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Controversial Amsterdam Ave. Bike Lane Decision Delayed

By Emily Frost | November 7, 2013 12:21pm
 Community Board 7 pushed its decision on whether to call for a study of Amsterdam Avenue to December. 
Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Hit the brakes.

Public testimony on the controversial proposal for a protected bike lane along Amsterdam Avenue was so heated and lengthy Wednesday night that Community Board 7 decided to delay its vote on the issue until next month. 

The proposal asks the Department of Transportation to study whether a bike lane along the four-lane northbound street would be feasible and would make the street safer, as advocates argue. 

One concern raised repeatedly by board members and the community was whether a bike lane would make it difficult for the businesses on Amsterdam Avenuemany of them restaurants, to get truck deliveries.

Resident Chris Henry urged the board to let the DOT find solutions to problems that arose with the Columbus Avenue bike lane, like creating special delivery zones for businesses.

"The DOT is working for us," he said. "This is the chance to get it right."

Liz Dean, the manager of Irving Farm, which sits along West 79th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, said the lanes have increased the customer base at the coffee shop's downtown locations. 

A spokesman from the Steven Allan clothing store on Amsterdam Avenue, speaking on behalf of the designer, added: "He would like you to know that bike lanes have only helped us do our business, so we are in support of that."

But others said it's a thruway for trucks headed to other parts of the city and buses headed to other states, residents said. 

"It’s the truck route to the George Washington Bridge, and it’s going to remain that way," local resident George Barr said. "Protected bike lanes on an avenue like this are inappropriate."

While at least two cyclists over 70 years old testified that they use bike lanes frequently, other residents said the lanes provide little warning of impending riders for older pedestrians who have mobility, hearing or eyesight problems. 

"After housing and education, the number one issue I heard from seniors was that the bike lanes are dangerous," said Noah Gotbaum, a former City Council candidate in the district. 

One resident, Penny Heyman Schwartz, who described herself as a "seasoned citizen," joked that perhaps tricycles were more appropriate for seniors. 

"If we’re going to have a bike share...there is nothing wrong with a trike share." 

The discussion was also lengthened by concerns over a possible conflict of interest for two community board members. 

Board members Ken Coughlin and Howard Yaruss also serve on the nonprofit cycling advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which has been at the forefront of the push for the lane, but they haven't announced their affiliation with the board publicly yet. 

"There are two members of this board that are members of Transportation Alternatives. They are supposed to announce the fact that they are affiliated," said board member Lillian Moore of the pair, who are listed as board members of TA on its website.

Other board members agreed that the affiliation should be exposed immediately, but Elizabeth Caputo, the board's new chairwoman, said the bylaws made it clear that "it’s up to them to let us know who they are." 

Coughlin and Yaruss have both spoken publicly in favor of the lanes at past meetings.

Thomas DeVito, a lead organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said that many residents were disappointed by the delay. But the community is "indefatigable when it comes to improving safety and livability," he said.