CYCLE OF RAGE: Mr. Mayor, Commit Now to Retaining L-Train Improvements

An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps
An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps

The governor threw everyone a curveball with his L-train switcheroo earlier this week, but it’s actually a fat fastball right down the middle for Mayor de Blasio.

But rather than hit it out of the park, Hizzoner may strike out looking.

A home run would be simple: Keep all of the streetscape improvements — the bus lanes, the bike lanes, the carpool restrictions, the 14th Street busway, the ferries, the extended G trains that transit advocates have long championed — to reduce congestion and make our roadways safer whether there’s an L train shutdown or not.

For the second day in a row, though, the mayor punted. Here’s my exchange with him on Friday afternoon:

Question: When you were asked yesterday it was premature because of Governor Cuomo’s announcement about the L train wasn’t official yet, so are you, now that you had some time to think about this, are you ready to commit to keeping the streetscape and bus lane improvements that were made to mitigate the L train shutdown now that the shutdown is not going to be bike lanes, bus lanes, HOV on the bridge —

Mayor: Yeah, I hear you, I hear you. First I want to just start with what the Governor has announced. The intention is very good, and obviously I commend him and I hope it comes to pass that we can avoid that kind of shutdown and so many people in Brooklyn and Manhattan are not disrupted. I think we’re not there yet in knowing if it’s really going to work out that way, and I just caution everyone, the first thing to say before answering this – the core of your question is we’re not changing anything in the plan until we can absolutely verify that this new idea is going to work. No one heard of it until the last 24 hours, so, and I questioned this morning on the radio if the MTA was looking at this for years and years how did they not believe this was possible and now suddenly it’s possible so I hope it’s possible, but if it isn’t we need all of those measures ready to handle the disruption that was originally projected.

Now to your question, look, I’m open to that. I’m not there yet because we’re literally in brand new reality and we don’t know what we’re dealing with here, but I’m open to it and I want to look at that, independently, if we even get a chance to look at it independently. Meaning, once we know for sure we’re dealing with a very different reality in the L train, then we’re absolutely going to look at those measures and see if they might be the kind of thing we want to do going forward.

Note the key phrases in the mayor’s rambling answer:

  • “We’re not changing anything in the plan until we can absolutely verify that this new idea is going to work.” (In other words, once the governor gets his way, we will change the entire plan.”)
  • “I hope it’s possible, but if it isn’t we need all of those measures ready to handle the disruption that was originally projected.” (Again, if the governor gets his way, we don’t need “those measures.”)
  • “We’re absolutely going to look at those measures and see if they might be the kind of thing we want to do going forward.” (In other words, they might not be.)
For the record, Mayor de Blasio did not take the subway to or from his Friday press conference in the subway. But he did have a photo op of him entering the station. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
For the record, Mayor de Blasio did not take the subway to or from his Friday press conference in the subway. But he did have a photo op of him entering the station. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

So consider what is happening here: Rather than double-down on street safety and bus-speed improvements that the mayor and his team devised and successfully implements all over the city, de Blasio still cannot commit to them in Bushwick, Williamsburg and 14th Street in Manhattan.

In doing so, the Vision Zero mayor has once again revealed his blind spot: cars. He simply won’t do anything serious to restrict unfettered access to, and within, Manhattan for drivers. Indeed, this is a guy who said at a press conference last week that the uptick in pedestrian deaths last year showed only that the city needs to do a better job of getting drivers to follow the rules — when he could have also announced a visionary plan to actually limit cars on city streets.

The only constituents who would be “hurt” by the L-train bus and bike lane plan (those are ironic quotes, by the way, because no one is ever hurt by safer, less-congested streets) are drivers and people who want to store their private vehicles in the public right of way (which some people euphemistically normalize as “parking” even though there’s nothing normal about it).

The car-owning minority in the Village is already pushing the mayor to undo some of what the city has already implemented in advance of the now-shelved L shutdown. Selfish 14th Street-area drivers — who sued to stop the new bike lanes and the plan to turn 14th Street into a busway — praised the governor for stopping the L-train shutdown for one clear reason:

“The residents of Greenwich Village look forward to the restoration of our streets, our sanity, our bus stops — many of which had been moved — and, yes, our parking spaces,” NIMBY leader Arthur Schwartz said in a statement to The Villager that not only suggested that Greenwich Village residents are the only ones who use Greenwich Village roadways, but also reiterated that their supposed need for a few hundred free parking spaces outweighs the needs of 30,000 14th Street bus riders, who suffer on some of the slowest buses in town. The MTA’s analysis showed that 14th Street SBS service and a dedicated busway would speed bus travel times by 35 percent — and that was including the scores of additional buses being deployed during the L shutdown. Fewer buses on the roadway would mean even shorter commutes.

But Mayor de Blasio won’t commit even to the simplest of plans: Keeping the 14th Street SBS. New York City Transit President Andy Byford hasn’t gotten a meeting with the mayor yet, but he’s already talking about the issue. Here’s what he told Aaron Gordon in Signal Problems on Friday:

I need to have a discussion with Commissioner Trottenberg about … what was going to be the M14 SBS. I’d still love to run it. The roads are marked up [painted for buses]. I think there’s a need for it. … Certainly I’m committed to the bus elements of Fast Forward. My job is to deliver world-class transit to this city.

 

The world-class transit that Byford is referencing is in world-class cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, Oslo and others that have closed whole sections of town to cars. It’s time for New York to be one of those world-class cities. But to do that, we’d need a world-class mayor committed to reclaiming our streets from cars.

One more thing: Pitchers and catchers report in 36 days.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

Bill de Blasio’s L Train Shutdown

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If it wasn't already clear that surface streets will have to do serious heavy lifting during the L shutdown, there's no longer any doubt. And yet, the person who can exercise the most control over the streets, Mayor de Blasio, remains stuck in a state of feckless apathy regarding the impending cataclysm.