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
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

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.”

  • Frank Kotter

    This is a textbook opportunity for leadership to engage ‘the community’ to get them deeply involved in the ‘how’ of design and implementation. When you allow the ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘if’, you have lost and EVERYONE comes away pissed off.

    Johnson is smart and savvy enough to accomplish this.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    The “local” community should have no more say in this than anyone else in the city. If you’re a NYC resident, you’re part of the community, doesn’t matter if you live on a particular block or not. 14th st isn’t some isolated village with its own government, their opinions on where a bus stop could be placed should be listened to, anything else, their views are no more or less valuable than any other user of the street.

  • hshiau

    btw, bicycle ticket blitz on Broadway and 55th street. just got 4 people.

  • William Lawson

    No, they won’t be removing the bike lanes. Give it up guys. You’re never getting rid of those lanes in a million years. They’re here to stay. If that makes you bitter and twisted then well, so be it. Nobody else gives a damn.

  • Ah, I guess they moved up a block. I look down on Broadway and 54th from my office and always tweet and tag #bikenyc whenever I see them camped out there.

  • Also, people who feel like they’re losing something–such as parking–are often more motivated to show up and complain than people who like or at worst are indifferent to street redesigns. We have to stop pretending that the people who are able to attend community board meetings equal “the community,” especially in neighborhoods where so few people own cars.

  • eastphilliamsburg

    Mr. Speaker, are we going to break car culture, or not?

  • There’s your “Man of the Year” (or whatever you dubbed him).

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    They’re already bitter and twisted.

  • What Corey Johnson said is very smart. Imagine if right now he said, “The bike lanes are staying.” He’d needlessly antagonize a bunch of people in his district who are prepared to fight. Better to stick to his word, engage people with civility and openness, and then when they refuse to compromise even in the slightest, take a strong stand. Staying on the high road here is the right thing to do at this stage.

  • MatthewEH

    It’s the strangest thing, these bicycle ticket blitzes on Broadway above Times Square. Kind of incentivizes taking 7th Avenue instead, lack of bike infrastructure there notwithstanding.

  • jcwconsult

    When governments strangle the traffic flow on collector & arterial streets, diversion to smaller neighborhood streets that were never designed for higher traffic flows is a very real possibility. Governments CAN make those changes, but often do not consider the potential negatives that affect others.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • The worst part about it is that the infrastructure is to blame for the NYPD’s ability to blitz there. You can’t go more than two blocks without hitting a red light because of the split-phase signals. Same thing south of Herald Square on Broadway — I cut over to Fifth Avenue because I’d rather ride in mixed traffic than risk a ticket or have to stop every two blocks.

  • This is all happening because DOT was too scared to declare some of these changes permanent from the outset, when they would have been entirely sensible for permanent installation. Most of the relevant councilmembers are now asking for the changes to be maintained, so the only “controversy” here is whether a shadow group of wannabe-plutocrats really deserve any substantial attention from the city if they are issuing demands and threats.

  • MatthewEH

    I use that segment of Broadway below Herald Square pretty regularly. I haven’t seen or heard of ticketing there yet, but there’s always chance that’ll change, I suppose.

    I somehow feel like the timing of the traffic lights on that segment of Broadway is not as poor, despite the split phases…

  • I’ve definitely taken hard left turns from Broadway onto 30th after seeing cops camped out at the other side of the intersection. As for the timing, if I’m stopped at a red at 32nd and move the instant it turns green, I still hit a red at 30th.

    I’ve complained to the NYC DOT about this for years, and they only respond about timing for the general traffic lanes. Having to stop 4 times in the 8 blocks between 32nd and 26th is not normal (drivers, of course, don’t have this problem).

  • MatthewEH

    I’ve seen that NYPD van camped out there too (a few months back, certainly, though not in recent months.) I’m not quite sure what it was there for, but it didn’t seem to be for traffic ticketing.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    This is a goddamn annoying way to say “they should filter through-traffic off local streets to ensure that there is no diversion from 14th Street”.

  • hshiau

    also ticketing at 33rd and EIghth

  • hshiau

    absolutely right, which is crazy. for those who feel safer bicycling in protected bike lanes, this gives them another reason not to bike.

  • Joe R.

