14th Street Closure: MTA Talks, DOT Balks

By Arthur Z. Schwartz

It was apparent to anyone attending the “Town Hall” meeting held at the New School on May 9 that the L Train shutdown, that we’re dealing with two very different approaches to the notion of public input. On the one hand, the MTA/NYC Transit Authority, and its new President, Andy Byford, seemed open to all suggestions and made it clear that their decision to do a total shutdown was premised on community input on the Brooklyn side of the train. Then there was Polly Trottenberg, Dept. of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner, who was wholly on defense and resisted all pleas for alternates to totally shutting 14th Street to traffic (although they now “might” (a) do a one-way westbound bike lane on 13th Street and a one-way eastbound bike lane on 12th Street, and (b) only shut down 14th Street to traffic during “peak” hours).

As most of our community knows, a broad community coalition, known as the 14th Street Coalition, has been mobilizing community opposition and has filed a lawsuit against DOT, MTA, and the Federal Transit Administration, which is funding everything.

The same scenario is playing out in the litigation. MTA/NYC Transit is talking, especially about one of the lawsuit claims about subway stations on 14th Street being inaccessible to people with disabilities. As counsel to the Coalition, I have agreed to keep those conversations confidential for now, so that those talks will be productive. I can report, at least, that the tone has been encouraging and that we will (not might) have something to report soon.

DOT, on the other hand, won’t negotiate. The Coalition has made a number of suggestions, like not taking away two lanes of 14th Street so that the sidewalk can be doubled in width. If they did that, one lane of traffic could proceed like on 23rd Street. In court, they have asserted that they come under an exemption applicable to the MTA, loosening the need for environmental assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. But they have been advised that the Feds may not let them proceed as they want without going through fairly extensive procedures required by Federal law. Nevertheless, other than controlled settings, the DOT refuses to engage the affected communities, not just along 14th Street but also in East Soho, which is facing a 70-bus-per-hour logjam coming off the Williamsburg Bridge. The anger is building.

Stay tuned, my neighbors. We have lots of fight left.

Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and counsel to the 14th Street Coalition.

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