By Arthur Z. Schwartz
It is rare to see our community so united. And when it is united in opposition to a government project, you know something is wrong.
Over the last month, as a West 12th Street resident, and as Democratic District Leader, I have attended a series of meetings held by over a dozen block associations and community groups alarmed by the City’s “tentative plan” for the “temporary reconfiguration” of 14th Street and 13th Street as part of the L Train Shutdown.
As Brian J. Pape discusses in this issue, this plan will see 14th Street restricted to Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) buses and delivery vehicles for at least a two-year period, and a sidewalk expansion into one lane on the north and south side of the street. On 13th Street, they want to build a two-way “protected” bike lane on the south side of the street, from 1st Avenue to 8th Avenue.
It doesn’t take a sophisticated traffic study to know that the result will be horrific congestion. On 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th Avenues, cars which had planned to turn on 14th Street will either turn on 17th, 16th, 15th, 13th, or 12th Streets to finish their ride across town. 12th and 13th Streets, which go all the way across, will get hit the worst. (Traffic on 13th Street is already horrific, while on 12th Street it is just slightly better).
Although the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the MTA have held a number of public sessions where they make small group presentations, and get small group reactions, they really haven’t treated the process as one where the views of the public matter. From the beginning, bicycle advocates have held sway, calling for a 14th Street ‘PeopleWay,’ and have condemned us locals as “selfish.” “So what if your blocks get filled with backed-up cars spewing pollution most of the day?”
The DOT (the main villain here) has proceeded on vague statistics involving the number of people who now take the L Train between 8th Avenue and 1st Avenue (four stops, about a one-mile stretch), and is determined to PERMANENTLY (not temporarily) cause turmoil in our neighborhood.
As WestView readers know, I had a heart attack a little over a year ago. One reason I am alive is that the ambulance from Northwell Health was able to get across town to Beth Israel quickly. This fight is not just about auto exhaust pouring into people’s windows and horns blasting 24 hours per day. Lives are at stake. And if Beth Israel succeeds in closing all but minor surgery sections, cross-town traffic will become even more of a life and death issue. (This is a fight I am litigating on another front. See page 8 of this issue.)
So now I have entered the fray as a lawyer. The first shot was fired on February 14th (Valentine’s Day) in a letter to Polly Trottenberg, the DOT Commissioner. The letter, which I excerpt below, has been edited by WestView:
Dear Commissioner Trottenberg:
I write in part as the Democratic District Leader for most of the geographic area being affected by the plan, or tentative plan, being proposed by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) in connection with the temporary shutdown of the L Train by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
I also write as a resident and homeowner on West 12th Street, and as an attorney for a growing coalition of block associations and community groups who stand united in opposition to the plan posted online by the DOT in mid-December. These include the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, the West 13th Street 100 Block Association, the 100 West 16th Street Block Association, the West 13th Street Alliance, the West 12th Street Block Association, the 100 West 17th/18th Street Block Association, the 15th Street Block Association, the Lower Chelsea Alliance (15th and 16th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues), and the Upper West 13th Street Block Association.
The plan, as posted, is not a temporary plan. It institutes permanent infrastructure changes to address a temporary problem. As such, it is a plan clearly subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). This is clearly a SEQRA Type 1 Project. (See 6 NYCRR 614.4(b)(9) and (10)). This project involves physical alteration of 2.5 acres which are contiguous to a historic district and publicly owned parkland. Such a public project requires either a Negative Declaration (which would be an absurd finding) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Why do we need an EIS process here? For the same reason that our community is wholly united in opposition to the changes being proposed for 14th and 15th Streets. Your studies have not been transparent, public input has not been seriously considered or discussed, there is no public vetting of alternative means of “dealing with the problems” caused by the L Train Shutdown, and there seems to be a lack of concern about the impact on our community.
And it is impact that we all care about: Closing 14th Street to vehicular traffic will cause horrific traffic jams on 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, and 17th Streets, and even 18th Street, as well as on north-south avenues including 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd Avenues, and Broadway, Park Avenue, and University Place. The traffic will bring with it air pollution, noise pollution, and vibrations that will threaten the integrity of historic structures. The streets will be harder to cross and bike riding will be impossible (except on the DOT’s implausible two-way bike lane on already-overcrowded 13th Street). Perhaps most importantly, the movement of ambulance and fire vehicles will be impeded.
You must stop, pause, and do what is right and what is required by law. This is a plan being foisted on a community wholly without genuine input, supported by political forces which have no interest in and no base in the affected community.
I will be sending a more formal letter, with more clients, if we do not hear from you by February 28, 2018. We will file within 30 days after that.
Arthur Z. Schwartz
As we go to press, I have not gotten a response.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village. He hosts a weekly radio show called “Advocating for Justice” every Monday, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5FM. His show, including back recordings, are available at wbai.org.