Community Board 7’s transportation committee has asked the Department of Transportation to consider a plan for a protected bike lane for Amsterdam Avenue, a four-lane roadway many view as one of the most dangerous on the Upper West Side.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the committee passed a resolution calling upon the DOT to study the effect of reducing the number of travel lanes and installing a protected northbound bike lane, pedestrian islands, dedicated loading zones, and left-turn lanes.
The resolution, which passed with seven in favor and three abstentions, will go before the full board next month.
“I think it went really well,” said Roberta Semer, a transportation committee member who voted in favor of the resolution. “We have to start rethinking how we get around.”
The move to add a bike lane to Amsterdam comes after a several-month long debate among board members over extending a southbound bike land on Columbus Avenue to stretch the length of the Upper West Side.
According to committee members, Amsterdam, the only four-lane, one-direction street on the Upper West Side, has injury and death rates almost double those on surrounding northbound avenues.
The resolution was tweaked to ask for a study, rather than a finished plan, from the DOT.
Thomas DeVito, an organizer for pro-biking group Transportation Alternatives, said that the outcome reflected “tremendous progress” in terms of the community board’s approach.
Though some locals at the meeting did not consider a protected bike lane the best approach, most agreed that Amsterdam’s safety concerns needed to be addressed. Several testified that they felt unsafe walking, biking, or even driving along the avenue.
During public testimony, a majority testified in favor of the protected bike lane, citing safety issues as well as the potential for the bike lane to increase traffic among local businesses.
James Zisfein, who has lived on the Upper West Side for 31 years, said that the success of a southbound protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue meant that the Amsterdam Avenue lane would also help the neighborhood, enabling bikers to safely travel north through the Upper West Side.
“We have it on Columbus. It works,” Zisfein said. “Pedestrians have a shorter distance to cross.”
He also said that an Amsterdam protected lane would solve issues of bikers going the wrong way on the Columbus lane—“the reason they’re going the wrong way on Columbus is there’s no way to go the other way safely.”
Philip Binioris, whose family owns the Hungarian Pastry Shop on 111th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, said that the installment of a protected bike lane would likely boost small businesses like his, even though the lane would likely end at 110th Street.
“Many of my customers arrive by bicycles,” Binioris said. “They’re hungry, and they want sugar, and I’ve got it.”
Sarah Zell Young, who lives on West 67th Street and commutes to her job serving the homeless on the streets in East Harlem, said both biking and driving on Amsterdam Avenue made her feel unsafe.
“My friends sort of joke, they’re like, ‘How can you do your work? It’s so dangerous.’ And I sort of, tongue in cheek, say, ‘No, the most dangerous part—biking to work on Amsterdam Avenue,” Young said.
Yet others expressed concern that, given the presence of double-parked cars and the frequency with which trucks and ambulances use Amsterdam, the bike lane might make traffic congestion worse.
Upper West Sider Catherine Unsino said a full traffic study should be conducted before any plan was made.
“We’ve already narrowed Columbus Avenue without the benefit of a traffic study. Now we’re saying, well, since we did it there, we ought to do it north without the benefit of a traffic study,” Unsino said. “Before you make matters worse by narrowing Amsterdam Avenue, do a study.”
But Semer emphasized that individual lanes would not be further narrowed, and that the bike lane would still allow an emergency vehicle to pass through.
Ian Alterman, Upper West Side resident and president of the NYPD 20th precinct community council, said he would like to see more authoritative statistics than those provided at the meeting by Transportation Alternatives before putting in another bike lane.
“I think there needs to be some full disclosure on the statistics here,” Alterman said. “There are statistics in there. The question is, what do they mean, who took them, how accurate are they?”
Alterman said that the Columbus bike lane is “barely used at all” and that a protected bike lane should not be considered a “panacea” measure.
“I’m very much in favor of the protection of pedestrians, bikes and everyone else. I just think that this is not the best way to do this,” Alterman said.
CB7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig said he thought DOT would move too quickly on the bike lane if CB7 asked it to conduct a study.
“We would be foolish to ask DOT to do a study here because we don’t know what we’ll get back from them,” he said.
Transportation committee co-chair Andrew Albert suggested installing a bike lane on Central Park West, alternatively, and calming traffic on Amsterdam by changing the timing of the lights.
“I think Amsterdam Avenue could be made a lot safer without a bike lane,” Albert said, adding that without four lanes on Amsterdam, it was possible that traffic congestion may move to other avenues.
CB7 chair Mark Diller, CC ’80, said that, ultimately, the resolution warranted consideration by the full board and community.
“I think this deserves to be considered at full board and to let our entire community have that opportunity,” Diller said.
The full board meeting will be held on Nov. 6.