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Wheely mad: TransAlt to protest at anti-busway attorney’s home   

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON Updated Tues., Aug. 13, 12:45 a.m. | Call it busway rage.

Transportation Alternatives, the pro-cycling and mass-transit advocacy group, is seething that Village and Chelsea residents have dared to throw a monkey wrench into the city’s “experimental” pilot plan for a 14th St. busway.

And they are especially furious at one man, a Villager whose name is synonymous for them with a gunked-up bike derailleur, if not a busted front fork: Arthur Schwartz.

Attorney Arthur Schwartz announcing his lawsuit to restore bus stops on the M14 route that were removed for the new Select Bus Service. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

And they’re not just stewing about it: They plan to protest outside the activist attorney’s W. 12th St. townhouse on the evening of Wed., Aug. 14, and demand that he withdraw his lawsuit, which is currently derailing the busway.

Perhaps instead of pitchforks and torches, they’ll be angrily brandishing quick-release wheels, bicycle pumps and MetroCards.

A press release for TransAlt’s protest urges: “Protest Rich Residents From Stopping 14th St. Busway.”

Meanwhile, Schwartz is firing back that TransAlt are a bunch of fascistic bullies for trying to intimidate him — likening them to no less than Donald Trump and the Ku Klux Klan. Going on the offensive, early Tuesday morning, he announced that he plans to preemptively protest TransAlt’s protesting him at the group’s 111 John St. offices on Tuesday morning at 11:30 a.m. He fumed that the group crossed a line by blasting out his home address.

Last Friday, Schwartz succeeded in getting a last-minute court-ordered stay from an Appellate Division court to postpone the no-cars busway plan, which was set to kick off this Mon., Aug. 12.

The stay was issued because Schwartz on Friday filed an appeal of the ruling that had been issued just days earlier on their anti-busway lawsuit by a State Supreme Court justice, who cleared the traffic plan to start on Monday.

Schwartz has also been contesting the new crosstown bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts.

In a press release Monday afternoon, Thomas DeVito, TransAlt’s senior director of advocacy, railed against the community litigation as a “frivolous lawsuit.”

“The West Villagers who filed the suit have used every dirty trick in the book to delay needed improvements along New York’s slowest bus line,” DeVito fumed in the e-mail blast. “For them, it doesn’t matter how slow and unreliable our buses are for working New Yorkers, or how straightforward and obvious the fixes are. Their only concern is preserving parking for themselves and keeping anyone else off their street.”

DeVito apparently was quoting from The Villager’s report on the stay being granted last Friday, when he wrote, “Their lead lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, has asked publicly ‘who uses the bus?’ and he has flippantly acknowledged that his clients gladly chipped in ‘a thousand dollars here, a thousand dollars there’ to perpetuate his capricious lawsuits.”

The Villager article read: “The attorney said that, after Tuesday’s deflating State Supreme Court ruling, he had asked members of [block associations] fighting the city’s plan if they supported appealing the decision, and the answer was overwhelming.

“ ‘I said it might cost $5,000 to $10,000 to print the record,’ he said, referring to the paperwork — in multiple copies — required to file the appeal. ‘I got a great reaction… Everyone was pledging $1,000 here, $1,000 there.’ ”

Pumped up for changes on 14th St.: Transportation Alternatives members and cycling advocates at a meeting in March 2018 at P.S. 41 on the 14th St. plans showed their support for both the “PeopleWay” plan for 14th St., which included a no-cars busway, and a two-way crosstown bike lane on 13th St. The Department of Transportation had recently abandoned the dual-direction bike lane plan in the face of staunch community opposition, and instead installed one-way lanes on 12th and 13th Sts. The city is still trying to push through the busway plan. (File photo by Lincoln Anderson)

DeVito’s e-mail continued, “What’s happening today on 14th St. [is] a hyper-empowered minority using their wealth to deny better bus service for 27,000 working commuters.”

The transit advocate noted the protesters plan “to congregate in front of Arthur Schwartz’s $10 million brownstone to demand he drop the lawsuit.”

The demonstration is scheduled to last from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

An early Critical Mass protest by New York City bike messengers in the 1980s. Will the TransAlt protest outside Arthur Schwartz’s house look anything like this? (File photo by Carl Hultberg)

In a statement to this paper early Monday evening, Schwartz unloaded on TransAlt, calling them nothing less than un-American Trumpian fascistic bullies.

