Lawsuit threat vs. 14th St./ S.B.S. plan

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Hey! Hold that bus!

Here we go again. …

Village activist attorney Arthur Schwartz on Monday fired off a letter to the heads of the Department of Transportation and the New York City Transit Authority, putting them on notice that they cannot roll out their changes for the M14 bus — and the reconfiguring of 14th St. — without first doing a formal environmental impact study.

Polly Trottenberg, the D.O.T. commissioner, and Andy Byford, the Transit Authority president, hope to launch Select Bus Service on the M14A/D routes soon, plus transform 14th St. by June into a so-called Transit/Trucks Priority lanes pilot project.

Lower East Side seniors are up in arms that the S.B.S. scheme would eliminate 15, or one-third, of the current M14 stops in their community. Meanwhile, over on the other side of town, seniors living in Westbeth Artists Housing are furious that the plan would cut the Abingdon Square loop at the western end of the M14A route.

Representing Village and Chelsea block associations and co-op and condo boards — in an ad hoc group called the 14th St. Coalition — plus disability-rights activists, Schwartz sued the two agencies and others last year over their since-scrapped “busway” plan for 14th St., as well as the new bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts., plus the lack of handicap-accessible elevators at L-train stops.

This Monday, Schwartz warned the two agency honchos that if they don’t now sit down with him and resolve this latest situation by June, his clients want him back in court fighting the city’s plans.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, 10 days ago, announced a TTP pilot for 14th St. The plan — the first of its kind ever proposed in the city — would prioritize buses and trucks, while cars would only be allowed to travel one block along 14th St., before having to veer off at the first right turn.

Andy Byford, president of the New York City Transit Authority, right, and Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the city Department of Transportation, at a town hall forum last year on what was at the time planned to be a full L-train shutdown for 15 months. The tunnel repairs are instead now being done on weeknights and weekends, with some L service always being maintained. (Photo by Lincoln Anderson)

In his letter to Trottenberg and Byford, Schwartz noted that Community Board 3, in March, passed a resolution that “vigorously denounced” the S.B.S. plan. The attorney noted that C.B. 3 said cutting bus stops on the Lower East Side would cause “serious hardship” to local seniors who depend on it as their main east-west transit option, and also to connect them to neighborhoods to the north.

In addition, Board 3 conducted a study finding that 15.6 percent of the population in its district is over age 65, and that 23 percent of those individuals have disabilities — “far greater than the average population of persons in the rest of New York City,” the attorney noted.

“The plan, therefore, sharply impacts the elderly and persons with disabilities, who rely on bus transit on a route that is not served by a subway,” Schwartz wrote. “In the name of ‘speeding up buses,’ seniors and the disabled are being ignored. The same is true across 14th St., where for example, a [bus] stop in front of The Victoria, at 5 E. 14th St., has been eliminated despite the fact that building is a naturally occurring retirement community [NORC], with scores of seniors and others with limited mobility.”

In addition, Schwartz pointed out, S.B.S. routes, “as originally envisioned, were designed to speed buses along long routes in commercial corridors. The M14A and D serve residential communities.”

An M14A bus laying over on Hudson St. at Abingdon Square — outside the aptly named Bus Stop Cafe. The Transit Authority intends to cut this western loop from the route, angering senior residents at nearby Westbeth, the affordable artists housing complex. (Photo by Lincoln Anderson)

Furthermore, Schwartz stated in his letter, when a no-cars “busway” was originally slated for 14th St. as part of the L-train full shutdown mitigation plan, “it was pitched and defended as a ‘temporary’ means to deal with 84,000 daily L-train riders who were going to be flooding the 14th St. buses and sidewalks. But that problem no longer needs to be addressed… .

“This [current] plan, including the bike lanes, institutes permanent infrastructure changes,” he stressed. “As such, it is…clearly subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Such a project requires either a Negative Declaration (which would be absurd) or an Environmental Impact Statement (E.I.S.).”

The Village attorney further put Trottenberg and Byford on notice, “[T]he Village and Chelsea communities are wholly united in opposition to the changes being proposed for 14th St. Your studies are nonexistent, public input and objection has not been seriously considered, and there seems to be a lack of concern about the impact on the affected communities.”

Last April, attorney Arthur Schwartz, left, filed a federal lawsuit against the L subway shutdown plan on behalf of the 14th St. Coalition and disabled advocates. He was joined at that time by Edith Prentiss, of Disabled in Action, center, and Judy Pesin, the coalition’s co-chairperson. Schwartz is now warning he may sue once again over the city’s latest plans for 14th St. and S.B.S. service. (Photo by Lincoln Anderson)

The attorney warned the agency leaders that closing 14th St. to car traffic would “cause horrific traffic jams on 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and even 18th St.,” plus all the north-south avenues from Eighth Ave. to Third Ave.

He added, “The bike lanes, which are sparsely used (and have become truck and for-hire vehicle parking zones) will only exacerbate the problem.”

In conclusion, Schwartz wrote to the D.O.T. and Transit top brass, “You must stop, pause and do what is right and what is required by law. This is a plan being foisted on communities wholly united in opposition: It is a plan supported only by political forces who have no interest in and no base in the affected communities. In the absence of the problems which may have been created by the L-train shutdown, this radical restructuring of the Greenwich Village and Chelsea communities must be withdrawn.”

Schwartz CC’d Governor Andrew Cuomo, the mayor, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Keith Powers, state Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Harvey Epstein and Community Boards 2, 3, 4 and 6.

After being asked for comment early Tuesday afternoon about Schwartz’s letter, the M.T.A. and D.O.T. had not responded by Tuesday evening.