By Emily Higginbotham
Just as the city’s 14th Street busway pilot program that aims to prioritize public transit over motorists was set to roll out Monday, a judge halted its implementation after an appeal from community groups.
The judge granted the appeal three days after another judge had lifted a temporary restraining that had been hold the project up since it was originally planned to debut on July 1. A few hours before the stay was granted, Department of Transportation staffers were out on 14th Street notifying drivers about the new rules that were going to be enforced after the weekend.
“The DOT’s 14th Street Plan reflects an utter inability of the mayor and his commissioner to engage in genuine urban planning,” Arthur Schwartz, the attorney representing the block associations from Chelsea and the West Village in the suit, said Friday. “That is why an appellate court has once again put the plan on hold.”
Schwartz’s clients have raised concerns that the busway – which would turn 14th Street between Third and Ninth Avenue into a mostly bus-only corridor by prohibiting private traffic between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. – will greatly compact traffic on nearby streets.
The group’s lawsuit argues that the DOT has not done its due diligence in failing to conduct an environmental assessment on how the changes will impact the neighborhoods prior to implementing the policy. Judge Eileen Rakower ruled Tuesday that she believed the DOT had sufficiently reviewed the potential impact, but the agency will have to make the case again.
“We are moving forward on this and remain confident that the Appellate Division court will recognize that petitioners have scant likelihood of success in overturning Judge Rakower’s sound decision, and that we will therefore be allowed to expeditiously implement this critically important mobility and safety project,” a spokesperson for DOT said Monday. “We also want to reiterate that the petitioners’ appeal has no merit, and we are confident the court will agree in short order.”
"Time Wasted Stuck Behind Cars"
Danny Pearlstein, the Policy and Communications Director for Riders Alliance, called the litigation a “self-serving” move made on behalf of wealthy and powerful people that was causing harm to the thousands of people who rely on bus services.
“For every day that the 14th Street busway is on hold, M14 rush hour commuters lose two weeks worth of time that they will never recover,” Pearlstein said in a statement. “Time wasted stuck behind cars in stalled traffic is time away from family, friends, work, and New York's civic life.”
The busway program was created to speed up buses for 27,000 daily riders, particularly during the L Train slowdown. The corridor would block private through traffic on 14th Street, limiting traffic to buses and trucks for an 18-month test run. Cars would still be permitted to make pickups, drop-offs or access parking garages.
According to the DOT, the city’s papers making their case against the stay are due to the court on Aug. 20, with the petitioner’s reply due on Aug. 26, at which point the motion will be fully submitted.