    DOT can solve this yesterday by putting bike signals which are flashing yellow when cars get the red. Even if there are times when cross traffic is too heavy to pass the red light, at least it will keep the NYPD off the backs of cyclists.

    In the long run this city needs to seriously look at retiming and/or eliminating many traffic signals. Do you really need traffic signals every 250 feet? In general a signal every 1/4 mile or so mostly stops traffic, enabling people to safely cross the street even at unsignaled intersections. In any case, there’s no reason bikes should always be required to wait out the full cycle. That’s misapplying a law meant for heavy motor vehicles to bikes.

  • jcwconsult

    It is just a reality that reducing the utility of a collector or arterial street may lead to negative consequences that some will find to be worse. Sometimes city councils fail to analyze the whole picture.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    The operative word is “may”. Sometimes when you reduce street capacity a lot of trips just evaporate as motorists either switch to other modes (very possible in most of NYC), or just don’t bother to make the trip at all.

  • jcwconsult

    That might be true in much of NYC and the VERY deepest downtown areas of other metroplexes where frequent transit is available CLOSE to both the origination and destination points. For most of the US, reducing capacity on collectors and arterials may well cause negatives that many find unacceptable. Besides diversion, another result can be that some businesses move out of downtowns when workers, patrons and commercial drivers find it too difficult to get to those areas efficiently.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    You don’t necessarily need transit close to both the origin and destination points. You just need transit close to one of them. As an example, lots of people take trains or buses into NYC from far flung suburbs. They drive and park at a train or bus station, then take public transit into the city. Given the congestion, this is typically faster than driving all the way. You also avoid the expense of parking in Manhattan. Doubtless other downtowns in the US are similar, or could easily be made similar. In the final analysis, demand for car travel in cities is quite elastic compared to suburban or rural areas where there might be no viable alternatives.

  • jcwconsult

    Your points are valid where those options exist. I meant where the person walked to both the origin and destination points for the transit. Particularly in northern states, it just isn’t that pleasant to walk and stand in winter weather or cold heavy rain.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Simon Phearson

    I’ve seen patrol cars at bike choke points along several of my routes and wondered what was going on. “Surely they’re not blitzing in the middle of winter,” I thought. How could that be worth the effort?

    Guess I underestimated the NYPD’s malice.

  • If his approach represents a strategy designed to defuse the opposition, then you are correct.

    I just hope that it’s not a misguided attempt at “balance”.

  • Jason

    Okay…but we’re talking about 14th St. In Manhattan.

  • jcwconsult

    There must be enough traffic on 14th St. to cause a concern for the “14th St. Coalition”. And, granted, NYC is one of the few places in the US that transit dominates – because it usually works for the majority of commuters & residents.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • MatthewEH

    I think this is the thing, btw, that burned me up about the CB7 recommendation to divert the Hudson River Greenway from the esplanade routing up and down the rotunda hill in the west 70s & 80s. (Dating a couple of years back, now.) Yes, it’s your neighborhood, but it’s also a citywide, and in fact region-wide facility…

  • MatthewEH

    Another counterpoint: the L train work will *still* require extensive evening and weekend shutdowns of L service. The roadway changes along the L may not be critically important during the weekday morning and evening rush, but bicycle numbers will be up dramatically evenings and especially weekends. This is reason enough to retain the streetscape changes, except *perhaps* bus priority on 14th Street during the week.

  • crazytrainmatt

    If the locals can close the greenway and 14th street to people not like them, then can I get the FDR, QMT and heliport closed at 34th St?

  • Joe R.

    The sole “concern” of most of these inane groups who claim to represent the community is the loss of free, on-street parking. They’ll often couch those concerns with claims of businesses will hurt, or people will be killed by speeding bikes, but in the end it’s all about parking. Often it’s the business owners themselves who are most vocal, not because most of their customers come by car, but because they want the on-street parking for themselves or their employees.

    Even worse is the seemingly all-inclusive names these groups give themselves (my alternative name better reflecting reality is shown in parentheses):

    14th St. Coalition (14th St. Coalition for Parking)
    Queens Streets For All (Queens Streets For Some)
    Neighbors For Better Bike Lanes (Neighbors For No Bike Lanes)