Diesel buses blasted at L train meeting

An L train user speaks at the meeting held on Monday night. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents of Lower Manhattan expressed frustration about the possible environmental impacts of the L train shutdown because of an increase in buses in downtown neighborhoods at a public meeting hosted by the MTA last Monday evening.

MTA New York City Transit and the Federal Transit Administration prepared analysis at the end of last month that examines potential impacts of the MTA and DOT’s mitigation plans for the L train closure scheduled to begin in April 2019 and last for 15 months. The public meeting held on Monday at the MTA’s downtown headquarters was to solicit public feedback on the potential environmental impacts of the mitigation plan that were reviewed in this document.

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein said that one of his concerns was about the possibility of an increase in carbon monoxide and particulate matter because of the increase in congestion and bus traffic, which wasn’t analyzed in the document.

“The volume of buses will have a serious consequences,” Epstein said. “With only 15 clean, electric buses, there’s some real concern about the risk for people in my community. We need to have some more information about what that will be and will need more information throughout the process.”

West 16th Street resident Roberta Gell also expressed frustration about the increase in buses and the possible pollution that could result.

“I would like all of you to come and live in our neighborhoods (during the shutdown),” Gell said, noting that she had concerns about air quality. “We are people, not cars, and it’s obvious to me that you don’t care about our community.”

A number of residents of Lower Manhattan neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy were also concerned about the impacts that the diesel buses would have on their air, especially since they feel that the MTA and DOT have not solicited as much feedback from neighborhoods that far south of 14th Street compared to the areas immediately north and south of 14th.

Transit advocates at the meeting also urged the MTA to reconsider ending the proposed busway on 14th Street at Third Avenue instead of at Avenue C, meaning that part of 14th Street will be open to private vehicles, while other portions west of Third Avenue will only be open to buses during certain hours.

“The flow of traffic (on 14th Street) is really problematic, especially from Third Avenue to Avenue C,” Epstein said. “The plan to keep it open to all vehicle traffic is going to slow things down tremendously. The turn lane on First Avenue and Third Avenue is going to really be a problem and create much more of a hazard and create congestion and pollution in our community.”

Chelsea Yamata from Transportation Alternatives noted that there had been hope for more bus priority in the plan. Sarah Wyss, the deputy chief of bus planning for New York City Transit, said that the reason for starting the busway at Third Avenue is because it’s a two-way street.

“Cars can turn north or south (onto Third Avenue), clearing 14th Street faster,” she explained, noting that Third Avenue is the farthest east of the two-way streets that cross 14th. “Our goal is to keep the buses moving.”

The 100-plus page document released by the MTA was also supposed to be available for residents to review in-person at various locations in the city, including public libraries in the neighborhood, but as of Monday afternoon, only hours prior to the meeting, the only library in the area with a copy was Epiphany on East 23rd Street, where librarians said they had only received it earlier that day.

Representatives for the MTA said there may have been some miscommunication because a representative told Town & Village that copies should have been delivered to all of the locations at the end of last month when the document was released and the MTA would follow up to make sure the print-out is available at the locations listed on the website. The complete list of locations, as well as a PDF of the entire document, is available at web.mta.info/mta/news/notices.

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