- By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday morning, a coalition of neighborhood groups sued in a Manhattan Federal Court in an attempt to stop the planned L train shutdown starting a year from now. The suit accuses the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city Department of Transportation and the Federal Transportation Administration of ignoring the needs of disabled riders along the L line, and disregarding the communities who’ll be dealing with constant congestion from diesel-spewing buses.
According to the attorney representing the groups, dubbed “the 14th Street Coalition,” Arthur Schwartz, the FTA “has failed to enforce compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) even though the nearly $1 billion project is being federally funded.” The MTA and DOT meanwhile, he said have failed to prepare a required Environmental Impact Statement, which he said would have compelled the agencies to be more responsive to community input.
The suit aims to halt the work as well as its federal funding until the plans do something about the lack of elevators in each L station and about the expected environmental impacts from substituting the L train with significantly expanded above ground mass transit.
The plan calls for creating a 14th Street “busway” between Third and Eighth Avenues going west and from Ninth to Third Avenues going east. Car traffic will not be able to cross anywhere along the busway. Access-A-Ride will be included along with emergency vehicles. The plan is to enforce these rules during “peak” hours. A constant fleet of shuttle buses will be traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan over the Williamsburg Bridge and there will also be a protected bike lane on East 13th Street.
Schwartz, a principal attorney for Advocates for Justice Chartered Attorneys who’s also a Greenwich Village Democratic district leader, called the current plan dangerous to West Side residents, saying it would grind traffic on side streets surrounding 14th to a halt, including ambulances headed to the closest hospital, Beth Israel.
“The plans can be a matter of life or death,” he said.
He also accused the DOT and MTA of working with outdated information about traffic that doesn’t take into account the recent proliferation of for-hire vehicles when estimating how traffic will be impacted during the L shutdown.
Joining him at a press conference on Tuesday were a handful of community residents.
One of them said that a problem was that the forum for discussion on mitigation for the L train shutdown has been community board meetings, and there are five different Manhattan community boards that are impacted (2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
- 14th Street Coalition co-chairs Judy Pesin and Julianne Bond say the plan has considered commuters but not the impacted communities. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
“They’re not looking at the big picture; they’re looking at their boundaries,” said coalition co-chair Judy Pesin. She added that mitigation plans heard so far seemed more geared towards commuters than communities.
The other co-chair, Julianne Bond, said she suspected with the expected increase in buses and side street vehicle traffic, there would be no way to enforce traffic violations, which already don’t see enough enforcement. She gave an example of how, even long before the expected start of the work, trucks have been going up streets where signs clearly state there are no trucks allowed and e-bikes, which are illegal to ride, whiz by. “They’re not allowed but there they are,” she said.
Schwartz, had previously warned, in article in The Villager newspaper that he’d be suing and said since then, the effort has gained steam with more block associations and condo/co-op groups wanting to get involved. While most are based in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, he said recently an East Side group also reached out to him. Along with neighborhood organizations, plaintiffs in the suit also include Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York and 504 Democratic Club, which advocates for the rights of the disabled.
In response to the suit, a spokesperson for the MTA, Jon Weinstein, said, “We do not comment on pending litigation. The repairs to the Sandy-damaged Canarsie Tunnel are desperately needed to ensure the tunnel’s structural integrity so we can continue to provide safe and reliable subway service to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who depend on the L train every day. We are working with our partners at NYC DOT to craft a thorough and robust mitigation plan.”
A spokesperson for the DOT said the agency has told Schwartz that an EIS isn’t required for the project and that multiple options for addressing the shutdown had been considered and reviewed.
In an official statement, spokesperson Scott Gastel said, “The crisis stemming from next year’s closing of the L train tunnel is not just an issue for north Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. This unprecedented challenge will be felt citywide, requiring hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to think about their commutes and their streets differently. DOT and MTA will continue to work with stakeholders over the next year to improve the plan. This follows extensive community outreach since the closure was announced.”
The FTA did not respond to a request for comment.