West Village Lawyer Arthur Schwartz Threatens to Drag DOT to Court Over Its L Train Shutdown Plan

The selfish crusade to block a crosstown busway and bike lane could leave hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers stranded while the L train is out of commission.

One selfish person is threatening to spoil desperately needed transit and bicycling improvements for thousands. Photo: @advocat4justice/Twitter
One selfish person is threatening to spoil desperately needed transit and bicycling improvements for thousands. Photo: @advocat4justice/Twitter

The looming L train shutdown is justifiably a source of huge concern for transit riders and people who live along the route. The unprecedented 15-month closure of the western portion of the L train, slated to begin next year, will disrupt the routines of hundreds of thousands of people.

Commuters are wondering how they’ll get to work, businesses are alarmed about losing customers, and residents along the L corridor are worried they’ll have to live through a year of honking traffic congestion.

For the public officials who have to help all these people get around without the L train, the situation demands a steady hand and a no-nonsense commitment to prioritizing bus service, bicycling, and other modes that can move large numbers of people given limited street space.

For people who don’t like those sorts of changes to the streets, the atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding the L shutdown is also ripe for spreading misinformation and fear.

That’s exactly what West Village resident Arthur Schwartz, a Democratic district leader and labor lawyer, has set out to do. Schwartz has told the Villager that he doesn’t believe the MTA’s measurements of L train ridership and the number of people who’ll be affected by the shutdown.

He’s now threatening to sue the city over its plan to compensate for the loss of L train service with a busway on 14th Street and a two-way protected bike lane on 13th Street. Last week, Schwartz sent an ultimatum to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg demanding an “environmental impact statement” for the city’s L train shutdown plan, or else he’ll drag the city to court.

One environmental impact statement can take years to complete, but the L train shutdown is scheduled to begin in April 2019.

Conducting an EIS for a project to improve transit and cycling obviously runs counter to the spirit of environmentalism, though this would be far from the first case where 1970s-era environmental law was deployed to uphold the car-centric status quo.

Schwartz’s letter also completely ignores the question of how traffic will be affected if the city does nothing to prioritize transit and biking while the L train is out of commission.

The threat doesn’t have to stand up in court, though. As long as it gets DOT to water down the plan, Schwartz’s ultimatum will serve its purpose. He told the Villager that he’ll withdraw the lawsuit if DOT opts to “compromise and reach an agreement” with people he deems to be “community leaders.”

Schwartz doesn’t care if there’s an environmental review or not. He just wants to stop the city from implementing much-needed street design changes that will help L train riders continue to get around car-free.

Who’d get screwed? First and foremost, the transit riders who’ll be depending on reliable and safe substitutes for the L train. The weaker DOT’s plan for buses and bicycling, the more time and money these riders will lose when they have to travel without the L.

Merchants and employers will also lose if Schwartz gets his way. Without a functional, high-capacity substitute for the L train, they’ll have fewer customers and employees will have a tougher time getting to work.

Even Arthur Schwartz will lose. If you think setting aside a few lanes for transit and bikes will ruin the streets of the West Village, wait til you see what happens when every L train passenger who can afford it decides to hail an Uber instead.

  • TheSchwartzIsntWithUs

    As usual, Democrats proving they aren’t Democrats at all. This guy is selfish.

  • I also believe an EIS isn’t legally required for the type of reorganizing DOT has proposed. In fact, Noah wrote about this very issue for Streetsblog back in 2011. A motion to dismiss would resolve this frivolous suit very quickly.

    https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2011/01/26/enviro-law-experts-review-for-bike-lanes-a-waste-of-taxpayer-money/

  • If the stakes weren’t so high for so many people, I’d be rooting for this guy to get his way. It would be one of the most epic NIMBY self-owns the city has ever seen.

  • Ken Dodd

    You mean “progressives” proving they are anything but. This city is full of them.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You’re not from around here are you? That’s the Democratic Party of New York all right.

    In another time I could be a Republican. Not now. In another place I could be a Democrat. Not here.

  • Larry Littlefield

    No EIS for having the Staten Island Expressway go from six lanes to 10, no EIS for cutting transit service. But an EIS for not cutting transit service enough?

  • JarekFA

    But people honestly try to do EIS for bike lanes b/c they believe it’ll cause cars to idle more.

  • Guest

    “honestly” is probably not best word here.

  • JR

    It’s just NIMBYism. It knows no political party.

