By Gary Tomei
The planning process was secretive.
After months upon months of sham public meetings in which community opinion was solicited, including constant discussions with officials from the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), local public officials, and various “transportation experts,” we in the Village were handed an unanticipated bombshell.
Disregarding the opinions of the entire local community, including our elected representatives, Polly Trottenberg, the DOT Commissioner, arbitrarily foisted a seriously flawed traffic plan upon the residents of our area. The plan bans vehicle traffic on 14th Street during the approximately year and a half required to repair the L Line due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. It diverts that traffic unto West 13th Street—the narrow roadway south of 14th Street. You can bet your last dollar that it will take more than the estimated time to make those repairs, and that the scoundrels that thought up this plan will try to permanently ban vehicle traffic on 14th Street despite the traffic nightmare that will result on neighboring streets.
Be that as it may, the most egregious aspect of the entire situation is that this plan was NEVER SHOWN TO ANYONE IN THE COMMUNITY BEFORE IT WAS REVEALED in mid-December, during the holiday season. Was the timing of the announcement planned to catch the community off guard?
Local elected officials were not consulted.
The details of this plan were formulated behind closed doors at the DOT. It was conceived in such secrecy that our local officials—City Councilman Corey Johnson, State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and State Senator Brad Hoylman—were stunned when they learned of its details. Each of them had worked closely with the DOT staff and had been assured that vehicular traffic WOULD NOT BE BANNED ON 14th Street. Thus, it would seem that the DOT not only operates clandestinely but that, in true Trumpian manner, it is full of liars.
The DOT is using the closing of the L Line as an excuse to change the traffic pattern on 14th Street.
If the DOT’s scheme is meant to assist commuters in their travels during the L Line closure, it certainly makes no sense. Commuters from the outer boroughs presently do not drive unto 14th Street. There is no bridge that would directly bring them there. Those currently using mass transportation use the L Line primarily to connect to other subway lines. They do not have to actually travel on the surface of 14th Street itself. Furthermore, during the time the L is not operating, commuters will be using alternate subways and buses, so again, they will not be using the surface of 14th Street.
When the L is closed for repairs, those driving into Manhattan will take the Williamsburg, Manhattan, or Brooklyn Bridges or the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and enter Manhattan much further south than 14th Street. Or, they will take the Midtown Tunnel or the 59th Street Bridge, and enter much further north. Thus, 14th Street is not likely to see any great increase in vehicular traffic, certainly, not one which would warrant such a drastic change in traffic pattern. In fact, the only people likely to travel on 14th Street are those who live in the area or work nearby.
The present scheme diverts all cars on 14th Street to the narrow 13th Street to the south. That street will have only one lane for moving traffic, a parking lane, and two bicycle lanes, one in each direction. If for any reason, a car or truck stops in that one narrow lane for moving traffic, there would be a disastrous traffic jam. The residents, schools, and businesses there will surely suffer noise and air pollution from backed-up cars and trucks, including sanitation and delivery trucks.
This plan is particularly problematic for the City and Country School on West 13th Street. The two-way bike lanes directly in front of the school will clearly be a safety hazard for the students. Putting the lanes there, where children from age two to 13 go to school, is ripe for disaster, particularly, since bike riders are notorious for not adhering to traffic laws and rules.
Additionally, those lanes would take up all of the area outside of the school that is currently used for dropping off and picking up children. Anyone who drives or takes a taxi would not have a place to safely stop to let out children. If they stopped on the other side of the street, they would have to cross a lane of car traffic and two bike lanes with small children. If this were to happen, it’s not a matter of if children will get hurt, only when.
The five restaurants and other businesses on the block will also suffer because deliveries will be almost impossible, and it will surely be difficult for their clientele to reach them.
What has also been overlooked entirely in this discussion is the fact that trucks are presently banned on West 13th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues unless making a local delivery. The street is a landmarked block, with many brownstones which would have their structural integrity compromised by the rumbling and reverberations made by such over-sized vehicles.
All of these problems will unfold for the local community, but banning cars on 14th Street will not mitigate any of the problems which will be .faced by those coming into Manhattan, whether by mass transportation or by car.