“TransAlt, in deciding to picket the house of a lawyer, who represents clients, to demand that ‘I drop’ their case, is engaging in a form of bullying which is in the tradition of Donald Trump, and has nothing to do with how we function in a non-fascistic Democratic society,” he declared. “I do not drop that word lightly, and I am asking lawyers from around the city, and my elected representatives, to join me on my stoop.

“I might also add that for an organization whose top officials make $200,000 per year running a nonprofit, their complaint that Village and Chelsea residents active in block associations are ‘rich,’ is demagoguery similar to that we see emanating from the White House.”

About six hours later, Schwartz sent out an e-mail announcing he intends to hold a press conference Tuesday morning outside the Lower Manhattan office of TransAlt, which the attorney described as “the $4.5-million-per-year cyclist lobbying group.”

“This kind of undemocratic bullying, reminiscent of how white-hooded zealots would threaten white lawyers who represented black people in the South, or dictators who threaten lawyers who represent unpopular figures, needs to be called out,” Schwartz proclaimed.

“I represent everyday residents of Chelsea and Greenwich Village,” he said, “people who speak for Greenwich Village, and Transportation Alternatives is taking the fight to my home, where I live with my wife and teenage children, for one purpose only — to intimidate me.”

Schwartz, who is the Village’s male Democratic district leader, is calling on other elected leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, “to stand with him” on Wednesday night when the enraged TransAlt protesters descend on his home.

Meanwhile, in addition, Schwartz called a press conference for Wednesday morning, at 11 a.m., on the south side of 14th St., just east of Fifth Ave. — where a bus stop was recently removed as part of the newly implemented Select Bus Service on the M14 route.

At the press conference, Schwartz will announce his second lawsuit related to the 14th St. traffic changes — to demand that the city restore the removed bus stops. His plaintiff in that case will be Disabled in Action, a group representing disabled New Yorkers.

At a press conference conference last year announcing the M.T.A.’s commitment to install elevators at the Sixth Ave. and 14th St. subway station, Milagros Franco, who has been disabled since birth and lives in the E. 20s, said that each new subway elevator is another victory for accessibility. Arthur Schwartz was the attorney on the case, which was brought against the L-train full shutdown plan. (File photo by Lincoln Anderson)

In a quote announcing the event, Schwartz said, “We need to talk about how the city, in its quest for [bus] speed, has abandoned folks in wheelchairs and walkers, has not addressed the real concerns of the affected communities, how we are not a ‘wealthy minority group of landowners,’ but representatives of thousands of people who live in the Village, Chelsea and Flatiron and have for decades.”

The Steering Committee of the 14th St. Coalition urged its members, “Bring handmade signs with messages like: ‘COMMUTERS ARE NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN COMMUNITIES’; ‘STREETS ARE FOR EVERYONE’; ‘THE BUSWAY PROMOTES ABLEISM’; ‘WE ARE NOT AN EXPERIMENT’; ‘NOT EVERYONE CAN RIDE A BIKE’; and ‘SAFETY BEFORE LOBBYISTS.’”

Members of the Coalition, which includes Village and Chelsea block associations and large residential condo buildings, fear if the busway happens, neighboring side streets would be flooded with cars diverted from 14th St., and that the first-of-its-kind scheme in New York would wreak havoc on 14th St., as well. They were disappointed by two tweets Comptroller Stringer made last week about the issue.

“Today should have been a triumphant day for bus riders in Manhattan,” Stringer tweeted last Friday, after the stay blocking the busway was issued. “Instead we are stuck with the failed status quo. I stand with those fighting for a world-class bus system in New York. We need projects like the 14th St. busway.”

In an earlier tweet, last Tuesday, Stringer praised the first ruling, which would have allowed the project to go forward:

“This is terrific news,” he trumpeted. “Thanks to all the advocates who fought tirelessly to make this day a reality. Now — let’s get our buses moving!”

The 14th St. Coalition members took Stringer’s tweets personally, saying it was “calling us the failed status quo.”

The Coalition, which was the lead plaintiff in Schwartz’s previous two lawsuits on the 14th St. plan, actually is not part of this latest suit, though a number of its block association members are.

Stringer is a candidate for mayor, as is Speaker Johnson, who has vowed to “break car culture” in New York City.

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