I’ve lived on the Upper West Side since 1991. For a good part of that time I have advocated for a safer, more livable community. With my neighbors in the 75th Street Block Association, and with the CBCL (Coalition of Block and Community Leaders) which I helped found, we have organized beautification projects, block parties, street improvements, training and advocated for much-needed traffic-calming projects.
I have advocated for these improvements because they build and enhance community. They make streets into spaces where friends and neighbors want to be, where we can socialize comfortably, build bonds and plan events. They improve safety which has a direct impact on our quality of life.
The Department of Transportation has said they will be proposing a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue to make it safer for all user groups -- and I would encourage all my neighbors to prioritize safety and livability.
I know some neighborhood traffic-calming projects have been controversial. I’m not sure what the argument could possibly be against creating safer streets for all of our residents. Isn’t the goal to create street designs that incorporate and take into consideration the safety and convenience of all users? I would argue that previous redesigns in the neighborhood have made those streets, not only safer but more pleasant to traverse.
Safety statistics indicate that Columbus Avenue was made significantly safer several years ago, when the DOT added pedestrian islands and a protected bike lane. It is thriving; and since being trimmed down to an appropriate size, West End Avenue is better, too. One of my neighbors, and a leading member of the 75th Street Block Association, was hit by a car on West End Avenue three years ago and has praised DOT’s efforts on the WEA Corridor.
In addition to being safer, DOT’s street redesigns are creating streets that not only support the needs of the current community, but area also creating a strong foundation for the future.
New York City has the best transportation system in the United States, and the Upper West Side has some of the best transportation in the city with more options than almost anywhere else. Between the Upper West Side’s two subway lines, our walkable neighborhood, and our multiple uptown and crosstown bus routes, we can get around in any number of different ways. And now that CitiBike has traveled above Columbus Circle, Upper West Siders have the access to yet another, exciting option.
The plethora of options should be celebrated, but we need to continue to develop the streets and tunnels to help ensure the systems flourish and benefit everyone. DOT understands through community advocacy that having a southbound protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue, without a partner northbound protected bike lane on Amsterdam, is a sign of poor planning and does not address the needs of the growing numbers of cyclists who are and will continue to flock to the UWS because of it’s close proximity to the NYC Parks System.
Creating a system that safely serves everybody means change and requires a spirit of sharing. For the most part, members of our community board have proven themselves to be admirably visionary on these issues -- and our elected officials, Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine -- regularly lead the city, and are both champions of a safer Amsterdam Avenue.
We are eagerly anticipating DOT’s vision to make Amsterdam Avenue a safe, complete street. With a growing population and more pedestrians than ever, and now with the expansion of CitiBike, our streets need to keep up with our neighborhood.
I am confident that DOT will deliver on what needs to be done to protect all user groups of our shared streets and sidewalks now and into the future.
Dee Rieber is president of the 75th Street Block Association and co-founder of the Coalition of Block and Community Leaders