By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Hundreds of residents from 12th to 15th Streets showed up at a “workshop” held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) at Our Lady of Guadelupe Church on February 23rd. Most had been called to action by their block associations, horrified about a proposal from Transportation Alternatives (a pro-bike, anti-car group) to close 14th Street to private vehicular traffic while L Train service is suspended to repair the East River Tunnel (a two-to-three-year project). Alternatively, there have been proposals to make 14th Street look like 23rd Street, with one lane of traffic in each direction and a dedicated cross-town bus lane.
However, the workshop did not allow for a presentation to the hundreds in attendance, or for statements by residents. Instead, people were asked to sit around a table, with a map, and discuss traffic and subway patterns with a “facilitator.” It was almost as if the process was being used to keep the hundreds present from forcefully expressing their opposition to these plans.
The L Train has four stops on 14th Street—8th Avenue, 6th Avenue, Union Square, and 1st Avenue. People who live in Manhattan use it to get to one of the uptown/downtown lines which cross at 8th Avenue, 6th Avenue, and Union Square. The MTA, using some sort of voodoo study based on MetroCard use, says that 50,000 riders use the L Train every day for that purpose. (I call it voodoo because when someone enters at 8th, 6th, or Union Square, there is no way to tell if that person is using the L or some other line.) But all we are talking about here is finding an alternative way to move people from 1st Avenue to the west (nine blocks, at most) or from 8th Avenue to Union Square (four blocks, at most). The question is: Would the disruption caused by the two proposals be worth it?
Everyone who lives within two blocks of 14th Street says “NO!” We don’t need more traffic on our streets, which are often clogged as it is. And, I can tell you, as someone who recently had a heart attack, and was moved from the Healthplex on 12th Street to Beth Israel, and whose ambulance going from west to east had to go down to 10th Street because of traffic on 12th Street (at 8:45am on a Saturday), not one more car is tolerable. Here is an alternative: Bar all parking on 14th Street during the rush hour and create a bus lane in the parking lane, with FREE shuttle buses going from 1st Avenue to 8th Avenue. There would be no fares, no delays for people finding their MetroCard, and no traffic spillover onto residential blocks.
Arthur Z. Schwartz lives on West 12th Street and is the Male Village Democratic District Leader.