EDITORIAL: What would Jane do on 14th St. busway?

What would Jane do? Jane Jacobs, the preservationist and planning guru, speaking at Village Community School on a book tour in 2004. (Villager file photo)

The debate over the embattled 14th St. busway — and, to a lesser extent, the new bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts. — continues to rage on.

A quick look at the reader comments on thevillager.com over the past few months and weeks shows how extraordinarily passionate people are, on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, Village and Chelsea residents are fighting for their quality of life. On the other, transit advocates say they are battling for better bus service for commuters, which outweighs locals’ needs.

Many of the comments are very informative, which is great and is adding to the ongoing dialogue. However, other comments do clearly have an angry tone. We moderate inappropriate and offensive comments, such as one addressed to Arthur Schwartz — the attorney whose lawsuit is currently blocking the busway — telling him, in short, “Get out of the way, old man.” Obviously, that’s ageist — and also rather ignorant and disrespectful of the need for public process.

Some other posts by busway advocates tell longtime and native New Yorkers that they should “get out of town” and/or “go to Boca Raton” if they don’t endorse banning cars on 14th St. We do run those comments, even though they are admittedly pretty nasty.

Many commenters repeatedly bash local residents as “rich,” when, in fact, many of these folks simply have been living here for decades, in rent-regulated apartments. Yes, some have managed to do well for themselves, but that is not a crime, even in Bill de Blasio’s New York.

Meanwhile, irking the earnest transit advocates, Village and Chelsea residents never miss a chance to slam them as tin-eared “zealots” and “extremists.”

And, of course, Transportation Alternatives recently protested outside Schwartz’s W. 12th St. townhouse, demanding he “Drop the lawsuit!”

In short, this fight, at times, has gotten more over-the-top than the Bagel Boss guy versus Lenny Dykstra.

In addition, Schwartz and David Marcus, another outspoken busway opponent, have both claimed their position is in line with the spirit of Jane Jacobs — in that, they say, Jacobs supported the community’s position. Transit advocates are outraged over the audacity of this claim; they argue Jacobs was a cycling advocate and would have endorsed improving mass transit for New Yorkers. The subext, of course, is that the busway backers want to “break car culture” by making it more difficult for drivers to get around. As Council Speaker Corey Johnson told us shortly after winning the speakership, the only way to control traffic in Manhattan is to reduce the number of cars. Umm…actually, a good start would have been not letting the number of for-hire vehicles explode!

At any rate, we admit we have not scoured Jacobs’s entire oeuvre to see where she stood on cars and bikes. What we did do this week is call Doris Diether, who was one of Jacobs’s top lieutenants when they fought against Robert Moses’s misguided “slum clearance” and highway projects that would have destroyed the Village area. Diether, 90, who is on Community Board 2, is the city’s longest-serving community board member.

So, first question: Was Jane Jacobs, who lived in the Village, a cyclist? Yes, she rode bikes quite a bit, Diether said, even in those pre-bike lane days, adding, “She was spunky.” Diether, on the other, hand, preferred walking, not wanting to ride “in New York City traffic.” But the veteran activist doesn’t recall Jacobs making strong statements on either bikes or cars. She also doesn’t remember Jacobs saying anything about generational conflicts — such as we seem to be seeing on the busway issue.

Asked if Jacobs believed in compromise, Diether said, no, not really.

“I couldn’t say which way she would have gone,” Diether said, of the busway issue. “Oh, she listened to everybody. She wasn’t a compromiser. She wasn’t somebody to cater to somebody just because they came up with an idea. She would have her own ideas.”

Civil-rights attorney Norman Siegel told us last week that TransAlt certainly had the right to protest outside Schwartz’s home. In our view, protesting outside a person’s residence, at least in a case like this, was a bit much. Let the process play out in court, we say. After all, Schwartz and the residents are not going to back down.

So, the debate will rage on, at least for a while longer, in articles, op-eds and online reader comments. It’s not clear if anyone’s mind is being changed, but that’s not always the point. Everyone should continue to air their views, and eventually we will come to a solution. But, please, ad hominem attacks will get us nowhere. And we have more than enough of that on social media — and coming from the White House — these days.

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