By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Elevators coming to 14th Street and 6th Avenue
On June 18, the 14th Street Coalition and Disabled in Action announced a big win in their joint lawsuit versus the MTA, NYC Transit, and the NYC Department of Transportation: Within the next four years, four elevators will be installed on the corners of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue allowing people with disabilities and seniors to access the L Train, F Train, and PATH trains. The MTA has committed to an expenditure of $30 million for the L Train elevators and will include money for the F Train elevators in its 2020 budget proposal.
The lawsuit grew out of the planned MTA repair of the Canarsie Tunnel, which the L Train runs through between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Since the trains will not be running, the Transit Authority decided to renovate all five L Train stations in Manhattan. Up to now, only two of the five had elevators: Eighth Avenue and Union Square. The Authority had budgeted to put in a new entrance and elevators at the Avenue A/First Avenue Station. The lawsuit challenged the failure to upgrade the other stations as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the MTA’s General Counsel contacted Arthur Schwartz (the author of this article) seeking a settlement on this issue. The Sixth Avenue elevator agreement followed soon thereafter.
One important element of the settlement is that it does not preclude Disabled in Action (DIA) from pursuing a second class action seeking accessibility citywide. Edith Prentice, President of DIA, stated at the press conference: “A half-million New Yorkers have disabilities which interfere with their ability to use mass transit. This agreement is a small but important step in the direction of equal access. We salute our friends with the 14th Street Coalition for including this problem in their lawsuit and encourage them to continue the fight to address the rights of the disabled, including seniors, in DOT’s aboveground plans. Government, 35 years after the ADA’s adoption, still does too little to make mass transit available to all on an equal basis.”
The press conference was joined by City Council Member Carlina Rivera, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Julienne Bond, Co-Chair of the 14th Street Coalition, and Mike Schweinsburg, President of the 504 Democratic Club.
Lawsuit Brings Changes in 14th Street Shutdown Plan — Community Needs Still Not Met
In December 2017 the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) announced plans for how it would deal with changes in commuter patterns caused by the shutdown of the L Train between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Immediately, Village and Chelsea residents organized into the 14th Street Coalition.
The biggest problems the Coalition believed needed to be addressed were:
a. the plan to shut down 14th Street to all vehicles except buses, delivery trucks, and Access-A-Ride, from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.;
b. the plan to shut University Place north of 13th Street and Union Square West south of 17th Street;
c. the plan to run 70 buses per hour over the Williamsburg Bridge, across Delancey Street, and north on Allen and Lafayette Streets; and
d. the plan to put in a two-way bike path on 13th Street, eliminating parking on one side and leaving 11 feet for vehicle traffic.
The Coalition took two actions. First, it filed a lawsuit on April 1 seeking comprehensive environmental review under Federal and State law. Second, the Coalition critiqued the plans and developed consensus around alternatives. It also developed a critique of the numbers relied on in DOT’s model (how many additional bus riders will go across 14th Street, how many additional pedestrians, how many cars will be diverted to side streets, etc.).
As the lawsuit proceeds and the Coalition pushes, what was once a “final plan,” which DOT is only willing to present, but not discuss, has changed.
• On June 26, in preparation for a City Council hearing called by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, DOT announced some changes to their plan:
—no two-way bike lane on 13th Street; now one-way bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets, with no parking on the south side of 12th Street,
—allowing drop-off and pick-up on 14th Street, as long as the car traveled no more than one block; this includes Access-A-Ride,
—BUT, the 14th Street closure will run from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
• On June 27, 2018, DOT was grilled by Council Member Johnson about their numbers, the basis for their belief that 80 buses an hour were needed on 14th Street, and that the sidewalks needed widening. At that same hearing, the Coalition, with vigorous protest from DOT Commissioner Trottenberg, displayed other options for 14th Street, without widened sidewalks. The 20 extra feet will allow two lanes of vehicular non-bus traffic on the street.
• On June 28, 2018, the MTA and DOT released an Environmental Assessment, a 400-page document which the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) forced them to do after the lawsuit was filed. This marked the first time that the DOT’s plans were being assessed under any environmental laws. This “EA” will be the subject of a genuine (as opposed to sham) public hearing later in the summer.
The fight goes on, and it is clear that at least one local official, Council Speaker Johnson, is holding DOT’s feet to the fire from one side, while the current lawsuit, and potentially a second one, forces reassessment from the other side.
Where this will end is still unclear, but it is a fight which is far from over.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the lead attorney on the lawsuit titled 14th Street Coalition vs. MTA, and is a resident of West 12th Street.