Talking Point: What Would Jane Do? Show the L Shutdown Study!

David Marcus, at Feb. 6’s meeting of Village and Chelsea block associations who are concerned about the L shutdown plan, showed a subway map while explaining what he called a serious flaw in the MTA’s plan for 14th St. during the subway’s suspension of Manhattan service. | Photo by Lincoln Anderson

NOTE: Since publication of this Talking Point on the web and in print, new data has been released (click on the link, then access Feb. 22’s “14th Street Corridor Traffic Analysis Memo” and “14th Street Traffic Memo Appendices”).

BY DAVID R. MARCUS | How ironic to be in 2018, once again embroiled with the city — albeit through the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) — over the quality of life in our Downtown neighborhoods and streets.

A mere 50 years ago, Jane Jacobs led the fight against master builder Robert Moses and his plan to level our beloved Downtown streets in favor of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, or LOMEX. The ill-planned project was meant to facilitate the free flow of vehicular traffic though Lower Manhattan, at the expense of what would become many historic districts — a blend of residential and commercial use in neighborhood districts co-existing in peaceful harmony. Moses even proposed a traffic lane running south through Washington Square Park.

How ironic, indeed, now to be faced with a city that would once again propose an ill-advised plan to upset that harmony, yet while suggesting a totally opposite tack: to ban the use of cars at all.

Talk about extremes. Talk about ignoring the impact upon the neighborhood and the will of the local residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives and who will be impacted 24/7 by a dubious plan to mitigate the alleged commutation needs of an ill-defined number of morning and evening commuters.

Surely, there is a balance to be struck in attempting to solve the unsubstantiated and illusory problem that would result from the L train being shut down for repairs to its East River tunnel. Surely, there will be an impact — but what will that be? DOT claims to have studied the effect, but has yet to release its promised and legally required “data study” to the communities that will be harmed by its proposed plan.

And if and when that data is released, there needs be adequate time to study and debate and discuss the validity of these findings — not to mention to entertain alternative suggestions. Doing that — considering alternatives — is something DOT has demonstrated time and again that it is not willing to do. Instead, its reputation is of dismissing any community suggestions in order to advance its own agenda.

Jane Jacobs believed that city planning often did not respect the needs of most city dwellers.  She disputed the traditional planning approach that relies on opinions and recommendations of outside experts, instead claiming that local expertise is better suited to guiding community planning. She based her opinions on experience and observation and opined on how government planning policies are usually inconsistent with neighborhoods’ real-life functioning. She was an advocate for thoughtful development and for empowering residents to trust their common sense and become advocates for their neighborhoods.

So, with the teachings of Jane Jacobs in mind, we are once again faced with the challenges of creating an appropriate solution to a genuine and pressing urban problem. The L train shutdown is real. The magnitude of the problem is being portrayed by DOT as catastrophic.  However, absent any empirical evidence to support that claim, it is dubious that all L train riders will find their way onto 14th St. as part of their alternate commutes.

The unsubstantiated rationale for the proposed traffic ban on 14th St. is the need to provide alternate options for the straphangers who will not have access to the L train during the tunnel repairs. The proof of that claim (i.e., the data study) is being withheld from the community in order to advance a dubious plan to ban vehicular traffic on 14th St. and promote the one-sided agenda of Transportation Alternatives (TA), which is to turn Manhattan into bicycle heaven. TA is well-funded and well-organized and does not know the meaning of peaceful co-existence. They hate cars and want to see them permanently banned. Talk about live and let live.

We must see the required study that DOT promised to release. Without seeing that study, it is impossible and irresponsible to offer any solutions. Absent the L train, commuters will enter Manhattan at other points — not 14th St. Alternate transportation lines are then available at those points with no need to come to 14th St. However, the DOT plan to bus people to 14th St. from those entry points exacerbates the very problem DOT says it must solve, compounding the ill effects of the proposed closing of 14th St. to cars.

The plan will indisputably impact and burden the neighboring side streets, which are already congested with traffic. It is wrongheaded to try to solve a perceived problem by creating other major problems. The Village’s and Chelsea’s narrow side streets are already currently overburdened with overflow traffic from 14th St. The side streets were never intended to be crosstown thoroughfares. Increased traffic congestion, noise pollution and air pollution will be an obvious and unacceptable consequence of this plan.

In the case of traffic congestion on the 100 Block of W. 13th St., the street is already narrower than other blocks: just 28 feet at the block’s western end. There was a DOT sign at 13th St. and Sixth Ave. prohibiting trucks on 13th St. — the intent of which was to alleviate congestion on this narrow street. Yet, the restriction was unenforced. We asked DOT and it agreed to eliminate daytime parking on the north side of the street between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., also to reduce congestion.

The Citi Bike station at the western end of 13th St. further narrows the roadway. Emergency, sanitation, Access-A-Ride, delivery and other vehicles are delayed — and because they must double-park, cause traffic to back up past Fifth Ave. throughout the day. That the currently proposed DOT scheme will result in an increase of traffic going from 14th St. onto 13th St. will dangerously exacerbate those problems.

And given all that, the proposed two-way bikeway on 13th St. makes no sense at all.

The population of this neighborhood area well exceeds the commuter population that DOT says it must transport; and yet it is we who will suffer 24/7, as opposed to those commuters merely during their morning and evening commutes.

This is nothing more than a veiled plot to permanently alter traffic patterns to our detriment. We cannot and we will not stand for it.

Marcus is an executive board member, W. 13th St. 100 Block Association, and treasurer and vice president for finance, Cambridge Owners Corp.

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