BY DAVID R. MARCUS | The flawed 14th St. busway was born out of the flawed plan to close the Canarsie Tunnel for much-needed repairs that would have required shutting down the L train for 18 months.
But the plan to create the busway and ban all other vehicular traffic on 14th St. seemed rendered moot in January 2019. That’s when Governor Cuomo stepped in and showed all our city “experts” and elected officials that there was a much more intelligent solution to the tunnel repair that did not require an extended closure. This eliminated the oft-stated justification for the 14th St. Traffic Mitigation Plan.
The need to rescue all the would-be L-train ridership that would be displaced by the shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel — with one bus per minute on 14th St., caravans of buses over the Williamsburg Bridge and draconian vehicular restrictions on 14th St. — had been shown to be unnecessary.
Reasonable people might have assumed that would be the end of it, but those of us that live in the community and whose narrow side streets would be overrun by the displaced 14th St. car and truck traffic knew better. It was clear to us from the very beginning that the L-train suspension was just a mere ruse by Polly Trottenberg’s Department of Transportation and some of our local politicians to promote a plan for a Peopleway.
The Peopleway was proffered by Transportation Alternatives, a multimillion-dollar lobbying organization with no roots in the community, run by six-figure salaried operatives, who never miss a beat to mislabel our concerned and longtime residents as wealthy, entitled, car-loving obstructionists — despite the reality that many of our residents are elderly, disabled and live on fixed incomes, most of whom do not own cars.
Because, in the beginning, Corey Johnson was skeptical about the plan and had expressed concern about its effect on his neighborhood, shortly after the Cuomo announcement, I wrote an open letter to Johnson, not as speaker of the City Council, but as the city councilperson representing our district. I asked him to help ensure that Trottenberg and her minions wouldn’t pull a predictable bait-and-switch.
But the D.O.T. commissioner eventually did, in April 2019, when she announced that despite the fact that the L train wouldn’t be shut down, the original justification of the plan — the need for faster buses — made the plan necessary anyway. In other words, if you didn’t like that answer, Trottenberg had a few more.
Other than hearing that he was insulted and outraged that I would ask him for that help, I never heard back from Speaker Johnson.
Not once during the period from January to April of last year did any of our local politicians stand up for their constituents other than to promise that 1.) the 14th St. Traffic Mitigation Plan would be an 18-month trial, 2.) there would be constant monitoring and reporting on the plan, and (3) at the end of 18 months, they would consult with the community to see if the busway should be made permanent.
But those three promises turned out to be nothing but lies. For, on Monday, coinciding with phase one of the city’s reopening, an embattled Mayor de Blasio, sorely in need of some touchy-feely announcement, declared that the 14th St. busway was now permanent.
Without a shred of corroborative evidence — and damn any community input — he declared, “The 14th St. busway, this has been a success by every measure. I said, we’re going to do it, we’re going to see if it works, we’re going to see, do people ride the bus more? Does the bus go faster? Does it have any negative impact on the surrounding streets? And the jury is back. The answer is, it is a clear success. We are making the 14th St. busway permanent.”
We have been lied to once again and literally thrown under the bus. They never produced the data supporting the alleged increase in speed — particularly any incremental speed over what was already achieved with the turn restrictions that had already been put in place, which produced significant improvement. Nor have they ever addressed how much of the improvement was on the backs of the elderly and disabled whose 14 essential bus stops were removed to speed up the M14 for Select Bus Service. Imagine if all the bus stops were removed, how fast those buses could travel.
The truth is that, even before the pandemic, the busway plan had rendered 14th St. a barren wasteland. Robbed of its dynamic hustle and bustle, it became a virtually empty street. Retail stores suffered from a lack of foot traffic. Meanwhile, the buses were mostly empty, often coming bunched together in twos, and with no obvious purpose or achievement to justify crippling this essential crosstown thoroughfare.
Most of all, it wasn’t anything close to the 18-month study they claimed it would be, nor did they ever come back to review the alleged “pilot program” with the community, as they promised they would.
De Blasio claims the busway was an overwhelming success but without any data to support that. It seems that it is not only Trump who can declare facts and truth without an ounce of corroborative evidence. Guess that’s 21st-century politics, no matter who the liar is. The mayor’s claim of success is so far from the reality of the harm it has foisted on our side streets, in favor of a minuscule percentage of New York City commuters.
