By Arthur Schwartz
Polly Trottenberg, New York City’s most arrogant Department of Transportation Commissioner since Robert Moses, stood on 14th Street on the morning of October 4th and declared the Busway a total success. The Busway, which has turned 14th Street into an urban oddity, sees buses come through once every 10 minutes during rush hour and once every 15 minutes after rush hour, and is otherwise free of vehicles, except for a truck here and there and the occasional ambulance.
But on many of the streets parallel to 14th Street to the north and south (but especially to the north), and on Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Avenues, traffic is worse than ever. Twelfth Street, between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue and west of Fifth Avenue, is clogged much of the day, often with trucks looking to turn north on Sixth Avenue or onto Third Avenue. Fifteenth, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Streets, which already had bad traffic, are clogged much of the day, with traffic backed up onto the Avenues. The only reason there is some movement is the array of 40 (yes, 40!) Traffic Agents working 6am to 10pm directing traffic.
Yes, buses are moving faster, partly due to the lack of cars, partly due to the turn restrictions, partly due to off-board ticketing, and partly due to the reduction of bus stops on the M14 and M14B lines. And Commissioner Polly is going to tout studies—by not-independent contractors—saying that overall, traffic numbers on the side streets aren’t “so bad.” It is unlikely that she will talk about the diminished bus speeds on Seventh, Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Avenues, or about what will happen when the City stops spending $50,000 per week on extra Traffic Agents.
To those of us who fought and continue to fight the arrogant display of force utilized by Trottenberg, who could have achieved similar results with less pain, the issue has never been bus speeds. Yes we want faster buses, but we also want our streets to cease being major crosstown thoroughfares. We have always wanted reasoned, careful study, with neighborhood input—real input, not sugar-coated input. The 18 Block Associations I represent, which will be arguing an appeal in January, think that is the way a city ought to run. And next time we elect people to office, we should make sure that it is.
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and counsel to Petitioners in Council of Chelsea Block Associations v. Trottenberg.