14th Street busway supporters slam block associations’ lawsuit as classist  

Advocates for a 14th Street busway, including Councilman Keith Powers, right, rallied on Monday and called for a suit against the plan to be dropped. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

A judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the busway from taking effect after a suit from Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Flatiron residents.

Advocates for a 14th Street busway, including Councilman Keith Powers, right, rallied on Monday and called for a suit against the plan to be dropped.
Advocates for a 14th Street busway, including Councilman Keith Powers, right, rallied on Monday and called for a suit against the plan to be dropped. Photo Credit: Catherine Michelle Bartlett

The battle over the busway continues. 

Supporters of the planned busway on Manhattan’s 14th Street on Monday slammed a lawsuit that has temporarily delayed the project, arguing that the plaintiffs’ opposition is rooted in classism. 

The traffic shift, which would have transformed 14th Street into a mostly bus-only corridor, was set to launch Monday. But a State Supreme Court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against the city after a group of block associations on the West Side’s tony Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Flatiron neighborhoods filed a last-minute lawsuit in June. 

Councilman Keith Powers, who represents 14th Street residents east of First Avenue, stood alongside advocacy groups at a rally calling for the lawsuit to be dropped and for the busway to be implemented to support new M14 Select Bus Service on the major Manhattan cross street.

“Today…was going to be a special day for transportation in New York City. We were going to take a big thruway — 14th Street — and say it is for buses, it is for pedestrians first,” Powers said. “And we were going to give people this new wonderful option.”

The block associations have for years fought the busway and related nearby projects, saying they worried about vehicular traffic spilling over to other side streets and the impacts a busway would have on the historic nature of the neighborhoods.

A now-stalled 14th Street busway plan would make way for expanded M14 Select Bus Service.
A now-stalled 14th Street busway plan would make way for expanded M14 Select Bus Service. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

But transportation advocates believe the concerns of those residents should not outweigh the needs of the 27,000 daily bus riders of the M14 — the second-busiest route in Manhattan. They frame the plaintiffs as a select few wealthy West Siders who are harming city bus riders, generally people of color and with average incomes of $28,455 a year, according to a 2017 city comptroller study.

“Those people in the West Village…they have all that transit that they want to use available to them and still they are defending their cars and their parking spaces because they live in a private community in their own mind,” said Mary Garvey, a retired schoolteacher and Stuyvesant Town resident who spoke at the rally. “Those streets do not belong to them. They may live there, but the streets and the transit belongs to all of us.”

The busway was originally proposed in concert with the now-scrapped L train shutdown plan. The city DOT proposed a plan that would have limited through traffic on most of 14th Street to buses and trucks between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Cars would still be able to make pickups and drop-offs, or access area garages, in what would have been an ambitious, first-of-its-kind design for the city.

“Our plans for 14th Street are a centerpiece of our Better Buses plan, with the important goal of increasing bus speeds,” said Scott Gastel, a DOT spokesman, on Friday. “We are confident in both our traffic analysis, and that the court will recognize that we followed all correct procedures — allowing this critically important safety and mobility project to proceed.”

Advocates say they have yet to hear from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has made transportation a key platform of his speakership but also represents some of the loudest opponents to the busway west of Fifth Avenue. Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Arthur Schwartz, a resident of 12th Street and the lawyer representing the block associations, said it was disingenuous to frame the opposition as a select few West Side residents, believing that there was widespread opposition to the busway. He says the city and MTA should see how limited-stop M14 SBS service works before trying to implement the busway.

“What [the advocates] are saying is that they don’t care about the pollution from cars on the side streets,” Schwartz said. “Now we have the Select Bus Service…see how that improves the speed without throwing car traffic onto side streets.”

Though Schwartz also took offense to the Select Bus Service plans, which he said discriminated against mobility-impaired commuters because of how the MTA and city removed stops from the route.

“That’s a whole other lawsuit,” he said. 

Vincent Barone