By Arthur Z. Schwartz
I reported last month that the 14th Street Coalition, a group of 15 Block Associations, condo associations and co-ops, had won a major victory in their fight to keep the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) from shutting down 14th Street to vehicle traffic, other than buses, as part of the efforts to mitigate the L Train shutdown planned for April 2019. The shutdown was part of a larger plan submitted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to the Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) in its goal to get $800 million in Federal funds to rebuild the Canarsie Tunnel, which runs between Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and 14th Street. The victory was a temporary freeze on the Federal funds and a requirement by the FTA that the MTA and DOT do an Environmental Assessment (EA). That assessment could lead to the FTA requiring an Environmental Impact Study, which would set the project back for a long period of time.
The EA process had two benefits. It forced DOT and MTA to put all of its cards on the table, all of the data and studies it supposedly did regarding their plans. And it was supposed to make them discuss why various alternative plans were being rejected.
The second benefit was that the public could respond, both at a hearing which was held on August 6, 2018, and in written critiques due by late August.
Scores of local residents showed up to oppose DOT’s plan to a) shut down 14th Street and create a Busway, with widened sidewalks on both the south side and north side, b) to run 70-80 diesel buses an hour from Williamsburg, over the Williamsburg Bridge, across Delancy Street, and up 1st Avenue to 1st Avenue and 14th Street, and c) to eliminate a lane of parking all the way across 12th and 13th Street, and replace that with a 13 foot wide bike lane and barrier (which will only leave eight feet for cars to proceed down each street).
The biggest problem that people have is how much traffic the DOT’s plan will create. The Lower East Side already has bad traffic, caused by all the cars and trucks which come over the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges and head to locations both uptown and downtown. Add 70 buses an hour and we will have daily gridlock, with bus fumes and car exhaust. There is no reason to believe that people from Brooklyn will board all these buses and get involved in a traffic mess every morning, but DOT insists that they know better.
People who live between 11th Street and 20th Street are concerned about endless traffic, horns, fumes and vibrations, as cars and trucks which can’t go across 14th Street try to figure out other ways across town. And then all of this will be made worse on 12th and 13th Street by the addition of a 13 foot wide bike lane, which will leave so little room for cars, that every time a car stops, even just to park, traffic will back up behind it.
Local activists, for months have been urging DOT to not widen the 14th Street sidewalks, which would add a lane for traffic in each direction, and allow traffic to proceed like it does on 23rd Street.
A cornerstone of the DOT’s argument was that it had had some outfit do a “modeling study” of the various alternatives and that that their Busway would, so they say, result in the fastest bus trips across 14th Street, and would not decrease traffic speed on 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th Streets. Seemed counter-intuitive, and it also relied on some notion that trucks would not come across residential streets, but that is what the DOT’s charts said.
But during the process of looking at the DOT’s incomprehensible traffic data “modeling” by a contractor, turned out there was a chart, perhaps accidentally stuck in the middle of the data which studied the very proposal being made by the community: have SBS bus service on 14th Street just like on 23rd Street. And the chart said that the fastest way to move buses on 14th Street, AND traffic on the side streets, was the proposal being made by the 14th Street Coalition. DOT hid this study from the Federal officials and from the public, even though it shows that the problems with 14th Street (other than the absurd bike lanes) are easily resolvable.
Watch your newspapers folks. The Coalition will be back in Court, and maybe in front of a City Council Oversight Committee asking why this study was hidden, and why DOT Commissioner Trottenberg is so gung-ho about wreaking havoc on Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and Counsel to the 14th Street Coalition.