Community backs Amsterdam Avenue bike lane after heated debate

A bicyclist rides on  Amsterdam Avenue above  72nd Street on Feb. 2, 2016.
A bicyclist rides on Amsterdam Avenue above 72nd Street on Feb. 2, 2016.

An Upper West Side community board voted to back the addition of a controversial bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue at a heated meeting Tuesday night, a key moment in the city’s push to add at least nine protected lanes in four boroughs this year as part of larger street redesigns.

The lane on Amsterdam Avenue will run from 72nd Street to 110th Street, complementing an existing downtown lane on Columbus Avenue. There will be three travel lanes instead of four and 21% of Amsterdam Avenue’s parking spaces in that stretch will have to be converted, according to the city Department of Transportation.

Police were called to the meeting at a neighborhood senior center when the crowd exceeded capacity and about 100 people had to be turned away. The mood turned tense as supporters spoke of the need for greater street safety, given the spate of pedestrian deaths in the neighborhood and across the city, and opponents decried the potential for added congestion.

“The congestion will be horrible,” said Carmen Quinones, 57, from the tenant association of the Douglass Houses. “I don’t think the bike is the solution. We are totally against it.”

Attendee Katherine McAnulty lost her father, Thomas McAnulty, when he was hit by a motorcyclist at 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue last month.

“We’ve always known Amsterdam is crazy,” she said. “If something isn’t done, more people will die.”

The Amsterdam bike lane, which was approved by a 28-13 vote, is among nine planned across the city.

The DOT will add a bike lane to Second Avenue on the Upper East Side and East Harlem. It is part of the restoration of streets after construction wraps up on the Second Avenue Subway, which is set to open in December. The improvements have already been supported by the local community board.

The agency also is considering upgrading the shared bike lane on Sixth Avenue near the Chelsea and Union Square area to a protected bike lane. The idea is being reviewed by three different community boards.

Liz Pantirer, 25, an ESL teacher who lives off Sixth Avenue, said she wanted the protected lane. “I would be a big fan of that. I use Citi Bikes often,” she said. “It can be really dangerous biking in the city.”

The DOT also recently floated the idea of a protected lane on Clinton Avenue from Prospect Heights to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It hasn’t yet been presented to a community board.

The agency is also constructing a lane on the Pulaski Bridge between Queens and Brooklyn.

In the Bronx, the DOT has started constructing a bike lane on Bruckner Boulevard, between Hunts Point and Longwood. It is expected to finish in the spring.

The city has added 17.8 miles of protected bike lanes under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which created a plan to end traffic deaths called Vision Zero. The lanes use a physical barrier, such as a lane of parking, to protect cyclists from cars.

“The protected bike lanes in congested, high-traffic parts of the city really makes folks feel comfortable,” said DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo. “It really helps us grow the volume of bicyclists, because of that level of that feeling of safety they provide. They are a key part of Vision Zero.”

The lanes reduce injuries by 22% on average, according to the DOT, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.(WITH ANN W. SCHMIDT)