D.O.T. backpedals on two-way bike lane for 13th St.

After a meeting at P.S. 41 this past March at which agency officials presented the city’s mitigation plan for a possible L train shutdown, bicycle activists and Transportation Alternatives members showed their support for both the “PeopleWay” plan for 14th St., which would turn the street into a “busway,” and a related plan for a new two-way crosstown bike lane on 13th St. The Department of Transportation recently abandoned the dual-direction bike lane plan in the face of staunch community opposition. Photos by Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Village and Chelsea residents who have been battling the city’s L train shutdown scheme say they were blindsided last year to learn that the mitigation plan included a two-way crosstown protected bike lane on 13th St.

Just as quietly, a few weeks ago, the city’s Department of Transportation scrapped the idea of a dual-direction bike lane in favor of two separate one-way lanes on 12th and 13th Sts.

Village attorney Arthur Schwartz, who is representing the ad-hoc 14th St. Coalition and other residents and community associations in a lawsuit against the L train shutdown plan, was the first to notice the change. About a month ago, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and D.O.T. submitted a “motion to dismiss” the court case, he noticed the project’s description no longer included the two-way lane, but just two separate lanes on separate streets.

According to Schwartz — who is also the Village’s Democratic district co-leader — as recently as June 19, D.O.T. was still referring to a two-way bike lane, but six days later had abandoned that idea.

“It used to say the bicycle lane would be either a two-way on 13th St. or two one-lanes on 12th and 13th Sts.,” Schwartz said of the plan’s previous iterations, speaking to The Villager last month. “They’ve now chosen — without announcing it.

“It’s better than the two-way,” he said of the lanes change. “It’s that much more space for cars.”

The plan’s opponents feared the two-way bicycle lane would cause motor traffic on 13th St. to grind to a halt if there were a delivery, a garbage pickup or anything else blocking the single lane left for moving traffic after installation of the doublewide bike lane. They also worried about losing curbside vehicle access  to their buildings.

A hot-button issue: Buttons bashing the city’s plan for a protected, two-way crosstown bicycle lane on 13th St. were handed out this past February at a meeting of Village and Chelsea block associations opposed to the mitigation measures for the city’s L train shutdown plan.

Requests for comment from D.O.T. and the M.T.A. regarding the change regarding the bike lane were not returned.

However, subsequently, at recent public meetings about the L shutdown plan, D.O.T. officials have publicly acknowledged that the two-way bike lane is kaput.

But David Marcus, a leading member of both the W. 13th St. 100 Block Association and the 14th St. Coalition, said local residents remain unhappy at the prospect of getting bike lanes — even thinner, one-way ones.

“The 14th St. Coalition still maintains that narrow side streets, such as 12th and 13th, are already congested — and with 50 percent more traffic projected to come onto them as a result of the proposed 14th St. traffic changes — are inappropriate locations for bicycle lanes, particularly a protected one. These streets are ill-equipped to absorb that kind of volume and would become more unsafe for pedestrians, vehicles and bicyclists,” Marcus maintained. “Residents and businesses are entitled to curbside access to their homes and workplaces, as are patrons, students, emergency personnel and delivery persons.”

Limiting where bike lanes could be added close to the L line, D.O.T. and M.T.A. did not propose adding them just north of 14th St. since there are no east-west through streets there due to the presence of Union Square Park.

Schwartz said D.O.T. did not drop the two-way bike lane plan due to the lawsuit — but simply because there was such unyielding community opposition to it.

Last month, however, Schwartz and disabled activists announced that a part of the lawsuit that targeted the lack of handicap access at a number of stations in the shutdown leg of the L line had been settled: The M.T.A. agreed to add handicap-accessible elevators at the L’s stop at Sixth Ave. and 14th St. as part of the work during the L shutdown, leading to that part of the litigation being officially resolved.

The city hopes to suspend L subway service for 15 months, starting in April 2019, between Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg and 14th St. and Eighth Ave. in Manhattan, so that repairs can be made to the line’s East River tubes, which were damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

In addition to installing new bike lanes, the city — as part of the mitigation plan for being without the L train for nearly a year and a half — hopes to turn 14th St. into a “busway” exclusively for most of the day. Under the plan, cars would be banned from the major Downtown crosstown artery except for between the overnight / early-morning hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. During the rest of the day, the street would be buses only. Coalition members fear the city’s plan is to make 14th St. an “experiment” by ultimately turning it into a permanent no-cars busway. Agency officials have been cagey on whether they want all the proposed traffic changes to be permanent — instead saying they will assess them later after the changes have been implemented.

Coalition members also oppose the city’s plan to expand the street’s pedestrian space into the current parking lanes — again, because they don’t want to lose the ability of having cars use the boulevard.

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