In nine days, New York City will embark on a novel street design experiment: banning private vehicles on much of 14th Street in the hopes of speeding up buses on the notoriously traffic-choked corridor.
The 18th-month pilot program, a vestige of the full L train shutdown mitigation plans, will prohibit private through traffic in both directions between 3rd and 9th Avenues. Drivers can still make pickups and drop-offs, though they'll need to turn right at the first available intersection. A center lane in each direction will be dedicated to truck and bus traffic, coinciding with the long-awaited arrival of Select Bus Service.
All of this will be enforced by cameras mounted on the MTA buses—part of a program that was reauthorized and expanded citywide by state lawmakers just hours ago.
Having long noted that the heavily-used M14A and M14D routes are among the slowest in the city, transit advocates, pedestrians, and bus riders rejoiced when the plan was given the green-light back in April. The city itself estimates that the changes will improve bus speeds by as much as 30 percent for 27,000 daily riders. But not everyone is happy.
On Friday, West Village resident and attorney Arthur Schwartz—who you may recall from past bus- and bike-lash episodes, and every community board meeting ever—sued the city in a last-ditch effort to stop the redesign from going forward. The complaint was filed on behalf of several block associations, as well individual homeowners in the West Village, Chelsea, and the Flatiron District.
In the view of those Manhattanites, the Department of Transportation's plan amounts to "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."
This zealous municipal overreach, the suit contends, was extended without the necessary environmental reviews, and will thus "cause horrific traffic jams" and "bring with it air pollution and noise pollution."
For good measure, the complaint also demands that the protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street be ripped out immediately, in order to restore the character of those side streets. (The word "character" appears 13 times in this lawsuit.)
Perhaps you are wondering: How does speeding up buses while discouraging private car use contribute to air and noise pollution? What do bike lanes have to do with either of those things? And who has time to file all these 40-page lawsuits that seem to accomplish the legal equivalent of a rich person yelling at a cloud?
We don't know, either! As far as what they ultimately want, 14th Street Coalition member David Marcus, who is named as a plaintiff in the suit, may have summed it up best over a year ago: "What they need to do is to come up with a plan that's not so focused on transporting commuters where they need to get."
Schwartz didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the City Law Department told Gothamist that the claims have no merit.
UPDATE: Following publication of this story, Schwartz reached out to Gothamist to clarify that the lawsuit has "nothing to do with bike lanes," and is solely focused on the unfair tradeoffs of the busway for local residents. (The complaint's repeated mentions of bike lanes, he conceded, was "hyperbole.")
"This is not Midtown, Manhattan," said Schwartz. "These are residential blocks with low-density, old houses, and people don't want it to be a crosstown thoroughfare."
Asked about his claim that the coming changes will only speed up buses by "one or two miles per hour," Schwartz responded that he'd "never heard anything bad about the 14th Street buses."
"Who uses the bus?" he said. "The people who live in the area would rather have a slow bus than have traffic and soot and noise on their streets."
In response to the suit, Riders Alliance Policy & Communications Director Danny Pearlstein said in a statement: "The 14th Street NIMBYs behind this lawsuit fashion themselves latter-day Jane Jacobs. But they are actually belated Robert Moses, promoting private cars, driving, choking pollution, and debilitating congestion to the exclusion of public transit and transit riders."