By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Within days of a judge giving the 14th Street busway the go-ahead after a lawsuit prevented it from going into effect at the beginning of July, West Village, Union Square and Flatiron residents and community groups have once again held up the pilot program through an appeal.
Gothamist reported that shortly after the Department of Transportation, the city agency implementing the busway, had previewed the changes last Friday following the temporary restraining order being lifted on Tuesday, a judge granted an appeal to the community groups and stopped the busway from going into effect this past Monday.
Tensions have been high between transit advocates and the residents working to prevent the busway, particularly Arthur Schwartz, an attorney who filed the initial lawsuit and who also lives on West 12th Street, and have only increased since the end of last week.
Transit group Transportation Alternatives announced a press conference in front of Schwartz’s own West Village apartment to pressure Schwartz into dropping the lawsuit, planned for this past Wednesday after T&V’s deadline. Schwartz condemned the move as an intimidation tactic.
“This kind of undemocratic bullying, reminiscent of how white-hooded zealots would threaten white lawyers who represented black people in the south, or dictators who threaten lawyers who represent unpopular figures, needs to be called out,” Schwartz said, while also pointing out that he is an elected Democratic District Leader in the neighborhood.
But Transportation Alternatives challenged Schwartz’s progressive bonafides, arguing that the lawsuit runs counter to his argument.
“There is nothing progressive about using wealth and political connections to rob working New Yorkers of their time,” Transportation Alternatives Senior Director of Advocacy Thomas DeVito said. “The continued legal action against the 14th Street busway plan represents a bad-faith effort to threaten mobility options for tens of thousands, and sets a dangerous precedent, proving that anyone of means can use the court system to circumvent the democratic process.”
The Villager reported last Friday that Schwartz succeeded in getting the last-minute court-ordered stay from an Appellate Division court because he had filed an appeal of the ruling that lifted the restraining order.
While transit groups have been arguing that blocking the plan ultimately hurts low-income New Yorkers who ride the bus, Schwartz told the paper that he managed to get the appeal by asking for support from members of the 14th St. Coalition, one of the groups fighting the plan, and was able to cobble together enough money to file the appeal in thousand-dollar chunks from neighborhood residents.
“I said it might cost $5,000 to $10,000 to print the record,” he said. “I got a great reaction. Everyone was pledging $1,000 here, $1,000 there.”
Schwartz also sent out a notice late on Tuesday night that he would be hosting a press conference Wednesday morning to address a new lawsuit about accessibility on 14th Street, citing human rights law as an argument against the elimination of bus stops on the thoroughfare in preparation for Select Bus Service on the M14A/D. Schwartz said that he would be filing the lawsuit, officially called 504 Democratic Club and Disabled in Action of Metropolitan NY vs. Andy Byford, President of the NYC Transit Authority, to address the elimination of 12 bus stops on the route, especially to address the removal of a stop and bus shelter at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, which is a transfer point for the M1.
Mass transit advocacy group Riders Alliance responded to the announcement on Wednesday morning, arguing that the removal of some bus stops is necessary for the system to function properly.
“One day he’s fighting the busway on 14th street. The next day, he’s trying to maintain every inefficiency of the existing dysfunctional bus network,” said Riders Alliance policy and communications director Danny Pearlstein. “Every day, two million New Yorkers are subjected to the slowest bus service in the United States. Responding to years of rider organizing, the MTA and city made historic commitments to speed up buses and get riders moving. And to make bus service faster, they need every tool in their toolkit, including removing stops when they are so close together that the bus can hardly get anywhere.”