuttle sends in this recap:

Community Board 5′s transportation committee discussed the merits of two potential resolutions: One calling on NYPD to step up enforcement of driving and bicycling infractions in their district, and one asking the DOT to study the feasibility of installing “Complete Street” improvements on Fifth and Sixth avenues.

There was near unanimous support among board members for a study of these two avenues, and the committee plans to vote on the resolution at their next meeting. Inspired by a similar proposal put forward by CB 5 two years ago, T.A. has worked with neighborhood residents to collect 10,093 petitions and 1,599 hand-written letters calling for street safety improvements on these avenues. Last night, those residents delivered those petitions to the board to demonstrate the widespread demand for safer, more efficient Fifth and Sixth avenues.
The next CB 5 transportation committee meeting is scheduled for November 25.
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Harlem CBs Mull Morningside Traffic Calming, Open Door to Bike Lane Plans

Today, Morningside Avenue is a wide expanse of asphalt where most drivers speed. Photo: DOT

On Wednesday evening, Manhattan Community Boards 9 and 10 jointly hosted a public forum on traffic calming for Morningside Avenue, including a presentation by NYC DOT about its safety proposals. Board members were generally receptive to DOT’s plan, which is expected to go back to each board for resolutions of support, while offering their own suggestions — some reasonable, some not so much. DOT said at the meeting it would like positive votes before moving ahead with the plan.

Wednesday’s forum was called after CB 9′s full board voted to table the plan and CB 10 declined to take any action on it last month. The plan DOT presented Wednesday was identical to the one it had presented to the boards a month ago [PDF]. ”We’re here tonight just to continue the dialogue,” DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said. “We’re not in any sort of rush to implement anything and we want to work toward community consensus.”

The plan calls for a road diet on Morningside Avenue between 116th and 126th Streets. Currently two lanes in each direction, Morningside would be trimmed to one lane in each direction plus a striped median with left-turn lanes and concrete pedestrian islands. The proposal is similar to road diets DOT has implemented on nearby St. Nicholas Avenue and Gerritsen Avenue in Brooklyn. DOT’s Josh Benson pointed out that Gerritsen, which like Morningside Avenue runs alongside a park, saw a 40 percent decrease in injury-causing crashes after the road diet was implemented.

While this type of road diet is known for smoothing out traffic flow, a few board members were skeptical. CB 9 transportation committee co-chair Ted Kovaleff suggested reversible rush-hour lanes instead, an idea that DOT rejected as too difficult to implement. Benson said that right now, Morningside is designed to handle more traffic than it currently accommodates. “It’s not really that busy in terms of what other streets in Manhattan have, traffic-wise,” Benson said, addressing concerns that drivers would divert to other avenues because of the road diet.

After one board member questioned why the city was interested in changing Morningside’s configuration at all, Benson pointed out that safety improvements were requested by the North Star Neighborhood Association. “There’s a public safety issue, which is we have New Yorkers that are dying,” Benson said. In 2006, there were two fatalities on Morningside Avenue. From 2007 to 2011, there were nine serious injuries; four were pedestrians and one was a cyclist.

During a recent speed survey, DOT found that 58 percent of northbound drivers and 66 percent of southbound drivers were exceeding the 30 mph limit. The street is on the border of the 26th and 28th Precincts. Through August, the latest month for which data is available, the two precincts issued a combined 701 speeding summonses [PDF 12]. Benson said NYPD has issued 260 speeding summonses on these 10 blocks of Morningside so far this year.

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Tonight: Tell Manhattan CBs That Harlem Needs a Safer Morningside Avenue

The plan for a safer Morningside Avenue is similar to treatments already in place in Harlem and the Bronx. Image: DOT

Community Boards 9 and 10 in Harlem will again hear from DOT tonight on a plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue [PDF]. The proposal was developed in response to a request from the North Star Neighborhood Association, and though there is general agreement that speeding drivers are a major problem on Morningside, the community boards have so far failed to endorse the city’s plan to make the street safer.

City Council Democratic primary winner Mark Levine wants the boards to move forward with the proposal, but as usual Council Member Inez Dickens, whose neighboring district encompasses most of the project area, has not indicated her support.

The plan would revamp Morningside from 116th Street to 126th Street from two lanes in each direction to a narrower single lane in each direction, with a center striped median, concrete pedestrian islands and left turn lanes. Parking lanes on each side would be widened, allowing space for cyclists and double-parked drivers. At entrances to Morningside Park, on the west side of the avenue, DOT has proposed painted curb extensions in the parking lane. The proposal does not include bike lanes.

The plan resembles existing traffic-calming measures on Macombs Road in the Bronx and on St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, and has some similarities to the plan for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

DOT presented the proposal in September to the transportation committees of both boards. The CB 10 committee, which has a history of inaction and opposition when it comes to livable streets projects, asked DOT for more data. CB 9 voted 18-15 to table the project, according to The Uptowner. Board members said the proposal needed more vetting, despite committee meetings and positive comments from the public.

Which brings us to tonight’s forum, where DOT will again present its plan and answer questions.

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CB 10 Votes Against Centerpiece of Bay Ridge’s Fourth Avenue Safety Plan

Last night, Brooklyn Community Board 10 voted on a slate of pedestrian safety improvements for Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge. While a number of smaller changes, such as wider crosswalks and curb extensions, received the board’s support, the board rejected the centerpiece of the plan – trimming traffic lanes to slow speeding drivers [PDF].

CB 10 prefers Fourth Avenue stay a four-lane speedway, but wants to make tweaks around the edges. Image: DOT

The current high-speed environment on Fourth Avenue contributes to a high rate of injuries and deaths. Two pedestrians have been killed along this stretch of the street this year alone. One driver killed a woman crossing mid-block at 86th Street, and weeks later another motorist fatally struck an elderly woman while turning onto Fourth from 82nd Street.

The road diet called for converting Fourth Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, with a center turn lane, from Ovington Avenue to 86th Street [PDF]. From 101st Street to 95th Street the changes would have applied only to the northbound side.

In May, CB 10′s transportation committee recommended that the full board support the road diet. This positive vote was undercut in August by newly-elected board chair Brian Kieran, who previously served as transportation committee chair. Even though the road diet was refined over months of public workshops, Kieran urged board members to ignore the committee’s recommendations and instead pick and choose from the proposal.

Last night, the board voted down the road diet: The vote for the section from 101st Street to 95th Street was 7-29, and 4-32 for the section from Ovington Avenue to 86th Street.

“I supported it because something needs to be done, and as long as people keep dying on our streets, I’m willing to try anything,” committee member Andrew Gounardes told Streetsblog. “At the end of the day it’s just paint. If it doesn’t work, we can put it back.”

“This is the main piece of the proposal. All of the other stuff we are doing will not save as many pedestrian lives as this one piece alone, but people are not willing to hear it,” committee member Bob HuDock told Streetsblog, adding that many board members were worried the road diet would create congestion, even though DOT’s studies showed that it would not. ”It was a rehash of all the same old tired arguments we’ve been hearing for the past two years,” HuDock said of board members’ objections.

Some board members said they wanted the avenue to keep its current format, even if it endangers residents walking in the neighborhood. “I think Fourth Avenue must remain a thoroughfare, even to the detriment of locality use,” board member Judy Grimaldi said at the meeting, according to a report from Brooklyn Daily.

Following the committee’s lead, the board also voted against DOT’s proposals for a pedestrian island, pedestrian fence, and left turn lane at the busy intersection of Fourth Avenue and 86th Street, though it did support a curb extension on the southwest corner of the intersection.

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