The L train shutdown might be cancelled, but the battle over what will happen with the city's long-planned mitigation measures is only just beginning. For some Manhattan residents, the primary focus of that fight appears to be the new bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets — a long-simmering conflict that's grown increasingly heated in the wake of Governor Cuomo's surprise announcement last week.
On Thursday, the lanes were reportedly vandalized with spray paint — "Bring back our parking"— and signs declaring the lanes "cancelled." Cyclist Jonathan Warner also spotted broken glass in the painted lanes, which he said seemed like a "pretty deliberate" attack carried out by the neighborhood's bike lane foes.
The incident comes amid increasingly vocal opposition from some West Village residents, who believe the bike lanes should be ripped out now that the shutdown likely isn't going forward. "The 14th Street Coalition does not want their neighborhoods to be guinea pigs with extremely disruptive changes to their safety," the group said in a statement earlier this week.
In a letter sent to the DOT on Thursday, attorney Arthur Schwartz once again called for the removal of "the super-sized bike lanes," noting that they'd displaced 1,075 parking spots. "There is no data, nor could there be any data, which would demonstrate the need for a single element of the non-subway service portion of the [Alternative Service Plan]," Schwartz wrote.
Reached by phone on Friday, Schwartz told Gothamist that "nobody uses the bike lane on 12th Street," and claimed that older residents frequently tell him that they are afraid to leave their houses because of the threat of cyclists. According to a DOT analysis, pedestrian injuries decreased by 22 percent in places where protected bike lanes were installed, while crashes with injuries were reduced by 17 percent. Still, Schwartz maintained that the lanes served little purpose other than to be used as parking spaces for trucks and construction vehicles. "Where are they supposed to park?" he wondered. "That's where they park."
During drop-off hours at the City & Country School on 13th Street on Friday morning, Gothamist surveyed half a dozen parents, most of whom alluded to the conflict but refused to speak on the record. “I drive so I don’t use the bike lanes, but I know that on this block it should be taken out for the kids — it’s not right to have a bike lane so close to a school,” said Cole, a parent from New Jersey. “There’s always the chance of an accident when you have cyclists and children together."
— Jonathan Warner🥑🚇🤖 (@Jaxbot) January 10, 2019
But for the most part, the neighborhood's most outspoken bike lane opponents were absent from Thursday night's Community Board 2 meeting in Manhattan. Perhaps they were soothed by the almost superhumanly even-tempered presence of NYC Transit President Andy Byford, who by this point has spent quite a bit of time explaining to people what we know and don't know about the shutdown reboot.
"Because there's been such a monumental shift in the plan for the L line, I feel that I owe it to you, the community, to come and explain to you what's going on, and to answer your questions as best I can," said Byford.
The meeting, which drew about 50 people (some of whom said they live in a nearby CB district but wanted to be heard), came during a busy week for Byford, which included another Community Board appearance the previous night and a live WNYC interview with Brian Lehrer in the Greene Space on Thursday.
Byford assured the CB2 crowd that the majority of the plan remains the same: replacing tracks, providing accessibility at three stations, upgrading lights and adding substations. He drew clear distinctions between what falls within NYCT's purview and what falls to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg ("DOT owns the roadway, but we own the bus service"). He said he plans to have independent experts study the proposed plan before proceeding with the new recommendations. He used the extremely British phrase "this is a moving feast" several times, in reference to the fluidity of the situation.
What we don't know yet, Byford explained, is what this means for the original mitigation plan and for 14th Street. Which, of course, is what most meeting attendees wanted to talk about.
Some were there to reinforce the idea that bike lanes should remain in the new plan. Leora Rosenberg, who lives on 13th Street and 6th Avenue, conjured up the experience she had last year when she fell off her bike on 14th Street, breaking several ribs and seeing a car rushing toward her as she lay on the street.
"It looked so big. And so fast," said Rosenberg. She says she now uses the bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets and urged Byford to consider how important they are to cyclists like her.
Several members of the 14th Street Coalition were also in attendance on Thursday to advocate for a reversal of the original mitigation plan to turn 14th Street into a "busway." Some pointed out how Select Bus Service does not serve seniors in the area well because it could mean more walking. Others seemed to be firmly against bus-only service, like Paul Mulhauser who reminded Byford that he had once pledged to be "flexible" about the number of buses needed along 14th Street.
"Assuming that the L train may stay open," said Mulhauser, "I appreciate you recalling that you would scale back the number of buses per hour, and the busway can hopefully go away."
Byford responded that it may not be as "binary" as Mulhauser suggested, and that limited L train service on nights and weekends may still warrant more buses.
The volume of buses was of primary concern to a group called the Kenmare/Little Italy Loop Coalition, whose members claimed their voices were largely left out of the original mitigation plan altogether.
"Studies done by the DOT, in terms of traffic, have deliberately stopped and not included Kenmare Street, Broome Street, the traffic that goes from Williamsburg up to the Holland Tunnel," said member Lora Tenenbaum. She added that she found it "disconcerting" to see the original mitigation plan proposed allowing 55 buses to use Kenmare Street.
When pressed on a timeline for determining the details of a new mitigation plan, Byford said, "I'd say it's still a couple of weeks away, because we want to get this right."
Several attendees also reminded Byford that he owes it to the community to keep them involved in conversations as a new plan is developed.
"Where we've given people commitments, we should stick to those commitments," Byford told the group. "The only difference is, of course, the plan has changed. So we've got to go and revisit it."
UPDATE: The Department of Transportation has issued a statement about the West Village bike lane vandalism, vowing to "hold the perpetrator(s) accountable for this disturbing act." The agency adds that "efforts for the L tunnel closure will remain in place as we continue to review the plan presented last week."
— NYC DOT (@NYC_DOT) January 11, 2019
A spokesperson for the DOT also reached out to Gothamist to dispute Arthur Schwartz's assertion that 1,075 parking spots were lost to the bike lanes. The actual number of lost spots is about half of that, the spokesperson said, noting that "the original two-way bike lane on 13th St. was designed to minimize parking loss and was strongly opposed by the 14th Street Coalition."