By Sabina Mollot
In April, Arthur Z. Schwartz, an attorney for Advocates for Justice, filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the L train shutdown planned for 2019. The litigation, filed on behalf of a coalition of West Side residents living on or near 14th Street and disability advocacy groups, was over the lack of access for disabled passengers in the plan to upgrade various stations along the L train route.
The lawsuit is also over area residents’ concerns about traffic congestion, due to a planned “busway” on 14th Street and expanded sidewalks causing traffic to be congested on surrounding streets. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Transportation Authority were named as defendants.
However, Schwartz, who’s also a Greenwich Village Democratic district leader, announced late last month that the suit was partially settled with the MTA proposing to make the Sixth Avenue station accessible to the disabled. Previously only two stations included in the renovation plan (Bedford Avenue and First Avenue) were slated to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In exchange, the part of the lawsuit alleging disregard for disabled New Yorkers has been dropped. This was first reported by The Villager.
In a recent conversation with Town & Village, Schwartz said while it is just one station being outfitted with four elevators, the project will have greater reaching impact, which is why he agreed to it.
“It affects the L train, which is east/west and it affects the F train, which is north/south and it affects the PATH train, since it’s on the same level as the L,” he said, “and then there’s a tunnel that runs from Sixth to Seventh Avenue, which allows people to transfer to Seventh Avenue.”
The attorney added that initially the MTA had proposed making Third Avenue accessible, “but we came back and said, ‘How about Sixth Avenue?’” Despite some concerns about that station having engineering problems that would make the upgrades complicated, the agency ultimately agreed.
Schwartz said he believes there’s still a chance Third Avenue will become ADA-compliant as well because the group Disabled in Action still has a lawsuit pending in the State Supreme Court and due to pressure from local elected officials. Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, State Senator Brad Hoylman and City Council Members Carlina Rivera and Keith Powers have stood alongside advocates at recent press conferences held by Schwartz and disability advocates.
“We got to eat our cake and eat it too,” he said, adding that he suspects the MTA has moved as swiftly as it has to avoid any risk of not being able to complete the project, considering the prep work has already begun months ago.
“They asked for the settlement,” said Schwartz. “I think they are looking to eliminate any impediments to the project.”
Asked about the settlement, an MTA spokesman said, “Nearly $5 billion has been invested to make subway stations accessible, with 25 accessibility projects underway right now, and future capital programs will include funding for additional stations.”
The spokesman, Shams Tarek, added, “The new president of NYC Transit, Andy Byford, has made accessibility a top priority and laid out in the Fast Forward Plan an accelerated roadmap to increased system accessibility. This agreement specifically ensures that L and F/M train riders will have elevators at their platforms at 6th Avenue and 14th Street.”
Meanwhile, the DOT has also submitted an environmental assessment to the FTA. Schwartz has previously said that an environmental impact study (EIS) needed to be done, but the DOT disagreed.
The study currently being submitted is not an EIS, “but it could lead to an EIS,” said Schwartz. “That’s something they hadn’t done before the lawsuit.”
A spokesperson for the DOT didn’t respond to a request for comment on the suit.
Still, with the accessibility issue resolved, Schwartz said he sees the pending congestion concerns “equally pressing.” Therefore, he was pleased to hear the recent announcement by the DOT to scrap a two-way bike lane on 13th Street in favor of two one-way bike lanes, one westbound on 13th Street and one eastbound on 12th Street, in response to community feedback. Schwartz, who’d cited the original bike lane plan in the lawsuit, called the move “a step in the right direction.”
So far, he added, “I’m not unhappy at all.”