A state Supreme Court judge has blocked the city from launching a bus- and truck-way on 14th Street—just three days before the plan was set to roll out.
The injunction comes amid a lawsuit filed by a coalition of residents in the West Village, Chelsea, and the Flatiron District, who argue that the proposed busway between Third and Ninth avenues would violate state environmental law because the plan has not gone through a comprehensive review to study how it would impact the surrounding area. The Department of Transportation says it is disappointed by Supreme Court justice Eileen Rakower’s ruling.
“Our plans for 14th Street are a centerpiece of our Better Buses plan, with the important goal of increasing bus speeds. Today’s disappointing ruling will affect tens of thousands of M14 bus riders each day,” the transportation agency said in a statement. “We will provide the information the court has requested. 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.”
The city maintains that it conducted a thorough review in preparation for the pilot program, which was originally set to launch July 1, although it did not conduct an Environmental Impact Statement. The pilot would have blocked private through traffic on 14th Street, but cars turning on and then immediately off the thoroughfare, along with pick-ups and drop-offs, would have still been permitted. The impetus for the street change was to speed up bus commutes during the L train slowdown, now, riders will have to fare without it.
The lawsuit argues that blocking private through traffic from 14th Street will cause “horrific traffic jams” that “will bring with it air pollution and noise pollution.” It also petitions against a pair of bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets. Both the bus and bike street improvements, the suit argues, “threaten the wellbeing” of residents and the “character” of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“The Plans being addressed here are the government thumbing its nose at the views of residents and the character of three neighborhoods in order to speed up busses by one or two miles per hour and promote use of bicycles,” states the suit, which was filed by attorney Arthur Schwartz, who also sued city and state agencies over initial plans for the L train shutdown.
Friday’s ruling does not impact the MTA’s M14 Select Bus Service, which will begin as planned on July 1, according to transportation officials.
The ruling is the latest roadblock in a series of challenges the 14th Street busway has faced. City transportation officials initially planned to launch the bus-only throughway to speed up traffic during a complete shutdown of L service between Manhattan and Brooklyn. But the plan was scuttled after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a panel of academics reconfigured shutdown plans into a slowdown, with L service instead running at 20-minute intervals during nights and weekends to accommodate Canarsie Tunnel repair work.
Transportation advocates who have championed the busway, which is expected to speed up bus speeds by 30 percent for some 27,000 daily riders, blasted the ruling as a ludicrous farce.
“The 14th Street hypocrisy has got to stop. There’s no way neighbors can claim they care about their fellow New Yorkers while also throwing up endless barriers to faster, more reliable commutes,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance. “New York’s working people can’t afford to litigate their right to decent bus service.”
The DOT says it will keep the public updated on its plans going forward.