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Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane Debate Splits Community Board

By Emily Frost | January 13, 2016 4:10pm
 The Community Board 7 Transportation Committee reached a tie vote on the bike lane, with four in favor and four opposed. 
Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The fate of a protected bike lane along Amsterdam Avenue hangs in the balance after a Community Board 7 committee failed to reach an agreement on whether to support the Department of Transportation's plan at a meeting Tuesday.

DOT officials say a protected bike lane — where cyclists are separated from traffic by a line of parked cars — would make the avenue safer as it would shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and reduce four traffic lanes to three. A northbound lane would also encourage cycling and provide a safe route for Citi Bike users, they said. 

The DOT wants to start construction on the lane, which would run from West 72nd to 110th streets, this summer — but the agency wants Board 7's support before proceeding. 

Though CB7's Transportation Committee could not pass a resolution in support of the bike lane — with four members in favor and four opposed — the proposal will go before the full 50-member board on Feb. 2 for a vote, said board chairwoman Elizabeth Caputo. 

In addition to making the avenue more bike-friendly, the DOT wants to make it feel more like other local avenues and less like a wide, four-lane speedway for trucks and cars, officials explained.

"This is a street that people live on. This is a street where people will be crossing to go to school... this is a neighborhood street,” said DOT Bicycle Program Project Manager Patrick Kennedy, noting that the street's infrastructure should support that.

However, those opposed to the bike lane, both on the board and in the community, worry it could destroy that neighborhood feel by placing a hardship on businesses. They argue reducing the car lanes would make deliveries difficult for the multitude of restaurants along the avenue and would reduce parking for customers by 25 percent. 

Since first presenting the proposal in November, the DOT has refined its plan for creating commercial loading zones to limit double-parking they say is rampant on the avenue and to help businesses have dedicated spaces for deliveries. 

The entire eastern side of the avenue would have become a paid commercial parking zone under the previous plan, while the revised version creates pockets of commercial parking on both sides of the avenue. 

Zones specifically designated for commercial parking would exist between West 74th and 75th streets, West 77th and 80th streets, West 85th and 86th streets, West 90th and 91st streets, and West 93rd and 96th streets. 

Additionally, a mix of commercial parking and open metered parking would exist between West 74th and 75th streets, West 80th and 81st streets, West 83rd and 84th streets, West 86th and 87th streets, West 89th and 90th streets, and West 106th and 110th streets. 

However, board members called for even more commercial loading zones at the meeting Tuesday. 

"The idea of doing something that could hurt the businesses is unacceptable, even though many of us do believe in the bike lane," said board member Linda Alexander.

In terms of the purported loss of customers who depend on parking to frequent Amsterdam Avenue restaurants and stores, the DOT said its data refuted that idea. 

Of the 439 people DOT surveyors talked to while stationed on Amsterdam Avenue over the past two months, only 2 percent used a vehicle to get to Amsterdam Avenue, 93 percent walked or took public transit to get to the avenue, and 86 percent said walking or public transit were the ways they typically used to get to the avenue

More than a dozen residents shared their views on the bike lane with the committee Tuesday. While there was strong opposition to the lane, the majority of those at the meeting testified in support of it and expounded on its safety benefits. 

Joseph Bolanos, a resident of West 76th Street, presented the board a petition with 100 signatures opposing the bike lane. However, local resident Willow Stelzer said she gathered support from 3,600 individuals and 206 local businesses and cultural institutions, as well as the nonprofit Goddard Riverside, in support of the plan. 

Board members against the lane said they don't oppose bike lanes in general, just the placement of this one, and that there were ways to make Amsterdam Avenue safer without a bike lane. 

Committee chairman Dan Zweig suggested the DOT make the Columbus Avenue bike lane a two-way lane instead. 

While there is enough room for a two-way lane there, residents have told the DOT it would cause confusion for pedestrians because Columbus Avenue is a southbound-only lane for traffic, DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said. Creating that two-way bike lane would also require "complicated signal changes," she added.

"I couldn’t be more vehemently opposed to the idea of a two-way bike lane. Pedestrians are used to looking one way [on Columbus]. It would bring so many more injuries," said board member Rich Robbins. 

Despite the lack of consensus from the committee, however, the full board will vote on the DOT's proposal at its Feb. 2 board meeting. 

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