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D.O.T. tries again, fails to unleash 14th St. car-ban plan

Buses along 14th Street in Manhattan (Photo by Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech)

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It’s an extended holiday weekend for many, but the city’s Department of Transportation kept pushing in court on Friday morning to lift a judge’s order blocking the start of a novel no-cars “busway” on 14th St.

But D.O.T.’s efforts fell flat, as an Appellate Division judge refused to lift the temporary restraining order, or T.R.O., issued last Friday by state Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower. Rakower had ordered the parties to submit additional paperwork this month, and then return to court on Aug. 6.

Arthur Schwartz, the Village activist attorney representing Village and Chelsea block associations and co-op residents in a lawsuit against the 14th St. scheme, said D.O.T. basically tried to pull an end-around.

M14 crosstown buses are now Select Bus Service as of July 1. But the city’s proposed sweeping changes for 14th St. have been blocked by the courts. (File photo)

“Rather than wait until the Aug. 6 return date in front of Judge Rakower, D.O.T. went into court…and asked to vacate the T.R.O. barring D.O.T. from proceeding with its 14th St. plan,” he said.

On Friday, Judge Gishe, of the Appellate Division, “wouldn’t take argument” after having carefully read the paperwork submitted by both sides, Schwartz said.

“She said that granting the relief D.O.T. requested opened up the possibility of a ping-pong effect at great expense to the city and confusion to the public — meaning T.R.O. on, T.R.O. off… .

“She had read the papers carefully and noted that D.O.T. had identified 14th St. as a street needing Select Bus Service way back in 2011, so that their assertions this week of an emergency need to move forward seemed out of place.”

Schwartz said the city attorney representing D.O.T. has tried to argue that the car-ban plan must be in effect to allow S.B.S. to operate at top speed. But Schwartz noted that, for example, 23rd St. has S.B.S. but doesn’t ban cars from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, as the first-of-its-kind “Transit/Truck Priority” lanes plan for 14th St. would do.

The anti-cars plan has never been tried before anywhere else in the city, according to agency officials.

The Village attorney said he is also skeptical that D.O.T. would submit data and studies to justify its 14th St. plan, even though that is what Rakower specifically asked to be provided with by July 12.

Village and Chelsea opponents fear that banishing cars from 14th St., among other things, would merely push them onto their narrow side streets, causing congestion and also endangering their historic buildings due to the vehicles’ vibrations.

S.B.S. on the M14 route did start on Mon., July 1 — despite the court-ordered T.R.O. currently blocking the city from implementing its plan to prioritize 14th St. for buses and through trucks while banning cars. The community lawsuit did not seek to block S.B.S. from starting.

David Marcus is an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit against the 14th St. plan, as well as a founding member and former steering committee member of the 14th St. Coalition.

“Once again,” Marcus said on Friday, “the court has sided with the Downtown community in barring D.O.T. from implementing its ill-advised and unjustifiable traffic plan until such time as it proves its need versus the impact it would have on the community.

“It is not lost upon us that the D.O.T. plan is Polly Trottenberg’s disingenuous attempt to substitute new reasons to justify her attempts to reconfigure 14th St., now that the excuse of the L-train shutdown is no longer available to her,” he added, referring to the D.O.T. commissioner.

“We are grateful to the courts and to attorney Arthur Schwartz,” Marcus continued, “for helping us preserve the sanctity of our communities and neighborhoods, by considering the needs of tens of thousands of Downtown residents and businesses that would be harmed 24/7 by the plan, and not blindly accepting the claims of improved service to questionable numbers of transient commuters and the unsubstantiated claims of marginally improved bus schedules.”

Schwartz noted that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been absent in court on the issue, which would seem to indicate D.O.T. really being the lead agency that is spearheading the 14th St. scheme.

In a statement after the T.R.O. was first issued on Fri., June 28, an M.T.A. spokesperson issued a statement, saying, “This ruling will undoubtedly hinder our goal of speeding up buses on one of the busiest and most congested arteries, and make traveling around the city harder for our customers. Transit prioritization, such as the city’s Transit and Truck Priority busway, would help speed up Select Bus Service.”

The statement added that, in the meantime, with the launch of the M14 S.B.S. on July 1, the M.T.A. would be “working with D.O.T. and N.Y.P.D. to enforce existing rules to ensure our buses won’t be blocked by vehicles double-parking and blocking bus stops.”

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