Don’t Negotiate With the West Village L Train Shutdown NIMBYs

Ruthlessly do the right thing.

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

Earlier this week, Arthur Schwartz and some West Village neighbor associations made good on their threat to sue the city over plans to repurpose streets for busways and bikeways during the L train shutdown. There’s only one proper response: Don’t give an inch, and make the shutdown plan as good as it can possibly be.

In an extra dose of cynicism, Schwartz is also suing the MTA over the absence of a plan to make the 14th Street subway station more accessible during the shutdown — a legitimate problem, but not the motivating issue for Schwartz and his West Village neighbors.

They’ve always been animated by the specter of traffic spillover onto their residential streets when the city claims space for buses, bicycling, and walking on 14th Street and 13th Street.

The objective of the lawsuit isn’t to get the city and the MTA to conduct more environmental review. It has nothing to do with transparency. It’s not even about winning in court. It’s about bullying city officials into watering down plans for bus priority and safe bike infrastructure — plans that are absolutely essential to keep the transportation system working while the L is out of commission.

And the risk isn’t legal, it’s political. If the city tries to get Schwartz to drop the lawsuit by negotiating to reduce the busway hours or scrap the 13th Street bike lane, it would be a monumental mistake.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows no signs of backing down, telling the Daily News that the suit is without merit. Mayor de Blasio should say the same.

Schwartz and company have repeatedly demonstrated that they don’t care about the imperative to keep hundreds of thousands of people moving without the L train. They’re not operating in good faith and there’s nothing to be gained by bargaining with them. In fact there’s a lot to lose: Giving in to this sort of intimidation would embolden¬†other New Yorkers of sufficient means to take the city to court over street redesigns.

The best precedent the city could set would be to forge ahead with the most effective possible version of the shutdown plan: Busways in effect all day, every day, and more transit priority on the east side of the 14th Street corridor.

The MTA, for its part, should do more to improve station accessibility. Advocates have called on the agency to add elevators to the L stations at Third Avenue and Sixth Avenue, as well as the 4/5/6 platforms at Union Square. New NYC Transit chief Andy Byford is sounding a lot of the right notes about station accessibility in general, though he hasn’t committed to including more elevators than the MTA’s initial L train plan called for.

Committing to those elevators is the right thing to do, and it would deflate the one legitimate complaint in Schwartz’s preposterous lawsuit.

  • Ken Dodd

    Schwartz is a real wretched piece of shit, the kind of person every society could do without.

  • JarekFA

    Who do I sue for the city allocating so much space to private car storage, especially in areas such as the village in which a super majority of residents (and trips in the area) are made without privately owned vehicles.

  • StanChaz

    What gall you have to tell the residents who will – on a daily basis- be most directly affected by the MTA’s plans to shut up.
    You sound like a resurrected Robert Moses defending your precious bikeways instead of his beloved automobiles.
    No matter what it does to the neighborhood in question.
    Well, what is to be expected when people like you think that they solely posses the “right” as they
    urge their followers to “ruthlessly do the right thing”.
    Honey, we still live in a democracy, thank god, a democracy of which you apparently have no understanding.
    New York City is made up of many diverse neighborhoods, and each resident has both the right and the duty to
    band together and have a say in the place he or she calls home.

  • Reader

    In a democracy, hundreds of thousands of L train commuters would matter more than a handful of people who want to preserve parking on public rights of way and who are living in a fantasy that so long as the city does changes nothing, everything will be fine.

    I’d love for you to be able to visit an alternate universe when the L train shuts down and the city does as you and Schwartz want. You’d see that the neighborhood in question would become a living nightmare, which honking, exhaust-spewing traffic flooding every street.

    Providing a menu of alternatives to commuters – including busways and bike lanes – is the only solution to this hell.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Honey, we still live in a democracy, thank god, a democracy of which you apparently have no understanding.”

    That’s majority rules, isn’t it? Elect officials and they make decisions, right? Isn’t that what this lawsuit seeks to overturn?

    There has to be a balance between the long term regional interest and the short term local interest.

    The blanket dismissal of the latter in the Robert Moses era was wrong, but so was the NIMBY Uber Alles era symbolized by Schwartz et. all.

    What you are in favor of is not democracy, but feudalism, the real values of New York. Under capitalism you get what you earn, at least in theory. Under socialism you get what you need, at least in theory.

    But under feudalism the already-privileged get what they get, and perhaps a little more, whether needed or earned. And, in the words of the Russian proverb, the shortage is divided among the peasants.

  • Nathan C Rhodes

    I dig your post but I’d say under socialism you get what others think you need, not what you need, both in theory and in practice.

  • Joe R.

    You’re being disingenuous comparing bikeways and bus lanes to Robert Moses’ expressways. The expressways were rightfully opposed by the locals because they would have cut neighborhoods in two. What exactly are the negatives of bike lanes or bus lanes? Loss of precious parking? That’s really what it always comes down to. Some people think they have a right to store their private property on public streets. When the city decides it’s in the overall best interest to use that space for something else, the car-owning minority gets their panties in a twist.

    How about we do something different for a change? Maybe you’re right. Maybe the city shouldn’t dictate how we use curbside space. Let the people decide. Auction off all the curbside space, other than what is needed for bus stops, fire hydrants, and daylighting, to the highest bidders. Then let them use the space as they see fit. Yes, they can use it to store their private car if that suits them. Or they can rent the spot for others to store their cars. Or maybe instead put in storage containers and rent that space out so people can store other property on the streets besides automobiles. And then maybe some might make the space outdoor cafes, pocket parks, even micro housing.

    My guess when all is said and done you’ll end up with a fraction of the car parking we have now because all the other things seem like better use of precious space in a crowded city.

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