  • I’ll say this. A few years ago the MTA took the Q33 (that used to go from my Jackson Heights front door to LGA in 10-12 minutes) and changed it to create the Q70 route that offers frequent service but I’d need to take an additional bus to get to and now spend about 30-35 minutes total to get to LGA. I was pissed. But also: I knew the bus line would serve so many more people and was integral to get more people to use transit. So, yes, I personally lost, but 98% of people wanting to take it gained. So I took my sadness and didn’t pout or cry or scream about it, I saw what was good for the many was much more important than the one (or few). Shameless Star Trek 2 reference. This guy needs to stop crying.

  • Vooch
  • Fool

    I swear that Democrats in local governments are the most effective political conservatives on the planet. They do not want anything to change, and they succeed at it.

  • djx

    “most epic NIMBY self-owns”

    This. Great phrasing too.

  • JR

    For many locals, their house should be the last one built. After they’ve moved in, everything must be static.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Republican” means nothing. “Conservative” means nothing. “Democrat” means nothing. “Progressive” means nothing. Aside from silly fights over tribal “people like us” vs. “people like them” issues. Which is all they care about or understand.

    In case you didn’t notice my protest campaign for state legislature back in the day (apparently mostly everyone)

    http://www.ipny.org/littlefield/civicunion2020.html

    The operative political philosophy of New York’s Democrats AND Republicans is a kind of neo-feudalism.

    “Under capitalism, you get what you earn, at least in theory. Those who believe that people need an incentive to work and innovate can agree with that. Under socialism, you get what you need, at least in theory. Those who believe that we are all part of one human family can agree with that. But over time, when you have the same group of people in power, both capitalism and socialism degenerate into feudalism, under which the privileged expect to continue to get what they have been getting, and perhaps a little more, whether they need it or not, deserve it or not. For those who have real needs, and who produce real earnings, it’s just tough luck. The feudalism of unearned privilege explains much about the state of the State of New York, where all past deals are set in stone.”

    To this you add the generational inequities created throughout the nation, in the public and private sectors, by Generation Greed.

    “Aside from lobbyists who are just out for a dollar, politics appears to be driven by two different concepts of the word “freedom” that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, one good and the other (for lack of a better word) evil. The good freedom might be called freedom of identity, or of lifestyle. For a brief period after World War II, many Americans believed that if you didn’t look like, act like, think like, and live like everyone else, then you shouldn’t be accepted. The idea of America as a land of social conformity is mostly gone, but politicians can still get elected by manipulating 35 year old resentments with tribal appeals to groups of people, and the invocation of “values” issues on which they have no intention of changing anything. Sadly, tribal politics determines how many people vote, among those who vote at all. They are suckers.”

    “The evil idea of freedom is freedom from responsibility, which has both a “liberal” and a “conservative” version, depending on which responsibilities one does not want to meet. Liberal Democrats have sought to attract votes by telling the poor and not so poor, the old and not so old, the sick and not so sick, and others that they do not have personal responsibilities to work and earn their own living, or to take care of their family members. To knowledgeable critics, their excuse for irresponsibility has been “social realism, ” the assertion that this is the way people live today (because they are free to live that way) and government programs, paid for by someone else, must limit the damage. And they have cultivated a sense of entitlement to assistance, causing recipients of public benefits to feel anger at anyone who dares to make demands on them in exchange.”

    “Conservatives and Republicans have sought to attract votes by telling the better off that they do not have social responsibilities to their communities, to the less well off, to the rest of the world, and to the future, particularly with regard to taxes and debt, but also with regard to the environment. To knowledgeable critics, their excuse for irresponsibility has been “economic realism, ” the assertion that the affluent are self interested and mobile, and if you make demands on them for the benefit of others, or for the benefit of the future, they will take their assets and go elsewhere, leaving you worse off than before. They also cultivate a sense of entitlement, telling the affluent that their position of privilege is the result of their own moral superiority, not social advantages or luck or (as the business scandals show) worse, and that they do not owe anything to anyone in exchange for it.”

    There are your real political values. And unless someone is going to actually get on the ballot — something they make almost impossible — or there is a state constitutional convention — which the powers that be just arranged to have voted down, all this will remain under Omerta. At least I can say I did what I could, and met my obligation as a citizen.

  • webrawer

    Making sure every empty tree pit has a thriving tree will help mitigate impacts. Green the route! Start this spring.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The worse it gets the better it is.”
    At some point something has to bash into the serfs’ heads that they are the serfs.

