Flash: After nearly a year of refusing to have face to face negotiations with the 14th Street Coalition, which has led the Greenwich Village Community response to plans to shut 14th Street down to all but buses during the now cancelled L Train shutdown, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) leadership has agreed to meet with the Coalition.
I have railed for the past year about the utter lack of disregard that the current DOT Commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, has for our community—and for the residents of most communities. She has a vision, much like Robert Moses, of transforming NYC; he was the champion of cars, hers emphasizes bicycle riding as the preferred means of transportation.
I am not a fan of vehicular traffic, even though I own a car. I am a fan of bicycles; come by my house on West 12th Street and you will see a workhorse Yuba chained to a pole out front 12 months per year. Citibike was and is brilliant. But we have one thing that few other cities in the world have—an extensive subway system whose hundreds of miles of tentacles reach most communities, and a complimentary bus system, with routes designed to link various subway lines or accommodate those who prefer not to venture underground. And we also have something else: a city full of vibrant community activists who learned from the Jane Jacobs’ fight against Robert Moses that it is possible for community residents to do a better job than City Hall at shaping and improving communities.
BIKE LANES SEEM TO BE FOR TRUCK PARKING, NOT BIKES: photos showing the bike lane over the last four months during morning hours. Photos by Arthur Schwartz.
Trottenberg, following up on work done by her Bloomberg-era predecessor, Janet Sadik-Khan, has gone gung-ho for bike lanes, eliminating traffic lanes everywhere, while at the same time doing nothing about the growth of the for-hire vehicle industry, which has added 100,000 cars to the Manhattan street grid. At the same time our subways have fallen into disrepair. The end result? Buses that move (according to the most recent 2018 report) at an average speed of 4 miles per hour (about the speed of walking) because of fewer vehicular lanes and more traffic, and more and more people turning to Uber, Lyft etc., to get places.
Trottenberg’s ultimate folly (Polly’s Folly) was her plan, spawned by the fanatical pro-bike group Transportation Alternatives (who share her disdain for community leaders and input), to shut down 14th Street to nothing but buses during the period the L Train was shut down. This plan, combined with new 11-foot wide bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street, was destined to make all side streets, from 20th, down to 11th Street, traffic nightmares. Though the changes were labeled “temporary” Polly intended them to be permanent. How do we know? Because she had all the changes in street markings and signs put in place by last October, along with the bike lanes, and her first impulse after the Governor declared the L-Train shutdown plan off was to talk about implementing her plan anyway.
But the grassroots community leadership had never ceased its fight-back, in court and through pressure on elected officials. And when our City Council Member, Corey Johnson (who also happens to be City Council Speaker), told Polly that the DOT had to go back and revisit everything with the community, and specifically called the Busway a bad idea that would increase traffic on side streets (including his street, West 15th Street), there was a breath of fresh air. Other political leaders (names withheld to prevent embarrassment) who had stood up with Transportation Alternatives days before to extoll the Busway, retracted their support. Trottenberg then replied: “But they are suing me!” as though negotiations to settle litigation was unheard of. But to keep things moving the 14th Street Coalition withdrew its lawsuit, but “without prejudice.”
As WestView goes to press those meetings and other community consultations are underway. Seems clear that 14th Street will be saved from the Busway. We may get SBS bus service (double length buses, more distance between stops, and ticket purchases through street terminals) but the wavy 14th Street traffic lanes will be withdrawn, and our local street traffic nightmare averted.
What will happen with the cross-town bike lanes—which are little used—remains to be seen. As per my accompanying photo-essay, they have become truck parking areas, and on West 12th between 7th and 6th, Uber loading zones. Stay tuned for that fight.
Arthur Schwartz is the Village Democratic District Leader and Counsel to the 14th Street Block Association.