By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Implementation of the proposed busway for 14th Street has been delayed after a judge issued a temporary restraining order, preventing the plan from going into effect on Monday with the launch of Select Bus Service for the M14A/D.
The MTA said that while SBS on the route was scheduled to launch on July 1 anyway, the lawsuit will make it more difficult to provide faster bus service.
“This ruling will undoubtedly hinder our goal of speeding up buses on one of the busiest and most congested arteries, and make traveling around the city harder for our customers,” MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek said. “Transit prioritization such as the city’s Transit and Truck Priority busway would help speed up Select Bus Service. In the meantime, we’re working with NYCDOT and NYPD to enforce existing rules to ensure our buses won’t be blocked by vehicles double parking and blocking bus stops.”
The New York Post reported on Friday that a Manhattan judge issued the restraining order as part of a lawsuit that attorney and West 12th Street resident Arthur Schwartz filed on behalf of a number of block associations on Wednesday, June 20 that opposed the restrictions on 14th Street.
Although the MTA officially launched SBS on the route on Monday, making off-fare boarding available, the M14A/D will be the only SBS route in the city without a dedicated bus lane due to the lawsuit. Because of the restraining order, all vehicles can ride in the painted bus lane at all hours.
“Our plans for 14th Street are a centerpiece of our Better Buses plan, with the important goal of increasing bus speeds,” DOT spokesperson Alana Morales said. “Last week’s disappointing ruling will affect tens of thousands of M14 bus riders each day. We are confident in both our traffic analysis and that the court will recognize that we followed all correct procedures, allowing this critically important safety and mobility project to proceed.”
The lawsuit from Schwartz argues that restricting traffic on the roadway will cause overwhelming congestion on nearby streets and that the plans to limit private traffic and install bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street haven’t been properly vetted due regarding environmental concerns and claims that there has been a lack of community input.
Schwartz previously filed a lawsuit last year to halt the original L train shutdown project, also arguing then about the environmental impact and lack of community input in the plan.
The current lawsuit also argues that the initial busway plan was announced when the L train was going to be completely shut down between Manhattan and Brooklyn and that since the project for the L changed, the busway was no longer necessary.
“That rationale (making bus service faster) amounts to no more than PR material,” the lawsuit said. “The result will be increased vehicular traffic on all east and westbound streets between 12th Street and 20th Street, bringing with it air pollution, noise and vibrations endangering the 19th century buildings which line these blocks, challenging the character of the Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and Flatiron communities, and likely causing delay in the crosstown transit of emergency vehicles.”
Transit advocates and East Side residents gathered at East 14th Street and First Avenue on Monday when SBS launched on the M14A/D to call out Schwartz and other residents involved in the suit, disputing that the busway is a PR stunt.
“It’s not just PR if you’re one of the tens of thousands of people who ride the M14 every day and get stuck in traffic, moving at walking speed,” Transit Center communications director Ben Fried said. “It’s not just PR if you’re late for work or miss a doctors appointment because the M14 is stuck in traffic. The people who brought this suit should feel nothing but shame that they are delaying this critical transit improvement for their own neighbors.”
City Councilmember Keith Powers noted that advocates trying to reach the rally on Monday were delayed because of problems with the L train.
“Today you could’ve been hopping on the bus that got you there a lot quicker and a lot faster but instead we’re stuck in the same old M14 traffic,” Powers said. “It’s as slow as any other bus route in New York City.”
Advocates also argued that the environmental concerns mentioned in the lawsuit are superficial.
“They’ve weaponized environmental law to oppose a project that is beneficial for the environment,” Fried said. “We’re talking about a project that’s going to give more space to transit. If you want to reduce car usage and car emissions, that’s exactly what you need to do it so I think this lawsuit is basically groundless.”
Tom Devito, director of advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, argued that the suit’s argument about a lack of community input is baseless as well.
“Frivolous lawsuits have resulted in a temporary restraining orders time and again,” he said. “No other project that I’ve been involved and has had nearly the amount of input and consultation.”
Stuyvesant Town resident Mary Garvey said that she wants the busway implemented because she knows Lower East Side residents who have to travel for two hours within Manhattan because the bus service from the far east side is so unreliable and slow.
“Those people in the West Village who defend their parking spaces have all the transit they could want to use and they’re still defending their cars,” she said. “They may live there but the streets belong to all of us.”
The de Blasio administration first announced the revised busway plan, officially referred to as transit/truck priority, in April along with Select Bus Service on the M14A/D as a way to help commuters get across Manhattan while work on the L train is being completed.
The lawsuit will next be discussed in court at a hearing on August 6.