By Arthur Z. Schwartz
The Mitigation Plan spawned by the upcoming April 2019 shutdown of the L Train, is back in court. As Westview went to press, the 14th Street Coalition, joined by a dozen block associations and condominium corporations, with new support from residents of East 14th Street and the Delancey Street area, filed an Order to Show cause to a) stop the 24 hours per day “preparatory” construction work going on between Avenues A and B, with no limits on noise or dust; b) stop the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) from proceeding with its plans for protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street (work which could begin during the first week of August) and to widen the 14th Street sidewalks into one lane of traffic on both the north and south sides of 14th Street, and route non-bus traffic across residential blocks like 13th and 12th Street, and c) from running 70 diesel buses an hours from Brooklyn to 14th Street, via the Williamsburg Bridge, Delancey Street, Allen Street/1st Avenue.
In Brooklyn, residents and businesses have already resigned themselves to what has been labeled the L-Pocalypse, a shutdown which will make it super hard for Brooklyn residents to get to work in Manhattan, and which will destroy bars and restaurants in communities like Williamsburg. For most of the last year, residents of Lower Manhattan have been organizing to address our own version of the L-Pocalypse. NYC Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, whose penchant for bike lanes and other narrowing of streets has led to an actual decrease in the speed of cars and buses in Manhattan, has decided that she wants 14th Street closed to cars, a plan she hatched with the bike-riding Advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. And she and the NYC Transit Authority has decided that massive crowds are going to swarm 14th Street 17 hours per day, demanding a continuous stream of diesel buses busy running on 14th Street. They have also decided that tens of thousands of Brooklynites are going to take busses from Williamsburg Brooklyn to Manhattan, to get to work, rather than take the G Train north to Long Island City or South to downtown Brooklyn.
The hocus-pocus was apparent earlier this year when the Coalition filed suit in Federal Court to stop the payment of Federal money towards the project and succeeded in getting the Federal Transportation Department to require, for the first time, an environmental assessment of the MTA/DOT plan. That assessment was done, and 309 residents attended a public hearing, or submitted testimony, every single one involved a negative assessment of the proposal. But the Feds bought the MTA/DOT line that there were only two options: repair the tunnel and “do nothing.”
Talented residents, from the Village and the Lower East Side have worked hard to develop responsible alternatives to the DOT/MTA’s plans, which promise not to move commuters for 17 hours a day, and cause traffic bottlenecks, pollution, noise and vibrations in our historic community. Their proposals have been met with hostility, and with no desire for compromise. That is why the residents are back in Court.
Not doing anything will wind up with a situation which now faces residents of far east 14th Street: 24 hour per day construction; saws, jackhammers, clouds of dust, and not a noise or air pollution enforcement official in site. People on the East Side are already getting sick. West siders and Lower East Siders have joined them in Court, in a suit brought in part under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and in part just alleging that the threatened governmental action is arbitrary and capricious.
One of the best examples are the bike lanes DOT wants to install on 12th and 13th Street, six months before the L-Train shutdown. Their plan, which would run the lanes on the north side, with a five-foot-wide barrier strip, would leave vehicles about 10 feet of width to proceed. Any vehicle that stops will cause a trafficjam. Oil deliveries will not be doable on the north side, nor will Access-a-Ride drop offs. And when a nine-foot-wide garbage truck or an eight-foot-wide speeding ambulance tries to go through a 10-foot-wide corridor (which is now 16 feet wide), watch out. Most scary of all is the fact that 12th Street is a main ambulance route from Northwell Health to Beth Israel Hospital, and an important route for the fire trucks stationed on West 10th Street.
This time, a judge, and not an unknown Federal bureaucrat, will determine whether DOT and MTA took a hard-enough look—required by SEQRA—at the Mitigation Plan. The community has a good case.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is counsel to the 14th Street Coalition and the lead attorney in the new lawsuit.