The proof is that, in the current reality of the pandemic, most people are shunning public transportation in favor of the safety of their cars, and its delusional to think that will change anytime soon, no matter what Transportation Alternatives fantasizes and lies about. Fourteenth St. was modernized and reinforced to support heavy, crosstown car and truck traffic. Our side streets are asphalt on sand and cannot support the diversion of traffic from Fourteenth St. and the harm it causes to our vulnerable underground infrastructure and the fragile foundations of our historic buildings.
The busway is a flawed and thoughtless plan that panders to a well-endowed lobby of the minority.
Trottenberg made the empty and disingenuous promise that she would listen. Corey Johnson “insisted” that the alleged pilot project must be monitored and that the community must be consulted — until he saw he could benefit by TransAlt support for his mayoral campaign.
De Blasio watched to see how the wind blew.
They all need to be called out for putting career aspirations over the people they are pledged to serve. They cite flawed or nonexistent data that they refuse to share, produced by people with lucrative city contracts.
We have always known it was a done deal — only we didn’t expect it this soon. The 18-month promise was a total sham, and without even their typical lame charade of “consulting” with the community.
I have been predicting this all along. These politicians have no accountability to their constituents — only to those that fund their campaigns. We need to voice our displeasure at the polls by electing responsive leadership.
Marcus is a co-op board member of the Cambridge apartment building, at 175 W. 13th St., and a founder and former steering committee member of the 14th St. Coalition
The busway is the best thing to happen to Manhattan since we filled in the Collect Pond. Keep crying, NIMBYs!
Ooooh, the evil Bicycle Lobby! It’s all a conspiracy by Big Bike!
If you spent half the time analyzing the tactics of TA that you did obsessing about the hassle over copper wire with your phone, I think you could exercise your fine powers of observation and come up with something more articulate and informed.
Look on the Coalition Against Rogue Riding blog.
Right, the big problem society faces isn’t a utility betraying its trust responsibilities to the citizens… no, it’s reckless bicylists and their omnipotent lobby!
You depress me, Jack.
Great article! Bravo and thank you for shining a much-needed light on our self-serving elected officials. Looking forward to voicing my displeasure at the polls…
If you build it, they will come. The opposite also applies — if you close the street off, fewer people will drive there (or nearby) out of a fear of more traffic. I own a building on 14th St. and have lived in the Village my entire life. Cars are bad, as I see it, and they should be banned from ALL of Manhattan. Trucks, too, except for overnight deliveries to markets etc. Twelfth and 13th and 15th Sts. always were trash, in terms of traffic. Now, 14th is less polluted, quieter, safer, and another step to banning cars and helping solve climate change. Marcus, you are just misguided on this issue.
Hmm people who use mass transit including me LOVE it. Rich people who own houses and condos and cars hate it. It’s nice for us “poor” people to win for once. Anything that makes it harder to drive a car in NYC is good. I assure you that as a regular rider of the M14, I don’t need a report — the busway is a HUGE success. Despite a bit of nerves, I took it for the first time since lockdown yesterday and I would not have ridden the subway.
Lastly I assure the politicians are for once doing exactly what they are supposed to in serving the mass of people who ride mass transit and not caving in to the well-connected
It is not a big bike conspiracy, it is a Mark Gorton conspiracy forced on the city by pandering politicians who can be bought and sold by special-interest lobbies. Please note that not one of the rants from T.A. above addresses the very real betrayal and lies which the article addresses.
For decades the destination on M14A bus read “West Village Abingdon Square.” Suddenly it’s been changed to “West Side.” Despite the promise of a six-month study, has the MTA made the decision to discontinue service south of 14th Street, ignoring residents and our elected officials?
I use mass transit (90% of the time the M14A or D), have lived in the EV since 1980, am not rich, don’t own a car or a bike. The 14th Street Expressway is ludicrous — what other top city in the world would take one of its major transportation arteries and turn it into an echoing wasteland that negatively impacts the small businesses that line it, that have already been impacted by the monthslong shutdown? DeBlah is an idiot, as is his plan to occlude more of these major arteries so they can stay empty 95% of the time.
Any other “top city in the world” would’ve done this a long time ago. You must not get out very much if you think that a transit and pedestrian-first approach to major city thoroughfares is an unpopular concept throughout the world. If you don’t want New York to follow the lead of the world’s great cities, feel free to move to Houston or Orlando. I’m sure they’d love to have you!
