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.”

DOT’s plan for Amsterdam Avenue between 72nd Street and 110th Street will install a protected bike lane and concrete pedestrian refuges.

CB 7 first requested protected bike lane designs for Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue in 2009. It took DOT several years to build out a protected lane on Columbus, and in 2013, prodded by local advocates, the board began another series of meetings and votes again asking for a lane on Amsterdam. Last summer, the board flat-out endorsed a protected lane, requesting that DOT “immediately” install traffic-calming measures on the corridor.

Upper West Side residents took turns at the mic for nearly two hours before the board went into its session, with most supporting the redesign. The process wasn’t set up to reflect the overall turnout at the meeting, since the board had groups of five supporters alternate with groups of five opponents. When time ran out, supporters who signed up but didn’t get a turn to speak outnumbered opponents 15 to 1. In addition, most of the people shut out of the room were supporters of the bike lane.

The children of Thomas McAnulty, the 73-year-old sculptor who was killed at Amsterdam Avenue and 96th Street on January 18, started off the session with other members of Families for Safe Streets. “We’ve always known Amsterdam has been crazy,” Caroline McAnulty said. “Something has to be done. If it’s not done, more people are going to die.”

Both Rosenthal and Levine spoke publicly last night in favor of the redesign, but Borough President Brewer declined to comment until after the vote. Brewer was about to say something at the beginning of the board debate, but held back when Fine proposed his competing resolution. When she eventually spoke, she limited her comments to congratulating the board for a respectful meeting.

Speaking after the meeting, Families for Safe Streets’ Mary Beth Kelly said she was “elated” by the vote. “I’m thrilled. I’m proud that this is a community that could make this happen,” she said. “There are few things that could possibly make me happier.”