By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Sometimes government drives all of us crazy. Even as someone who plays a role in government, and often finds himself in court suing the government, I find myself scratching my head.
Late in 2017, our community was told, as part of the planned L Train shutdown, that 14h Street was going to become a busway for the two years of the shutdown, with no cars or trucks allowed, so that 50,000 L Train riders within Manhattan could take buses to go across town (say, from Eighth Avenue to Union Square). Because this plan would push car and truck traffic onto side streets, community leaders, led by various Block Associations, began to push back. We went to court and lobbied elected officials and Community Boards. But things got worse. The Department of Transportation (DOT) installed bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets, narrowing the very streets that were going to be flooded with cars and trucks. Frankly, it felt like people were in charge who didn’t care about us locals, and who were determined to install a Busway and bike lanes as part of a grand scheme to redesign New York City.
The Chief Schemer was Polly Trottenberg, DOT Commissioner, who has gained a reputation around the City as someone who cares nothing about local community input, not even from Community Boards.
But then Governor Cuomo announced that the L Train shutdown was unnecessary. Village activists rejoiced. There was no need for the Busway or the barely used crosstown bike lanes—now largely used for truck parking, not biking. The MTA announced several times that the Busway was no longer in their plans. The 14th Street Coalition began to call for dismantling of the preliminary work. But Trottenberg seems to have her own ideas. DOT controls the streets around the City. The oddly painted lanes on 14th Street remain. Bus stops have been moved. University Place was reversed between 14th and 13th Streets. The bicycling advocates, with whom Trottenberg is aligned, upped the call for the Busway. And lo and behold, State Senator Brad Hoylman stood at Third Avenue and 14th Street in early February demanding the Busway (a position he now disavows).
MTA reps keep coming to Community Board meetings to talk about 14th Street bus service (which is not a problem), but DOT and Trottenberg refuse to speak to community leaders. The community seems to not be involved in determining its own destiny. But the 14th Street Coalition lawsuit remains in place, with a session scheduled for March 14; at least in court, someone has to answer.
I wrote last month about how the legendary Jane Jacobs opined that local planning, not solutions imposed by City Hall, helped protect communities and improve them. That message needs to be repeated time and time again. Perhaps our new Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, will help.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.