Helen Rosenthal Won’t Say Why She Reappointed Street Safety Foe to CB 7

Members of Families For Safe Streets asked Council Member Helen Rosenthal at a town hall meeting last night why she reappointed street safety foe and longtime Community Board 7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig. But Rosenthal refused to answer questions from Upper West Siders who have lost loved ones to traffic violence.

Joan Dean, left, lost her grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein in a traffic crash. Mary Beth Kelly, right, lost her partner Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. Both live on the Upper West Side and asked Council Member Helen Rosenthal about why she reappointed a street safety foe to Community Board 7. Photo: Emily Frost/DNAinfo
Joan Dean, left, lost her grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein in a traffic crash. Mary Beth Kelly, right, lost her partner Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. Both live on the Upper West Side and had questions for Council Member Helen Rosenthal at a town hall last night. Photo: Emily Frost/DNAinfo

Zweig has spent years stonewalling street safety plans, particularly community requests to remake the Upper West Side’s most heavily-traveled streets with pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes. Zweig was appointed to the board multiple times by Council Member Inez Dickens. After a City Council redistricting moved his home into the district of Council Member Mark Levine, advocates saw an opportunity for change at CB 7.

Levine opposed Zweig’s nomination to the board and did not reappoint him. Borough President Gale Brewer also told advocates that she would not reappoint Zweig, according to Mary Beth Kelly of Families For Safe Streets. A list of community board appointments released earlier this month indicated Amsterdam Avenue bike lane supporter Helen Rosenthal reached outside her district to recommend Zweig, and Brewer approved the nomination.

“She says she supports safe streets, but then she makes appointments like this,” said street safety advocate Lisa Sladkus. “She went out of her way to reappoint him.”

“It really felt like somewhere along the line, some deal was made,” Kelly said. “I don’t know for sure what went on behind closed doors.”

With Zweig keeping his seat at CB 7, board chair Elizabeth Caputo must decide whether to reappoint Zweig and Andrew Albert as co-chairs of the transportation committee, a post they have occupied for years.

Under their tenure, the board spent years in hours-long meetings over protected bike lanes on southbound Columbus Avenue. While CB 7 ultimately supported the bike lanes, much of the delay and division came from Albert and Zweig, who employ stalling tactics on many bicycle-related projects.

Zweig has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe DOT crash and traffic flow data. He once attempted to scuttle protected bike lanes on Amsterdam Avenue by amending a resolution supporting them, requesting concrete curb extensions that would preclude protected bike lanes in the future. The amendment was defeated, and the board went on to vote unanimously in favor of asking DOT to study protected bike lanes.

Rosenthal’s reappointment of Zweig is at odds with her record as a supporter of safer streets. Less than two weeks before community board appointments were released, Rosenthal announced that she had sent a letter to DOT asking for a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue that includes a northbound protected bike lane and pedestrian islands. This is the kind of project that Zweig and Albert have opposed for the Upper West Side, but Rosenthal seemed confident it would get the board’s support. “I’m sure this will sail through,” she told Streetsblog.

According to people at last night’s meeting, Rosenthal reiterated her support for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam and said she would not sign on to an effort to weaken the Right of Way Law. But she dodged questions on why she reappointed Zweig, saying that she won’t discuss individual appointments, that the board needs a diversity of viewpoints, and that DOT has ultimate authority over street design. Eventually, Rosenthal responded with “passive-aggressive sarcasm,” according to Steve Vaccaro, who was at the meeting.

“She was visibly angered and flustered,” Sladkus said.

“We all feel like we’ve been told to shut up and go away,” Kelly said. “When you’ve lost somebody, you’re not just going to go away. It means too much.”

Rosenthal has not responded to a request for comment for this story.