L train / 14th St. plan open house not open enough, residents say

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | They came from as far as Canarsie and as close as Stuyvesant Town to the 14th Street Y near First Ave., with concerns about one thing: the L train shutdown.

On the evening of Wed., Jan. 31, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city’s Department of Transportation held their second open house for transit riders and residents inside the Y’s gym, at 344 E. 14th St.

Posters detailing the plan thus far for the 15-month closure of the Canarsie Tunnel lined the gym’s perimeter. Stationed beside them were employees from the two agencies. Anyone could ask them questions or learn more about the plan, with work to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy slated to start in April 2019.

The open house featured agency staffers stationed by posters of the project. People were encouraged to come up and talk to the staffers. But some attendees said they would have preferred a free-flowing public discussion with a Q&A where everything was shared out in the open.  Photos by Dusica Sue Malesevic

Some attendees said they were happy with the event’s format and satisfied with the information that was provided. But others complained they really would have preferred a Q&A session and a more public and free-flowing discussion.

Ruth Vasquez, a Stuy Town resident of 43 years, said she came to the open house because she wanted to know how long construction would take.

“The information has been helpful,” said Vasquez, 73. “I just don’t like that it will take so long.”

Angel Lao, 64, who came along with Vasquez, said he was glad the tunnel repairs would be made, but noted it probably needed work before Sandy hit New York City on Oct. 29, 2012.

“Sandy was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lao said.

Vasquez and Lao live on 14th St. between Avenues A and B, and wanted to learn about the plans to close the major crosstown boulevard to cars. As part of the city’s scheme, 14th St. — between Ninth and Third Aves. eastbound and between Third and Eighth Aves. westbound — will be transformed into a “busway,” reserved for buses only during certain hours.

Angel Lao and Ruth Vasquez came from Stuyvestant Town to learn more about the plan and how it will affect traffic on 14th St.

“Fourteenth St. is congested already today,” said Choresh Wald, a seven-year resident of E. 11th St. between First and Second Aves. “The plan is not bold enough.”

Wald, 40, said the city has been vague about the planned hours for the busway, and he thinks there should be a dedicated bus lane from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

He came to the open house, along with his daughter, Noga, 4, and his son, Ofek, 3, specifically to learn more about the proposed protected two-way bike lane on 13th St. Wald said that currently when he bike rides with his children, there is a danger of being hit by cars.

“My family is living car-free,” he explained. “Finally, we’re going to have a way that is safe to go across the city.”

Noga, wearing a bike helmet, chimed in, “I want to ride safely to my school but it’s really hard.”

Other residents, however, took issue with both the meeting’s open-house format and the proposed plan.

Choresh Wald brought his son, Ofek, 3, and daughter, Noga, 4, to hear more about bicycling-safety improvements the plan will include, notably the two-way crosstown protected bike lane on 13th St.

“I think this whole project is going to be a disaster,” said Noreen Shipman, a 30-year Washington Square resident and a Washington Place Block Association member. “We’re as concerned about this project as people on 13th, 14th, 15th Sts.”

Shipman, who is a senior, said the city’s plan gives a lot of priority to cyclists. She said she is concerned about how trucks will make deliveries and about traffic that will be diverted from 14th St. to the surrounding side streets, saying it’s possible that Eighth St., for example, will be affected.

“In a nutshell, it appears they have no rational plan for trucks, for the deliveries…and the impact it’s going to have on the surrounding streets,” Shipman said.

After the open house, Judy Pesin, who has lived on W. 13th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. for four decades, talked to The Villager by phone.

“I was surprised by the format,” said Pesin. “It was like a show-and-tell with junior staffers who were very nice but couldn’t answer my questions. We’re not hearing people’s concerns here.”

The one-on-one conservations discouraged open discussion, as did the comment cards people were asked to fill out at the open house, she said.

“How does it tell me anyone’s reading the card?” Pesin said. “Better than nothing, but not much better.”

M.T.A. spokesperson Shams Tarek said in an e-mail that personnel working on the plan read all the comment cards, and that these are considered along with all the other public commentary that the agency is receiving in many different ways — such as other meetings, correspondence, social media and public comment at M.T.A. board meetings.

As of this Tuesday evening, Tarek said 150 comment cards had been submitted between the first and second open houses. (The first open house was held the previous week in Williamsburg.)

David Marcus has lived on 13th St. and Seventh Ave. for around 30 years.

Speaking after the 14th Street Y open house, he said, “It wasn’t what we were expecting. We were expecting a dialogue and an exchange with the D.O.T. that would be more substantive.”

