The last month we saw lots of conflicting information released about the plans developed by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), to address the impact of the April 2019 shutdown of the L Train for a (“planned”) 15-month repair of the Canarsie Tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The developments have flowed, in part, from the lawsuit filed by the 14th Street Coalition and 12 block associations, condos and co-ops. They have also flowed, in part, from the arrogance of the NYC DOT, and its refusal to listen to the people on the Manhattan side who will be most impacted.
On April 2nd, when the lawsuit was filed, all the “mitigation” plans, announced by the MTA and the DOT, for the April 2019 shutdown target were “final”: Shut down 14th Street to all but bus traffic during “peak hours.” Running a continuous stream of SBS busses across 14th Street, with off-board fare collection. Widening 14th Street sidewalks for the “hordes” of people walking across 14th Street, taking away one lane of traffic in each direction. Creating a two-way bike lane on 13th Street. Closing Union Square West below 17th Street and University Place above 13th Street. Running 70 busses an hour from Williamsburg, over the Williamsburg Bridge, and north on Lafayette Street. Adding a new entrance and an elevator to the L Train at 1st Avenue and prettying up the other L Train stops. The Federal Government, through the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA), was contributing nearly $800 million to the project and had cleared the project under the Federal Environmental law, the National Environmental Procedure Act (NEPA) in 2016, finding that the tunnel work was simply work repairing an existing rail line with no impact elsewhere.
Then the lawsuit was filed. Little more than three weeks later, the FTA announced that it was withdrawing its approval and requiring new environmental studies and reports by the MTA/DOT about the “mitigation plan” which had been announced in December 2016, now called the “Alternative Service Plan.” Federal Funds were frozen (a fact which the press has ignored), and the MTA/DOT was forced to commence what was called an Environmental Assessment to discuss the impact of the Plan on the Lower East Side and the 14th Street corridor.
The MTA rushed through a study, called an Environmental Assessment, which was released on the MTA website on July 20th. In its initial description of the impact of the Canarsie Tunnel shutdown, MTA/DOT had devoted one paragraph to what would happen on the Lower East side and the 14th Street area: nothing. Now, in 200 pages, plus 9 appendices, the MTA /DOT concludes that by closing 14th Street to traffic, from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., except for drop-offs and pick-ups—for one block entry only—of 14th Street residents, and deliveries to 14th Street merchants- there will be “no impact” on traffic, no appreciable increase in air pollution, vibration (like that which recently caused a steam pipe to rupture on 20th Street), noise, or traffic on the side streets! The study relied on 2012 traffic data (prior to the upsurge of for hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft and on “enforcement” of traffic laws which barred trucks from coming down 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th Street. It did make one change. Now there will be a projected one-way bike lane on 12th Street (eastbound) and a one-way bike lane on 13th Street, with one side of parking eliminated from 1st Avenue to 8th Avenue.
This report is subject to a public hearing, and one will be held at the MTA’s headquarters at 2 Broadway on August 6 from 5-8 p.m. The 14th Street Coalition, with the aid of experts hired by various co-ops and condos, is pouring over the study and its flawed data, to begin to poke holes in the logic, which has a fundamentally false premise: that the options are between the MTA/DOT Plan and doing nothing (which they call the “no action alternative.”) The Coalition has alternative proposals, which, to date, have been ignored by the MTA and DOT, which, among other proposals, challenge the need to widen the 14th Street sidewalks and take away two potential traffic lanes, the need to eliminate all vehicle traffic on 14th Street, and the creation of bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street.
Confident that they have cleared all the hurdles created by the Coalition lawsuit, in late July, the DOT announced that it will shut down 14th Street on January 6th, three months before the L Trains stop running. It will run the enhanced bus service, and widen the sidewalks, even though the L Train will be running. The announcement showed not a hint of concern about Federal Funding being restored, for the concerns publicly stated by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for the objections raised by Community Boards 2, 3, 4 and 5, and for what promises to be a second round of litigation challenging the Environmental Assessment’s methodology and statistics. The arrogance, which has permeated the DOT’s approach to the affected community, continues unabated.
JOIN THE FIGHT! HELP STOP WALL TO WALL TRAFFIC, NOISE AND POLLUTION ON VILLAGE AND CHELSEA SIDE STREETS. ATTEND THE AUGUST 6, 5-8 PM HEARING AT 2 BROADWAY and STAY IN TOUCH WITH THE 14th STREET COALITION ONLINE.
—Arthur Z. Schwartz
Arthur Z. Schwartz is counsel to the 14th Street Coalition in its lawsuit in Federal Court