I really like the 14th St. busway, as do most of my neighbors in Westbeth, many of whom are elderly and disabled. It is faster. I resumed riding buses a few weeks ago and use the 14A bus to go to the Union Square Greenmarket. I’d rather shop outdoors than in a store at this time. When I rode the 14A twice this past week, there were a number of passengers on it.
Transportation Alternatives operates on the hypothesis that the more bikes on the streets, the safer the cyclists. Couldn’t be the pedestrians. This was pulled from some obscure Australian town — if memory serves. Clearly this has been proven false. Further, no genuine effort was made to establish a responsible bike culture. There is no safety without a responsible bike culture. Build the bike lanes and the cyclists will comply is clearly wrong. Again, TA has leaned on Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio to suppress NYPD enforcement of the rogue cyclists. This undermines the NYPD and creates a public-safety crisis with an ongoing wave of lawless
bike riding that creates an environment of jeopardy — for all.
Then-Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said publicly at an Eighth Street BID meeting that it was her intention and that of TA — which at the time controlled D.O.T. — to build out the bike infrastructure as quickly as possible and make it as difficult as possible for any future administrations to change it. Hubris thy name is visionaries.
This approach has been disruptive without being constructive. The 14th Street Busway is just the most recent in the series of dipping and diving contrived by TA arm-twisting.
TA has undermined the NYPD, rivaled the arrogance of Robert Moses, and greatly diminished the quality of life in NYC. Lawless bikes. World-class congestion. Loss of business. All this for a very small minority of residents. Most of whom are young.
TA is well funded. Organized in the spirit of zealotry. Charles Komanoff is the sophist in chief. Mark Gorton — “comfortable taking unpopular positions” — Limewire software/high-frequency trading hedge-funder — the money bags. The Big Apple has been taken for a ride.
TA is a scrappy, grassroots organization advocating for cyclists and pedestrians, meaning at some time, all of us. A “multimillion-dollar organization” it is definitely not. Issues around automobile traffic in New York City cannot be decided by residents of a particular street or even neighborhood. It is a citywide problem, with vast consequences for our health and the health of our planet. Hopefully the 14th St. busway will become a model repeated many many times over throughout the city.
Hard to understand why the esteemed Village Sun seems to consistently take such a scathingly negative view of this environmental centerpiece!
Hi Walter, this is an opinion piece (op-ed, talking point, etc.) by a reader, David Marcus, not an article per se or an editorial by The Village Sun. Readers can submit opinion pieces on all sides of this subject or any subject. We welcome opinion pieces for consideration. They can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org .
TA has been around since the 1980s but in the early 2000s a very sleazy and very rich businessman named Mark Gorton came along and took it from an organization with 3 employees to 30. He also founded and funds “Open Plans” that has about 4 entities (like “Streetsblog”) and many other employees.
In 2012 the Times noted he’d already spent $10 million on his efforts, which are to rid Manhattan of privately owned cars.
You know Trump’s a bad businessman because he’s paid out $27 million in settlements and fines for his sleaze? Gorton spent the last 20 years ripping off musicians’ copyrights and doing sleazy high-frequency trading.
He has paid out $186 million in fines and settlements. Trump sleaze times seven.
TA was scrappy once. It is scrappy like the NRA is scrappy.
Oh, and Gorton? Also a total nutjob, unless you agree with him that the Bush family had the Kennedy brothers killed and ran a coup on November 22, 1963
“The truth is that, even before the pandemic, the busway plan had rendered 14th St. a barren wasteland. Robbed of its dynamic hustle and bustle, it became a virtually empty street. Retail stores suffered from a lack of foot traffic. Meanwhile, the buses were mostly empty, often coming bunched together in twos, and with no obvious purpose or achievement to justify crippling this essential crosstown thoroughfare.”
A wasteland? Really? If your theory was true, then where are all these bustling bazaars with oodles of foot traffic in car-dominated suburbs as close as Staten Island? Car traffic is offensive and actually kills pedestrian “hustle and bustle.”
Also. Please don’t use coronavirus as an excuse that public transit is not needed. Eventually the pandemic will dissipate and NYC will need forward-thinking adjustments to its transit infrastructure. NYC is already decades behind most other big cities in Europe.
It’s worth noting that a studio apartment in Mr. Marcus’s building is currently on the market for slightly less than $600,000 — one imagines that his own is worth considerably more. Are we really pretending that this is some kind of underdog story when the median household income of a NYC bus rider is like $40,000? Truly, truly shameful, but not at all surprising.