Arthur Schwartz doesn't take the bus—but he fancies himself a freedom rider nonetheless.
The tendentious attorney, whose lawsuit against the city's proposed busway on 14th Street was tossed by a judge last week, managed to secure an appeal on Friday that will once again halt implementation of the much-anticipated pilot program. In response, the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives announced plans to picket in front of Schwartz's West Village home on Wednesday.
Not to be outdone, Schwartz held his own one-man press conference in front of TransAlt's downtown office on Tuesday morning, where he railed against pro-transit "thuggery" while touting his own heroic efforts to stop a street redesign that would ban most private cars on the busy corridor in order to prioritize bus riders. Just like the abolitionists?
"I was trained by lawyers who were schooled in civil rights," said Schwartz. "This is just like white lawyers representing black people in the South having crosses burned on their lawn."
In a separate statement, Schwartz compared his opponents to "white hooded zealots" and "dictators," while decrying TransAlt as a "$4.5 million lobbying group." The advocates responded by pointing to Schwartz's estimated net worth of $20 million—a sum they say is roughly equivalent to a dozen MTA buses filled with New Yorkers making the average rider's salary of $28,455.
Arthur Schwartz just held a one person press conference outside @TransAlt in which he repeatedly compared himself to white lawyers who were attacked for representing black people in the south pic.twitter.com/HRgSqFSgy9
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) August 13, 2019
In his initial complaint filed against the city in June, Schwartz accused the Department of Transportation of "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." He added on Tuesday that the suit was really about "community equality," and neighborhood concerns that "thousands of cars an hour will be shifted onto residential side streets."
Schwartz was not joined at the presser by any of his fellow plaintiffs in the suit, which include a slew of block associations in Chelsea, Flatiron and the West Village. But several members of TransAlt made the trip downstairs, hoisting a banner behind Schwartz reminding him that the M14 is New York City's slowest bus. The now-stalled project was expected to improve bus speeds by as much as 30 percent for 27,000 daily riders, who are currently forced to contend with a bus that plods along at an average pace of 4.3-miles-per-hour.
Confronted by this fact, Schwartz snapped at a banner-holding advocate, Sophie Maerowitz, asserting: "There's no gridlock. You don't even know what you're talking about."
Maerowitz lives on the east end of 14th Street, and told Gothamist she observes double-parked cars and blocked crosswalks making life difficult for bus riders and pedestrians on a daily basis. The MTA did launch Select Bus Service on the M14 last month, but it's currently the city's only route without a dedicated bus lane.
"I have not seen the SBS be able to move buses faster because there are so many cars still in traffic," said Maerowitz. "It absolutely has not gotten better."
For his part, Schwartz mostly focused on the alleged threat to his family posed by tomorrow night's protest, before announcing the location and inviting elected officials to rally in his support. In a later conversation with Gothamist, he said that Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had told him that she agreed TransAlt's actions were "horrible."
Asked about this, a spokesperson for Brewer's office responded, "No, that didn’t happen. Gale was one of the first to call for the busway and is still very much in support."
In addition to leading the busway lawsuits, Schwartz is a long-serving Democratic District Leader in the West Village, as well as the treasurer of the New York Progressive Action Network. A representative of the group said they were not bothered by Schwartz's outside activities, stressing it was "completely independent" from their own efforts.
Both parties in the busway battle will present their final legal arguments to the court later this month, before an appellate panel makes a determination on the short-term emergency stay. City officials have said they are confident in their chances.
"With about an hour's notice, we had more folks turn out from 14th Street than he did," added TransAlt's Thomas DeVito. "It should tell you something about who he’s representing, and more importantly, who he's not representing: the huge majority of New Yorkers who use subways, bikes, and buses."
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