14th St. busway plan stalls

A DOT plan to reconfigure 14th Street into a busway has met with resistance from some neighborhood groups, who filed a lawsuit to block the effort. Image: NYC DOT/MTA
Temporary restraining order halts plan that would have blocked private through traffic
By Emily Higginbotham

After a lawsuit halted the launch of the 14th Street busway, the city is fighting a court battle against a group of neighborhood block associations to get its plan back on track.

The busway, which would have turned 14th Street between Third and Ninth Avenue into a mostly bus-only throughway to speed up buses for 27,000 daily riders during the L Train slowdown, was blocked by a temporary restraining order from a State Supreme Court judge just three days before the traffic shift was to go into effect.

The city attempted to appeal the decision in court on July 3, according to Arthur Schwartz, an attorney representing the residents from the West Village, Chelsea and Flatiron neighborhoods who oppose the plan, but the court did not take up the appeal.

“They came into court extremely arrogant,” Schwartz said of the Department of Transportation’s lawyers. The DOT will likely try to appeal again, he said, but the next official date the two sides will meet in court is set for Aug. 5.

Opponents Fault DOT

The corridor would have blocked private through traffic on 14th Street between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., limiting traffic to buses and trucks for an 18-month test run. Cars would still be permitted to make pickups and drop-offs or access parking garages.

The suit did not affect the city’s plan to implement Select Bus Service for the M14 route.

A spokesperson for the agency did not respond to questions about the ongoing legal proceedings, but issued a statement lauding the bus initiative.

“We look forward to ultimately prevailing in court and to implementing Transit & Truck Priority, which will improve mobility and increase travel speeds for thousands of bus riders each day along the critical 14th Street corridor,” a spokesperson said. “Select Bus Service is designed to operate with dedicated lanes to make it most effective and that is why the full project needs to be implemented as soon as possible.”

In their suit, the opposition argued that the DOT did not go through the necessary comprehensive review to study the busway’s environmental impact. Additionally, Schwartz said the busway would likely increase traffic, contribute to pollution and ruin the character of the historic neighborhoods.

With this suit, Schwartz said his clients hope to make DOT go through the “proper environmental process” and conduct an Environmental Impact Statement before going through with what he called a “radical” plan.

East vs. West

There is a contingent of residents along 14th Street, particularly on the east side, who are in favor of the busway.

Among them is Mary Garvey, a Stuyvesant Town resident, who spoke at a rally in support of the bus corridor on the day it was meant to be implemented.

“Those people in the West Village ... they have all the transit available to them and still they’re defending their cars and parking spaces because they live in a private little community in their own mind,” Garvey said. “Those streets do not belong to them. They may live there but the streets and the transits of the city belong to all of us.”

City Council Member Keith Powers, who represents 14th Street residents east of First Avenue, also attended the rally, calling on the opposition to drop the lawsuit.

“Today was going to be a special day for transit in New York City,” Powers said. “We were going to take a big thruway — 14th Street — and say it is for buses and pedestrians first.”