By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Third time’s the charm for the busway?
A decision from the New York Supreme Court last Friday will allow the Department of Transportation to implement a busway on 14th Street following a court fight instigated by neighboring block associations that previously blocked the plan twice during the summer.
The New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division said in the 3-2 decision that the stay granted by a judge on Monday, August 9 was lifted, allowing the DOT to proceed with the plan, and the agency announced that the busway will go into effect on Thursday, October 3 for an 18-month pilot program.
The decision last Friday said that three of the five justices concurred, with Justices Barbara Kapnick and Troy Webber dissenting, with both noting that they would be willing to continue the interim stay to hear further arguments from Schwartz.
A representative from the DOT said that the court’s lifting of the stay allows the agency to proceed with implementation of the busway and there are no anticipated changes to the specific plans that were previously announced.
Schwartz has conceded, at least for now, and the busway should in fact be going into effect on Thursday. But he said that the case is still ongoing and he plans to go back to court in January.
“The vote was 3-2 and that says to me that the panel we’re going to have could be a different group of five judges when we go back in January,” he said. “It will be a very close question. DOT will get their four months and we’ll see what happens.”
The New York Daily News did report at the end of August that bus speeds for the M14A/D are slightly faster now at just over 5 mph than they were a year ago, when speeds were 4.7 mph. But amNY also reported the previous month that even though SBS had been implemented on the route beginning in July, the M14A-SBS was designated the slowest route in the city by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and TransitCenter in the 2019 Pokey and Schleppie Awards, with an average speed of 4.3 mph.
The litigation regarding the busway has been ongoing since before the DOT attempted to implement the treatments on 14th Street at the beginning of the summer.
The agency initially announced that the busway prioritizing public transit and truck traffic would be implemented on July 1 to coincide with the launch of Select Bus Service on the M14A/D, but a lawsuit filed by attorney and West 12th Street resident Arthur Schwartz on behalf of neighborhood block associations in the West Village, Flatiron and Chelsea blocked the plan, with a judge issuing a temporary restraining order at the end of June.
The MTA launched SBS on the M14A/D as scheduled anyway, but due to the restraining order and ongoing litigation, it was the only SBS route in the city without a dedicated bus lane. All vehicles have been allowed to ride in the painted bus lane on 14th Street as a result of the lawsuit.
After a later court date on August 6, a judge lifted the temporary restraining order, arguing that the city had thoroughly examined traffic impacts and gave the DOT the authority to implement the project, but on Friday, August 9, just a few days before the busway was scheduled to go into effect, Judge Eileen Rakower granted Schwartz and the community groups an appeal. Schwartz successfully got the last-minute court-ordered stay from the Appellate Division court because he filed an appeal of the ruling that had lifted the restraining order.
Schwartz, who lives in the West Village, argued in the initial lawsuit and subsequent appeal that restricting traffic on 14th Street would push cars and other vehicles to neighboring side streets both north and south of the thoroughfare. After the temporary restraining order was lifted, Schwartz said that he felt like the judge didn’t give sufficient consideration to “environmental factors” and failed to force DOT to explain the specific hours for the busway.
Schwartz also told Town & Village this week that the busway is unnecessary because the DOT has already implemented turn restrictions on 14th Street that have limited car traffic, and he feels that limiting it further will cause the problems that he has raised previously about traffic getting pushed onto neighboring side streets.
“By eliminating all these turns, they’ve basically already gotten most of the traffic off 14th Street,” he said. “I was up there [on Wednesday morning] and there wasn’t a single car at 8:45 a.m., which used to be back-to-back traffic. I think they achieved their purpose so the ballyhoo they’re doing is an effort to rub it in and maybe they have a plan to do it somewhere else.”
A DOT spokesperson confirmed that left turn restrictions have already been in effect on 14th Street and the implementation of the busway will further restrict private vehicle traffic along the street by requiring that they make the next legal right turn off 14th, and only buses and trucks will be able to continue to make through trips. Left-turn restrictions are common on other Manhattan crosstown streets to keep traffic flowing and to promote pedestrian safety.
“We are excited to implement these planned street treatments and traffic restrictions to increase bus speeds and improve pedestrian safety on a corridor that sees some of the slowest buses and greatest number of pedestrian injuries in Manhattan,” the spokesperson said regarding implementation of the busway.
While the restrictions are in effect, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily, only buses and trucks can make through trips between Third and Ninth Avenues on 14th Street. Trucks are defined as any vehicle with more than two axels or six or more wheels. All vehicles except MTA buses will be restricted from making left turns off 14th Street at all times, but other vehicles will be allowed on 14th during the restricted times as long as they make the next available right off the street. This is primarily for curbside pick-ups and cars that need access to garages on the block, but commercial vehicles will also be allowed on the street to load and unload in short-term metered loading zones.
Under the previously-proposed busway plan that had been announced for the now-canceled L train shutdown, no other vehicles would have been allowed on 14th Street during the restricted times.
When the restrictions are not in effect during the overnight hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., all vehicles will be allowed to make through trips along the corridor.
“We are grateful to the judges of the Appellate Division, First Department for their decision today to allow DOT and New York City Transit to move forward with our 18-month Transit and Truck Priority Pilot Project on 14th Street,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “With over 27,000 trips taken on the M14 Select Bus Service each day, the new busway will help create more reliable commutes with shorter travel times. DOT and New York City Transit will continue to work with the NYPD, elected officials, local merchants, neighborhood residents, drivers and bus riders along 14th Street to monitor and evaluate the new service and make adjustments as needed.”