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