At an emotional meeting Tuesday, the Community Board 7 transportation committee voted to rename a portion of West 97th Street in memory of four-year-old Ariel Russo, who was killed this summer by an unlicensed, speeding driver.
Street safety is high on the committee’s agenda, as it also discussed potential street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue to make it more accessible for cyclists.
Sofia Russo, Ariel Russo’s mother, spoke before an emotional audience of Upper West Siders. She recounted her daughter’s happy childhood.
“I got my first pair of shoes at Harry’s Shoes on 84th. Ariel got her first pair of shoes at Harry’s Shoes on 84th, and my mom wanted me to share with you guys that Ariel embodied the Upper West Sider,” Russo said, through tears. “She was that girl who loved to go to Harry’s Shoes. She went to Symphony Space every Saturday. She was an Upper West Side girl.”
The committee voted unanimously to rename the portion of the street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The renaming must be approved by the City Council and mayor before it becomes official.
Russo said that she hopes people will learn her daughter’s story when they see her name on the street sign.
“That corner is so hard for me to go to right now,” Russo said. “But I feel like if we were to have this street sign there, it would bring honor. It would bring light.”
Locals and biking advocates also turned out to discuss the potential installation of a northbound bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue.
“We really want to keep the discussion open to the breadth of the West Side, going from Riverside all the way to Central Park West,” CB7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig said.
Gene Aronowitz, a Brooklyn CB7 transportation committee member, called on the board to create streets that are open to all kinds of transportation. He said that this would protect vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly, who comprise only 12 percent of New York City’s population but account for 38 percent of pedestrian fatalities.
The lane would complement the southbound Columbus bike lane, which CB7 voted to extend the full length of the Upper West Side this past December.
“If we can create streets—complete streets—that are safe for older people and that are safe for children, they will be safe for everybody else,” Aronowitz said.
Brian Hoberman, GSAS ’93, who lives at Amsterdam and West 97th Street, said he was in favor of installing a protected lane on Amsterdam to improve the corridor’s safety.
“I know some of you are drivers on a regular basis, some of you are cyclists, but everyone here is a pedestrian,” Hoberman said. “When we consider complete streets, especially on Amsterdam Avenue, the installation of a protected bike lane not only benefits the cyclists who will be using it, but it protects the pedestrians who will be crossing the streets because it narrows the distance you have to cross.”
Others expressed concern that placing a bike lane on Amsterdam would narrow the space available for ambulances, other emergency vehicles, and delivery trucks to maneuver.
“I do resist the conversion to a bike lane on Amsterdam because I am very frightened about emergency vehicles needing to get through unimpeded,” Upper West Side resident Catherine Unsino, who used to bike frequently, said. “I think it’s a real danger.”
Hoberman said that the protected bike lane would be wide enough to accommodate an ambulance.
Detta Ahl, who lives near Columbia, said she was in favor of a bike lane because she thinks that “Amsterdam’s not bikeable.”
George Beane, a member of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, said that the BID is in full support of a protected lane on Amsterdam Avenue. He added that a bike lane would improve Amsterdam’s safety as bike-share programs move northward.
“This is absolutely superb for the whole Upper West Side,” Beane said. “Amsterdam Avenue is a very fast, wide street. It’s difficult for older people and for people with children to cross, but bikes are a legitimate and established transit link now in the city.”
The committee agreed that both creating an Amsterdam Avenue bike lane and retiming Amsterdam’s traffic lights would be on the agenda for next month’s committee meeting.