  • John Maier

    DOT just tweeted out a link to this: http://web.mta.info/sandy/resources.html
    Some of this is newly minted, but the facts are pretty much the same as what they have been saying for the last year+

    https://twitter.com/NYC_DOT/status/967093281208365056

  • 50 year village resident

    Way to go Arthur! You’ve won EIS/SECRA lawsuits in the Village before and you will win this won.

    Instead of first sitting down with the community regarding 14th Street, DOT, as usual, decided to talk to T.A. operatives. In other words, DOT let the lunatics run the asylum.
    Now DOT will reap the fruits of its error.

    Let the newbies, hipsters and Yuppies from Brooklyn on this website get their panties in a knot; we Villagers and Chelsea folk stand solidly behind you,
    Home Rule Now, Home Rule Forever. Power to the People, not the DOT Bureaucrats.

  • Jim

    Simpleminded stereotypes about complicated policy issues don’t really help anyone. The underlying issue here is not NIMBY but government transparency and responsiveness, which DOT rarely shows. 14th St was rebuilt twenty-five years ago to accommodate heavy traffic, especially trucks. The small streets parallel to it were not, especially 15th st, which has a delicate 20-inch gas main running along under it. Arthur is looking out for the tens of thousands of residents of this neighborhood.

  • ohnonononono

    What did they do 25 years ago? I thought 14th Street was always 100 feet wide.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Let the newbies, hipsters and Yuppies from Brooklyn on this website get their panties in a knot” — 50 year resident.

    You don’t think that attitude extends only to the traffic configuration on 14th Street, do you? Folks don’t like the label I put on the majority of that generation, but keep looking at issue after issue and you see the same thing. And it ain’t “peace, love and understanding.”

    https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Ringer-Looking-Number-Hardcover/dp/B00RWQ7B8Y

  • 50 year village resident

    Larry, you mean we agree on something?

    Actually, without trying to be patronizing, I have found you to be the rare voice of reason on this blog.
    I know you worked for govt. planning agencies, so you know my (and most of my neighbors’) antipathy and distrust for the bureaucrats at DOT.

    I assume most of the readers here also distrust many govt. agencies but am so disappointed that they cut DOT such slack.

    Btw, I followed your suggested link. So true. Watching “Woodstock” on TCM recently, I wondered when the idealism displayed over those three days in August will return.

  • Larry Littlefield

    No we don’t agree. I see you view as another form of tribalism, which I despise in all forms.

    The idealists of the 1960s made a lot of noise at the time, and people thought they spoke for their generation. They turned out to be the minority.

    Local and broader interests have to be balanced. Power to the people? What about the other people? Sounds like “I am the world.”

  • 50 year village resident

    Well, your comment was certainly confusing enough. Try for more clarity next time please.

    “people thought they spoke for their generation. They turned out to be the minority.”
    You parrot right-wingers like Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan and Spiro Agnew with their “Silent Majority” trope. You must be very pleased with yourself. One can be judged by the company they keep. I won’t judge you; you just judged yourself.

    However, whenever a retrospective of the 60s is held, the YAF and Boys Club are never mentioned; but SDS and the duBois Club are.
    Your opinion about that generation is only that, and not substantiated by history or historians.

    The idealists of the 60s made such an impact that today uninspired folk like you take it for granted and do not even realize who first initiated it:
    – the modern women’s rights movement
    – free speech movement
    – long hair and casual attire as the norm
    – musical improvisation and creativity
    – civil rights movement
    – an explosion of artistic expression and styles
    – distrust of government and authority
    – the environmental movement
    – a vote at 18 movement
    – end the war in Vietnam movement
    – sexual liberation and the Gay rights movement
    – the end of the draft
    – legalization of marijuana
    – etc, etc
    Sorry, sir, but history spits in your face.

    “Tribalism”? LMAO
    The only tribe I see is the same small coterie on streetsblog who incessantly post here year after year thinking THEIR view is the majority’s, folk like you. The fact that multiple block associations and a duly elected district leader, all representing countless people, oppose this DOT/TA-inspired deal means nothing to your lot, your little tribe, does it? It’s all about YOU!

    Well, I should have known better when I harangued the city bureaucrats.
    What can I expect from a career bureaucrat like yourself who has lived off the public teat for all his life.

  • 50 year Village resident

    You were part of the screwball Independence Party in another time and place. Tell us, what were the results when you ran for office? What did people think of you and YOUR Opinions?

