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Village residents threaten lawsuit over L train shutdown plan

A labor lawyer behind the suit contends that the MTA and DOT haven’t performed a required environmental review

Carl Mikoy/Flickr

As the L train shutdown approaches, those it will affect are bracing themselves for changes to their commute—and, in the case of some Greenwich Village residents, for changes to the streetscape.

Led by Arthur Schwartz, a labor lawyer and resident of West 12th Street, a coalition of neighborhood organizations opposed to the MTA and DOT’s shutdown mitigation plan has threatened to to take the DOT to court for not performing what they assert is a legally required Environmental Impact Statement. (h/t Villager) A letter from Schwartz to DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg contends the agency “must stop, pause, and do what is right and what is required by law.”

In an email, a spokesperson for the DOT denied Schwartz’s assertions, stating that “no EIS is required and DOT will respond to his letter in a timely fashion.” The spokesperson further noted, “we expect to release more information shortly.”

The mitigation plan proposed by the two agencies would create a vehicle-free 14th Street with dedicated bus lanes, along with a new ferry route, HOV restrictions, protected bike lanes on 13th Street, and a number of bus routes as alternatives for the L’s 400,000 daily riders. The exclusive busway on 14th Street (also known as the PeopleWay) is intended to alleviate commuters’ woes by offering a more accessible alternative route for pedestrians, bus riders, and cyclists.

”I have never seen such unanimity in opposition to a project around here,” says Schwartz. “People are concerned about having traffic jams in front of their homes 24 hours a day and the resulting air and noise pollution.” He contends that the closure and resultant gridlock on surrounding streets could prevent emergency vehicles and services like Access-A-Ride from reaching area homes. He also believes those changes could eventually be made permanent. (And indeed, Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White recently told Wired that he “certainly hope[s]” that some of these measures will become permanent fixtures of the streetscape.)

Speaking carefully on the phone, Schwartz emphasized that he strongly supports bike lanes and would like to see fewer cars on the road in the long term; his main problem with the MTA’s proposal is that it is poorly engineered. “I’m a big believer in planning, not just imposing,” he says. “I’m not some conservative who wants things to stay the same, but I also believe that people’s communities should be respected.”

At a Community Board 2 meeting last night, during which the MTA and DOT provided an update on the mitigation plans, plenty of folks (including Schwartz) made their displeasure with the proposed changes clear:

News of Schwartz’s lawsuit was met with eyerolls by many, including transit advocates who believe the MTA and DOT must take even bolder action to accommodate the L train’s hundreds of thousands of daily riders. Calls for a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge were unmet in the mitigation plan, and the 14th Street PeopleWay among the most significant of the MTA’s current plans of action. Its supporters, including Transportation Alternatives, see it as a necessity.

”With nearby subway lines already jam-packed, replacement shuttle buses must be as efficient, seamless and subway-like as possible, with 24-hour bus lanes and free service to draw riders and mitigate the inconvenience,” Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance, wrote in an email.

He continued, “Cynical tactics to delay or defeat such a plan, whatever their intent, have the regressive effect of making life more difficult for working New Yorkers and decreasing access to some of the most exclusive neighborhoods of the city.”