New York Had a Plan to Speed Up Buses. A Judge Just Blocked It.

New York City was prepared to impose a major transportation plan on Monday to tackle gridlock — it was going to severely restrict cars along 14th Street, one of Manhattan’s busiest crosstown routes.

But the city’s plans were thwarted on Friday when a judge temporarily blocked the restrictions after residents and block associations in the area filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation.

The groups argued that the plan, aimed at speeding up bus service, would divert car traffic — along with noise, pollution and vehicle vibrations — from 14th Street onto smaller residential streets nearby and would hurt the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Arthur Mr. Schwartz, who lives on West 12th Street and is a lawyer representing the residents suing the city. “This was an egregious example of the city thumbing its nose at the opinions and the impacts on local residents in the name of a ‘good idea.’”

He said that Justice Eileen Rakower, in issuing the temporary restraining order at the hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, had said the city had not sufficiently analyzed the environmental impact of the plan on local residents. He said that she also cited residents’ concerns about increased traffic.

Scott Gastel, a spokesman for the transportation department, said the restraining order would affect thousands of bus riders, and that the city remained committed to the plan for 14th Street as a centerpiece of its efforts to increase bus speeds and reliability.

He said the city expected to prevail at the next court hearing, scheduled for Aug. 6. “We are confident in both our traffic analysis, and that the court will recognize that we followed all correct procedures — allowing this critically important safety and mobility project to proceed,” he said.

The city plans to turn the one-mile section of 14th Street, between Third and Ninth Avenues, into a transit corridor to speed up sluggish crosstown bus service. Trucks and emergency vehicles would be allowed to drive across — but not cars. About 21,000 vehicles a day travel on 14th Street.

Under an 18-month pilot program, passenger cars would be largely restricted to making deliveries or picking up and dropping off passengers from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. They could travel only a block or two and then would have to turn right off the street. No left turns would be allowed.

The 14th Street transit corridor had been part of the contingency plans for the total shutdown for the L train, which was averted after officials opted to make the repairs largely at night and on weekends.

City officials and transportation advocates say the 14th Street proposal is necessary to reduce gridlock and improve the struggling public bus system.

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, criticized the decision to halt the transit corridor from going forward.

“The 14th Street hypocrisy has got to stop,” he said. “There’s no way neighbors can claim they care about their fellow New Yorkers while also throwing up endless barriers to faster, more reliable commutes.”

He added that affluent residents of the area were exerting undue influence. “New York’s working people can’t afford to litigate their right to decent bus service.”

Mr. Schwartz said residents had protested the planned changes for 14th Street for more than a year. He said that city transportation officials, including Polly Trottenberg, the transportation commissioner, had not taken their concerns seriously.

It is not the first time the city has had to go to court to defend its transportation policies.

A congestion surcharge on taxis, Ubers and other ride-hail services in Manhattan, which was supposed to begin Jan. 1, was temporarily blocked at the last minute after a coalition of taxi owners and drivers sued the state and city to stop it. The surcharge was allowed to go into effect a month later.

Winnie Hu is a reporter on the Metro desk, focusing on transportation and infrastructure stories. She has also covered education, politics in City Hall and Albany, and the Bronx and upstate New York since joining the Times in 1999. @WinnHu

Source: Read Full Article