  • Andrew

    Thanks, great stuff there.

  • Andrew

    14th Street was not rebuilt 25 years ago to accommodate the volumes of buses needed to carry passengers diverted when the Canarsie Tube is closed while also accommodating its current non-bus traffic volumes. Without adequate buses to reliably serving those diverted riders within acceptable travel times, many of them will instead divert to taxis, Ubers, and private cars, clogging up your streets uncontrollably.

    If your friend Arthur has convinced you that by demanding no change to the street layout he will preserve the status quo, your friend Arthur has lied to you.

  • Andrew

    Way to go Arthur! You’ve won EIS/SECRA lawsuits in the Village before and you will win this won.

    Still curious what you expect to “win” in “this won.” You’re hoping to win uncontrollable traffic congestion?

    Instead of first sitting down with the community regarding 14th Street, DOT, as usual, decided to talk to T.A. operatives. In other words, DOT let the lunatics run the asylum.
    Now DOT will reap the fruits of its error.

    DOT has been sitting down with the community for years.

    It doesn’t take “T.A. operatives” to realize that, with no L train running across 14th Street, a lot of riders will be diverted to the surface. It also doesn’t take “T.A. operatives” to realize that, without adequate bus, bike, and pedestrian facilities along the 14th Street corridor, a lot of those diverted riders will fall back on taxis, Ubers, and private cars, clogging up your precious streets.

    DOT doesn’t want to clog up your precious streets. That’s why DOT has proposed a busway, a bike facility, and wider sidewalks.

    None of this is rocket science. Here’s the traffic study: http://web.mta.info/sandy/pdf/20180222CrosstownTrafficAnalysis_.pdf

    Let the newbies, hipsters and Yupp ies from Brooklyn on this website get their panties in a knot; we Villagers and Chelsea folk stand solidly behind you,

    Oh, so you’ve polled enough “Villagers and Chelsea folk” to reach that conclusion?

    Home Rule Now, Home Rule Forever. Power to the People, not the DOT Bureaucrats.

    Transportation planning doesn’t work by asking each individual what he or she wants in front of his or her home.

  • Andrew

    Well, your comment was certainly confusing enough. Try for more clarity next time please.

    This coming from the guy who still hasn’t told us what he actually wants to accomplish? Rich.

  • 50 year village resident

    I don’t want cross town traffic from a commercial “wide street” diverted to a “narrow street’ full of residents.
    I want DOT to discuss this first with those most affected, not TA fanatics with their own agenda.
    Capice?

    Now answer me.
    ‘Transportation planning doesn’t work by asking each individual what he or she wants in front of his or her home.’
    Maybe, maybe not.
    But good government DOES work that way.
    Before we can have effective transportation planning, we first need good government. And that is something DOT has lacked for decades.
    Capice?

  • jaxbot

    Lmao DOT and MTA have been talking to involve community members about this for over a year. You all didn’t turn up until DOT presented the plan *that was asked for* by residents and commuters. Don’t act like DOT isn’t listening to the community. They are literally implementing the plan asked for by people who bothered to show up and express their needs last year.

  • jaxbot

    Can we please for a second note that “TA” is the name for the group that runs the subways? “Transalt” is probably who you’re referring to. As a 50 year village resident, surely you would know this.

  • Andrew
  • 50 year village resident

    Er, can we please for a second note that “MTA” is the name of the group that runs the subways?

    Perhaps when you have lived in NYC for over 50 years, you’ll finally learn that distinction..

    And If I choose to call the lobbying group “TA”, I will. I could call them worse.

  • 50 year village resident

    Gee, I gave you a serious response to your question and your response is a dumb-ass photograph. So typical.
    Ever wonder why guys like you are so marginalized and vilified by most NYC residents?

  • Andrew

    Wrong. The agency that operates the subways is the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA, or TA), also known as New York City Transit (NYCT).

    New York City Transit is an affiliate of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), but New York City Transit is the agency that operates the subways.

    Maybe it won’t take you 50 more years to learn the distinction.

  • Andrew

    A serious response would have addressed the question of how diverted L riders will get around. You didn’t give a serious response, and now I see that you don’t even know what serious discourse means.

    No, I don’t normally wonder about counterfactuals, but thanks for asking.

  • Menachem Goldshteyn

    The headline sounds like he’s fighting for transit. Maybe it should say “shutdown mitigation”?

  • Fool

    More evidence that the village is the enemy of the city and a liberal society.

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