Who can claim Jane? Residents or bike riders?

BY DAVID R. MARCUS | It appears my prior talking point in this newspaper (“What would Jane do? Show the L shutdown study!” Feb. 15) spawned a rush by our opposition to claim Jane Jacobs’s legacy as their own. Clearly, I stuck a nerve and the response was a perversion of my points.

When I wrote “What would Jane do?” for The Villager, I expected it would draw both praise and fire. What I never expected from the fire, however, was the animus, vitriol and personal attack of the opposition — not to mention the misrepresentation of the facts and the distortion of our concerns.

Legendary urban planner and community activist Jane Jacobs held up a petition in 1961 at the Lion’s Head bar in the Village. Jacobs was not afraid to fight large-scale neighborhood plans that the government portrayed as already being a fait accompli. N.Y. World-Telegram / Sun Newspaper Photo Collection, Library of Congress

Not only are the 14th St. plan supporters spreading untruths in sarcastic and disrespectful rhetoric, they do not understand or care about civility in voicing their opposing views. They are rude and insulting and belittle and mock all they oppose. They care about nothing but their agenda. Meanwhile, they disparage the neighborhood residents who are only asking for the continued right to the quiet enjoyment of their communities and streets and to be able to present cogent reasons why they believe the Department of Transportation plan is flawed.

To them and their Transportation Alternative organizers and enablers, it always boils down to the accusation of entitlement and wealth in their resentment of opposing views. NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) is a favorite go-to, as well. They are, nevertheless, a formidable, well-financed foe that needs to be swatted down and discredited for the self-centered, spoiled, one-issue, bicycle zealots that they are. They spread disinformation, not unlike Russian trolls, and twist the issues not unlike the NRA lashing out at the victims who are merely asking to have sensible rules in place.

Jane Jacobs focused on preserving urban neighborhoods and passionately defended the quirks of city life. Her vision was inspired by her life in Greenwich Village; ironically, the same neighborhood battleground we are fighting to preserve now. She was moved by the sense of community and the neighborhood’s mixture of townhouses, walk-up apartment buildings and narrow streets. She fought against the plans to modernize urban areas by tearing down established neighborhoods and studied what makes a neighborhood vital. She reveled in her observation of the everyday neighborhood life in the community. In the end, she successfully prevented the destruction of the Village streetscapes.

Jane’s fight was against an ill-conceived highway that required the wholesale leveling of neighborhoods and communities. It was not a fight about banning cars but rather preserving neighborhoods, quality of life and the right of quiet enjoyment of our homes and businesses. The closing of 14th St. to cars will cause already-overburdened very narrow Village, Chelsea and Flatiron side streets to become that much more congested. A two-way protected bikeway on 13th St. will only exacerbate that. The obvious and indisputable disruption to the fabric and quality of life in our neighborhoods cannot be ignored in favor of a questionable 14th St. plan that is flawed in its assumptions and fails to study the impact to our streets. A visual look at traffic flow will discredit any computer model that pretends to predict impact.

Transportation Alternatives argues that bicycles are more efficient and should displace cars on the very streets that were built to accommodate horse-drawn, large-capacity coaches and wagons and more recently automobiles and trucks. Consider the absurdity of the premise that streets built for four-wheel vehicles should now favor bicycles.

Transportation Alternatives and its minions portray this as a fight about cars over bikes, using the shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel and L Train service suspension as cover. They have been working for years, well before Superstorm Sandy and the damage it wrought, to argue for the restriction of cars in order to accommodate bikes. The 14th St. plan and 13th St. bikeway now give them the means to attempt to accomplish that.

We in the community have not disparaged bikes, nor are we promoting the use of cars. We are fighting for a plan that preserves the continued sanctity of the quality of life and enjoyment of our neighborhoods — something Jane Jacobs dedicated her life to.

And to portray this as a right to parking spaces, the ignorance of that argument speaks volumes. It was the residents of 13th St. that petitioned D.O.T. to restrict parking on our street to alleviate the congestion. D.O.T.’s plan to close 14th St. — thereby causing traffic to spill over onto the side streets — along with the two-way bikeway, contradicts the very position they agreed with us on and acted upon not too many years ago when they restricted parking.

We continue to maintain that, absent the L train, commuters will find alternate routes into Manhattan — none of which bring them to 14th St. The claim that all of these L train riders must be moved off 14th St. is flawed on its face. D.O.T.’s assertion that there are 50,000 commuters using the L train to travel east and west on 14th St. who need alternate transportation is based on sketchy data. D.O.T. claims to be able to quantify that from MetroCard swipes despite the fact that swipes do not indicate which train you board and what your destination is.

Are we to blindly accept M.T.A. data assertions justifying their plan, given that just within the last week, Andy Byford, the new president of New York City Transit, admitted that M.T.A. data-reporting methods concerning the reasons for subway overcrowding classification were “not particularly meaningful”? Byford’s comments come on the heels of a New York Times report in December that found that M.T.A. officials “have used sloppy data collection and accounting games to hide the true causes of the subway’s problems from residents.”

And yet supporters of the plan offer blind acceptance without ever vetting the premises upon which this scheme was based.

As I previously said, the population of this neighborhood area of Manhattan well exceeds the commuter population that D.O.T. says it must transport, and yet we will suffer 24 / 7, as opposed to the morning and evening commutes of those nonlocal commuters. Surely, our detractors must agree that our needs must be thoughtfully considered since this neighborhood is our home.

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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