In short, Marcus was totally underwhelmed and said he did not find the event informative at all.

“It’s nothing more than fancy placards listing various aspects of the plan,” he scoffed over the phone.

Marcus said the plan is “bound to cause an exacerbation of an already-existing traffic problem on the side streets. We feel it is a thoughtless plan,” he said.

The side streets are not built to handle increased traffic, said Marcus, who is a member of the West 13th St. 100 Block Association.

“You’re trying to stick a size 12 foot into a size 7 shoe — it’s not going to work,” he said.

Similarly, Pesin said she has many concerns about the proposed plan, including where traffic will go when it is not allowed on 14th St. during the times it is a busway.

“We anticipate that there will be more traffic on 13th St.,” she said.

Pesin and her neighbors — as well as other residents on the surrounding side streets — have been asking why a promised D.O.T. traffic study on 14th St. has yet to be released to the public.

D.O.T. did not respond to questions about the traffic study.

People were free to drop comments cards in a box. But, again, this was not the kind of public input that many attendees had hoped for in this alleged final round of public events on the L train shutdown plan.

Another concern for Pesin is the proposed two-way bike lane on 13th St., which will narrow the traffic lane.

“How are they going to pick up garbage?” she asked. “How does an ambulance get through? How’s it going to work? I just truly can’t figure it out.”

For her part, Assemblymember Deborah Glick told The Villager at the open house that the proposed two-way bike lane on 13th St. “will never have my support.”

Glick said the L shutdown is “going to be difficult in any event. There are clearly going to be problems.”

She raised the issue — as did Ruth Vasquez, the Stuy Town resident — about where people who live on the 14th St. will be dropped off when taking a cab or car.

“I mean,” Glick said, “I suppose that from the D.O.T.’s point of view, people could be dropped off on the north- or southbound avenue and walk into the block. That’s O.K. for people like me, but there are people for whom 10 extra steps is not possible,” she said. “I mean, are we asking elderly people to be shut-ins for 15 months? I don’t think that’s acceptable.”

While Glick said she would support a dedicated bus lane, she said passenger vehicle traffic cannot be eliminated from 14th St.

“You will only make the side streets a parking lot,” she warned.

Aaron Sugiura, D.O.T. director of transit policy, said at the open house that it’s all a question of “balance.”

“When the busway’s in effect,” he said, “some of the traffic will wind up on the side streets. We’re trying to balance moving as many people as we can on the buses with managing the shifts on the side streets.”

The shift to the side streets is “not something that D.O.T. would ideally want to have happen,” he said. “This is in response to a subway closing down. Some of that pain as borne by the local residents is additional traffic on the side streets. So, you know, we don’t see that being a forever condition.”

When asked what mitigation plan the D.O.T. has in place for the side streets, Sugiura said, “We’re at the outset of the discussions about what we’re going to be doing for the side streets.”

D.O.T. will present the plan to the community boards it will affect— including Community Boards 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 — he said, and “from there [will see] what can we do to make…the conditions more workable for locals.”

Artists Iku Higuchi, 67, left, and Chantal Hardy, 42, seemed to be taking the L shutdown scheme in stride. Higuchi was even looking forward to taking the ferry and bus on her trips to Brooklyn.

Andy Byford, the new president of New York City Transit, was at the open house.

“I think it’s very important that we do events like this,” he told The Villager, “because at the end of the day, we’re here to serve the traveling public, but also we should be aiming to be good neighbors.”

He noted that the agency has no choice: It must close the tunnel to repair the severe damage wrought by Sandy.

“So,” he said, “it’s absolutely right that we should present a plan, a credible plan, but not a finished plan to the residents and to the riders of the L line, such that they can influence that plan and help us to refine it.”

Byford said the agency has received feedback about the busway’s hours of operation — which are still under consideration — more transportation provisions for the East Side, such as between First and Third Aves., and concerns “about traffic dispersal onto 13th St., which we’re aware of, and we need to get that right.”

“The good news,” he said, “is everyone gets the need to do it. We’re determined to get this right. There’s still a year to go.”

Artists Chantal Hardy, 42, and Iku Higuchi, 67, came to the open house to find out more information about the closure.

Higuchi lives in Stuy Town but her studio is in Greenpoint, and she also currently has an exhibition in Brooklyn. A frequent L train user, she sees the shutdown as an artistic opportunity. In general, she is looking at it — literally — on the bright side.

“I really want to enjoy using the ferry and bus,” she said, noting that during the subway shutdown, she will have a chance while commuting to enjoy the view aboveground.

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