Victims’ Families to Electeds: End the Obstruction of Safe Streets on the UWS

Council Member Mark Levine, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal can decide whether or not to reappoint longtime street safety foe Dan Zweig to Community Board 7. Photos: NYC Council

Years of frustration with the leadership of Manhattan Community Board 7 boiled over at a traffic safety forum on the Upper West Side last night. Twice during the event, neighborhood residents who lost family members to traffic violence called on elected officials not to reappoint Dan Zweig, who has co-chaired CB 7’s transportation committee for at least 15 years and blocked or delayed key street safety proposals.

Last night’s panel included Dana Lerner of Families For Safe Streets, whose son Cooper was killed by a turning cab driver last year. She told the audience she was shocked to learn after her son’s death that there were proposals from neighborhood groups to improve street safety — including for the block where Cooper was killed — that had failed to receive support from the community board. “When I found out about this, I was crushed. I was just crushed. I couldn’t understand,” she said. “All I could think was, if they had — if this had been looked at, might Cooper be alive? I always wonder that.”

After Cooper’s death, DOT implemented a road diet on West End Avenue, including pedestrian islands at the intersection where Cooper was killed. Lerner said neighbors ask her if she’s pleased to see the changes. “I don’t understand why it was my son’s death that made this happen,” she said. “Community Board 7, particularly Dan Zweig, was not receptive to the ideas of the community. And I feel that moving forward, we absolutely have to have people who are willing to listening to the community members.”

Zweig has a long history of stonewalling street safety projects. A redesign of Columbus Avenue added a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands, improving safety for all street users, including a 41 percent drop in pedestrian injuries. But Zweig, who had used parliamentary process to try to block the project, said he doesn’t trust DOT’s numbers and insists the street has become more dangerous.

Other projects have been stalled at Zweig’s hands, as well. Last September, he and committee co-chair Andrew Albert sent a letter asking DOT to stop a one-day demonstration program that would add tables and chairs to an extra-wide sidewalk on 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam until the committee had given its two cents. The letter, sent on CB 7 letterhead, was never approved by the committee, and residents who were asking for the upgrades weren’t copied on the letter [PDF].

“They’re supposed to consult the rest of the committee before they make a move like that. And apparently that’s par for the course,” said Bob Leonard of Friends of Stryker Park. “These guys wound up pulling the rug out from underneath us.”

Albert defended Zweig after last night’s forum. “It does appear there’s a campaign to vilify us, and I think that’s a shame. We’ve done a lot of very pedestrian-friendly things,” he said. But when the subject turned to the neighborhood’s wide arterial streets, where speeding is rampant and injury rates are high, Albert opposed ideas that would calm traffic. He said removing a traffic lane or narrowing car lanes to less than 12 feet on north-south avenues leads to dangerous congestion. Instead, he said the board had already secured a significant safety improvement from DOT for Amsterdam Avenue: a change in signal timing.

“It was really unfair to single Dan out. Dan has fought for pedestrian safety improvements, as I have. If we didn’t do it to everybody’s speed and liking, there’s no way to control that,” Albert said. “These things, unfortunately, unless there’s a death, move very glacially in the city.”

Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband was killed in 2006 by a truck driver on the Hudson River Greenway, spoke up during last night’s forum. “We have had leadership at the community board that is morally bankrupt,” she said, adding that it is unacceptable for Albert and Zweig “to wait and to push off and to allow deaths to happen that should not have happened, that could have been prevented if the right leadership at that transportation committee had been placed there.”

Community board members are appointed to two-year terms by the borough president, with half recommended by local council members. Zweig was last appointed by former Borough President Scott Stringer two years ago at the recommendation of Inez Dickens, when her district included a northern section of Community Board 7. The area is now represented by Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, who must decide whether to recommend Zweig for reappointment.

“As for particular members of the community board, I actually think it’s inappropriate to discuss that in this venue,” Rosenthal said during last night’s panel. “If anybody wants to talk with me about particular community board members, reach out to me.”

“We are still in the process of reviewing applications, but are committed to ensuring that every member we appoint supports a vision of safe, pedestrian-friendly streets on the Upper West Side,” Levine said in a statement.

“Our process is underway,” said Borough President Gale Brewer’s director of communications, Jon Houston. Brewer ultimately appoints all community board members and re-appointed Albert last year. “We announce appointments and reappointments on April 1st.”

“That’s something I really feel needs to be remedied,” Lerner said of community board appointees who drag their feet on street safety plans. “There needs to be accountability here.”