By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Ever since discussion of the L Train Shutdown, scheduled for April 2019, began, people affected have felt run over by the Government, be it the MTA, which is in charge of the subway part, or the NYC Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the street configurations above-ground.
We in the Village and West Village, along with our neighbors in Chelsea, began to experience the disdain the Government felt for us, when DOT announced in December that it was creating a “People Way” on 14th Street, from end to end, with buses only (and delivery trucks) 24 hours a day. Added into that was a two-lane protected bike path on 13th Street, which would barely leave the width of a car. No one who lives between 11th Street and 20th Street had a different reaction: “are you kidding?” The traffic which would be diverted onto our already overcrowded streets would be horrific. Trucks and cars, idling, honking, spewing exhaust, especially on the few east to west streets we have, 12th Street, 13th Street and 20th Streets.
DOT set up public meetings, and their staff listened as we griped. The meetings, organized around pretty diagrams in open spaces, like Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, were even attended by DOT Commissioner Trottenberg and NY City Transit President Byford. They yessed all of us to death, and didn’t change a thing.
Turns out they did the same thing to groups advocating for the disabled, who were upset that elevators were not being installed as part of the renovation projects at 6th Avenue, Union Square and 3rd Avenue stops on the L, or at three of the six L Train stops in Brooklyn. Even with a $1 billion pricetag (all Federal money) the MTA, which is renovating every station, couldn’t figure out how to make them accessible.
They did the same to the 250,000 people in Brooklyn who ride the L Train to Manhattan to go to work. They were told that a total shut down was the only doable alternative. But the L Train runs in two tubes under the East River; it could be done one at a time. Or it could be done on weekends and midnights. Yes, it would take longer, but there would be far less dislocation.
And then there are the folks on the Lower East Side. Seems in the AM rush and PM rush, the MTA will be running 50 diesel buses per hour(!!) over the Manhattan Bridge, connecting to Union Square via Delancey Street and Lafayette Street, one continuous wall of buses spewing fumes, and making streets uncrossable. And when folks down near the Bridge, or Delancey Street complained, they were told “too bad.”
But the law, at least as I read it, doesn’t allow such arrogance. Neither the MTA nor the DOT did proper environmental assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or the NY State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Those assessments had to result in a finding of “environmental impact,” and once that occurred an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) was required. An EIS would require publicly accessible studies and data, public hearings, considerations of alternatives, and an outline of the environmental harm done.
But neither the MTA or the DOT did one. Astounding! So on April 2, 12 Block and Community Associations, four co-op boards, two disabled rights groups, and several representative individuals filed suit: 14th Street Coalition v. Metropolitan Transportation Association, in Manhattan Federal Court, with the intention of stopping the whole project in its “tracks” until proper environmental studies were done, and plans were made to make all subway stops accessible. Shutting down a $1 Billion project doesn’t happen every day. We will keep WestView readers apprised.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village, and President of Advocates for Justice, a public interest firm which is handling the L Train Shutdown Lawsuit.