Cycling advocates assailed the leadership of the Community Board 7 Transportation Committee, calling them out of touch in a Thursday night meeting.
Board members discussed extending the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane from its current boundaries between 77th and 97th streets to between 59th and 110th streets, as well as adding a northbound pair along the same 51-block stretch on Amsterdam Avenue.
The committee will vote on whether to ask the New York City Department of Transportation for the new bike lanes at its meeting next month, after a new report on the safety of the current Columbus Avenue lane is released. A request from the community board, which represents the Upper West Side, is required for the DOT to implement the lanes.
But the vast majority of the 30 attendees at the meeting attacked the committee for moving too slowly and for generally prioritizing cars and parking over pedestrians and cyclists.
“The rest of the city has whizzed past us, asking DOT for more and more bike lanes,” Lisa Sladkus, an organizer with the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, said. “This committee is very invested in the status quo … They never talk about big, real issues—what do we want our streets to represent, what age should children be comfortable walking to school alone, whether there should be any public parking at all.”
Emotional speakers said that installing more protected bike lanes—in which cyclists are shielded from moving traffic between the sidewalk and a floating parking lane—should be a safety priority.
“We are a neighborhood that is behind the curve,” Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband was killed while riding a bicycle, said. “The rest of the city is getting things that we are not getting to make truly livable neighborhoods,” such as protected bike lanes.
The dissatisfaction with the committee itself became personal when many speakers personally addressed co-chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig.
“You listen to the horrible carnage on streets, and you won’t take bold moves,” Kelly said. “You sit and you just want to waste our time and have another family live what I’ve lived with, what my kids have lived with, what our community has lived with since his death,” she said of her husband’s death.
Cyclists said that instead of the current isolated, mile-long bike lane on Columbus, a network of lanes on both Columbus and Amsterdam is needed.
“I go on Columbus before that bike lane, and I’m in an ocean with sharks,” cyclist Detta Ahl said. “In the lane, it’s like I have a lifeguard … That’s the difference.”
The proposal to add a protected bike lane to Amsterdam would, unlike with the Columbus lane, require downsizing the existing four traffic lanes to three.
“We’re having a debate about safety when there is nothing to debate. It’s a false debate, and it’s a debate that’s endangering people,” Upper West Side resident Mark Gorton said.
Although the public expressed vocal support for the bike lanes, not all committee members were in favor.
Marc Glazer, another committee member, said that the protected bike lanes were not suited to the Upper West Side. “We’re not in principle opposed to bike lanes, but we have to serve the entire community, not just bicycle enthusiasts,” he said.
The meeting became rowdy at times, with CB7 chair Mark Diller attempting to control a shouting match early on by repeating, “We’re going to have a good meeting tonight. We’re going to have a good meeting tonight.”
City Council candidate Mel Wymore, a CB7 member and former chair, advocated for the creation of a subcommittee dedicated to long-term planning. “This committee has not been proactive to talk about bike lanes,” Wymore said after the meeting. “It’s been loud in its non-requests” for new bike lanes compared to other community boards around the city, he said.
Albert and Zweig did not respond to their critics, a move Diller said was the right one.
“My chairs took it on the chin tonight,” he said afterward. “If the chairs had pushed back, it would have been a different meeting, a less productive meeting.” He said he was sure that Thursday’s meeting would be far from the last conversation the community board holds on the bike lanes.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the current Columbus Avenue bike lane ends at 76th Street, when in fact it ends at 77th Street. Spectator regrets the error.