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L-Saster! Village NIMBYs Demand Removal of Bike Lanes; Speaker Johnson Says He’s Willing to Listen

Not a legitimate road user! Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Street safety and transit improvements — derailed?

The paint is barely dry on a pair of buffered Greenwich Village bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes on 14th Street in Manhattan, but a self-styled neighborhood group is demanding that these "disruptive changes" be undone because they are supposedly no longer needed if the L train will no longer be shut down starting in April.

And Council Speaker Corey Johnson — a strong bike- and bus-lane supporter — says he's committed to hearing out the so-called 14th Street Coalition, which argues that Greenwich Village residents are "guinea pigs" to the city's "radical" street safety plans "that have been pushed by various groups for years."

The group issued four demands on Tuesday — days after Gov. Cuomo effectively turned a 15-month full L-train shutdown between Manhattan and Brooklyn into a night-and-weekend inconvenience.

"If the new proposal is adopted," the group said in its statement, "the coalition expects the city to:

    1. Abandon the 14th Street “busway,” which includes an unstated vehicle ban on 14th Street, diverting excessive traffic throughout the Village, Chelsea, and Flatiron, threatening their safety and crumbling infrastructure;
    2. Restore four-lane vehicular traffic on 14th Street;
    3. Cancel the 14th Street pedestrian expansion and bring back bus stops;
    4. Remove the bike lanes on 12th and 13th [streets]."

Meanwhile, Curbed reported this week that some businesses on the Brooklyn side of the former shutdown are already agitating for the removal of dedicated bus lanes on Grand Street — a crucial transit corridor whether there is an L-train shutdown or not — in favor of on-street parking, which dramatically reduces bus speeds.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson says he needs to hear from the community before retaining streetscape improvements in the Village. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Speaker Corey Johnson says he needs to hear from the community before retaining streetscape improvements in the Village. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Speaker Corey Johnson Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

But many elected officials, including Council Members Rafael Espinal of Brooklyn and Keith Powers and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan, have strongly urged Mayor de Blasio to keep the street safety and transit improvements in place. On Tuesday, Council Member Justin Brannan of Bay Ridge joined the chorus, telling Streetsblog, "Improvements to the livability of the streets should never be rolled back. ... Those are victories that people fought for, so just leave it be."

Mayor de Blasio has been non-committal on retaining the changes that his own Department of Transportation has toiled on since the MTA announced its plans to repair the tunnel more than two years ago. On Tuesday night, at an otherwise unrelated transportation event, Council Speaker Corey Johnson added more confusion to the issue, saying he would not retain the streetscape improvements without a full community process.

"I am a huge supporter of protected bike lanes, mass transit, protecting pedestrians and cyclists, but I want to be clear: At the very beginning of this process, ... I told folks there would be a community process on this," Johnson told Streetsblog. "My position is very clear: I support these types of improvements, but I don't want to go back on my word. I said at the very beginning — when were talking about a busway and the 12th and 13th street bike lanes — if things changed, we would revisit that. So I want to leave that conversation open. ... I am not going to go back on the word I gave three years ago when we were contemplating this — so we're going to have a community process. But support bike lanes and mass transit and greater pedestrianization."

An open process will likely not satisfy the 14th Street group, which is flatly demanding that the city "return the neighborhood to pre-project conditions."

For its part, the Department of Transportation said little. "The city’s efforts for the L tunnel closure will remain in place as we continue to review the plan presented last week," spokeswoman Alana Morales told Streetsblog. "As we get more information from the MTA on the new L train plan, we will look at our planned efforts to make sure we are implementing the right elements."

The agency declined to comment on whether the L-train changes were meant to be a permanent part of the city's Vision Zero effort or merely a temporary mitigation for the commuting nightmare anticipated during the now-scuttled shutdown of the L-train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. In the past, the agency said the changes were temporary, but Commissioner Polly Trottenberg had said she hoped they could be retained after the repairs. Mayor de Blasio is a champion of protected bike lanes, as well.

It is unclear what the Village group is specifically objecting to. The group created a website called L Train Watch to collect "any issues and incidents, photos and videos to highlight the negative, and at times, dangerous, changes to their streets," but as of Wednesday morning, not a single photo or video, or narrative account, existed on the site.

City studies show that protected bike lanes made roadways safer, and dedicated bus lanes speed mass transit. The 14th Street Coalition calls such things "extremely disruptive changes to [neighborhood] safety."

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