Not all Zoom meetings start with a bang. But Community Board 7’s did on Monday night — in a way that was less than desirable. “Why is he yelling?” Transportation Committee member Erana Stennett asked, twice. “This is absurd; why are we screaming at people?” Andrew Rigie chimed in.
They weren’t debating contentious community issues on the Upper West Side. They were responding instead to remarks from committee co-chair Howard Yaruss, who had joined the discussion that evening a few moments behind schedule — and with a temper.
“I had a really hard time getting into this meeting,” Yaruss said. He demanded that invitations with a link to the Zoom meeting, which he claimed not to have received on multiple occasions including that night, be sent to all committee members in advance. (Multiple others expressed surprise upon learning that Yaruss hadn’t gotten the meeting confirmation they’d received earlier in the day, complete with a link.)
Along with a few other agenda items, CB7’s Transportation Committee had convened that night with the goal of discussing — and possibly passing a resolution pertaining to — protected crosstown bike lanes. “We have had a plague of injuries that can be prevented,” testified Andrew Rosenthal, a member of the public.
Instead of reaching a consensus, the committee bumped the issue back to a joint meeting with the Parks & Environment Committee on November 21, despite calls for swift action.
Not on the Same Page
Before the meeting started, the issue of City Council legislation permitting “electric carriages” in Central Park — as a possible alternative to horse-drawn carriages, which have fallen under heightened scrutiny in recent weeks after a horse’s collapse made headlines — had been axed from the agenda, to be taken up during the end-of-month joint meeting instead. But on the topic of protected bike lanes, committee members quarreled.
“The center of this resolution has to do with bike lanes on the streets of the Upper West Side,” Ken Coughlin explained. “We can easily take anything out or add anything we want.” He said the “draft” resolution was modeled after one put forward by CB8, on the Upper East Side, in September. Others pointed out that it hadn’t been brought forward as a “draft,” but rather as a completed resolution ready for a vote. They argued that the topic’s apparent entanglement with Central Park warranted joint consideration with Parks & Environment Committee members.
“The resolution does, in fact, talk about bike lanes and safe, convenient routes into and through Central Park,” CB7 member Jay Adolf said. Stennett raised the additional concern that relevant local organizations and agencies, like the Central Park Conservancy, hadn’t been made aware of the meeting’s proposed agenda.
Yaruss eventually tabled a vote on the bike lane resolution, but attendance was high, so community members already prepared to discuss the topic were given an opening to offer input.
A Community’s Trials
Debra Kirschner, an Upper West Side local, characterized commuting via the bike lane that runs along Central Park West every day as “transformative.” She was joined by others in emphasizing a desire for the adoption on the Upper West Side of east-west protected bike lanes, which speakers noted already exist elsewhere in Manhattan. One community member in favor of protected paths said they more clearly delineate where each type of commuter belongs on the streetscape; another made the case that they would safeguard older residents in particular. “Our community is full of disabled, elderly pedestrians,” Miriam Rosen said. “That’s why it’s the Upper West Side.”
And some homed in on the serious dangers faced by cyclists that could be alleviated by shielded lanes. Rosenthal referred committee members to the NYC Crash Mapper website, which displays data on crashes in all five boroughs, as far back as 2011. “Bike lanes make drivers safer, they make pedestrians safer, they make cyclists safer,” he said. Another speaker, Juliet Faber, recounted being “knocked off” of her bike by an e-scooter rider — and hoped motorized vehicles wouldn’t be lumped into protected lanes. She said the crash, which happened over the summer, sent her to the ICU for 20 days.
“People are dying and people are being maimed,” CB8 member Paul Krikler said, imploring CB7 to act quickly. But the vote would have to wait.
“You’re the only voice we have,” Kirschner pleaded.
“This is absurd; why are we screaming at people?” Andrew Rigie