L Train Meeting Supplies Supplemental Environmental Assessment Info

Several dozen people attended the MTA’s mandatory public meeting on the Supplemental Environmental Assessment for the L train shutdown plan. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Several dozen Manhattan residents raised oft-repeated concerns about the L train shutdown plan at a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) public meeting on Mon., Aug. 6. The meeting was legally required as part of the recently released Supplemental Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the sweeping project.

The SEA was conducted as a result of the lawsuit by the 14th St. Coalition against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York City Transit Authority, the New York City Department of Transportation  (DOT) and the Federal Transportation Administration. The assessment addresses environmental concerns about how the L shutdown plan would impact the affected Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods — from air quality to the aging streets.

The MTA did not give a presentation describing the SEA’s findings. Rather, some 40 people — mostly residents — detailed their grievances about air-quality changes they feared would come with adding four new bus routes; preserving local access to buildings on 14th St. despite the addition of a “busway”; worries about congestion nightmares on narrower side streets in the West Village, Soho and Little Italy; and construction projects impacting the flow of street traffic during the shutdown period, among other things.

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein added that after a Monday morning tour of the proposed new bus routes, he was concerned about congestion east of Third Ave., where the planned busway would end, foreseeing a problem as the street would be filled with vehicular traffic otherwise restricted from the busway. Epstein stopped short of endorsing a busway that would extend farther — to Avenue C — but said the experts at the MTA and DOT need to find a solution to this potential problem.

“[The] volume of pedestrian traffic alone is going to slow things down,” Epstein noted.

Epstein and Assemblymember Deborah Glick also asked the MTA to install air-quality monitors and questioned how construction projects would impact the plan’s success.

“Unless we have commitments from the Department of Buildings and property owners that we’re not going to be taking streets away, I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” Epstein said.

A moratorium on non-emergency construction projects during the shutdown should be considered, Glick and Epstein said.

Similarly, Adam Garth, an East Villager for more than three decades, voiced concern about the onslaught of construction in Manhattan.

The way that construction takes up street space “puts a further crimp in the system,” he said. Agreeing with the assemblymembers, he suggested that the MTA might consider halting construction during the shutdown. “But that’s about as likely as a snowball in an oven,” he admitted.

Garth also asked how the three key agencies — the MTA, DOT, and the NYPD — would interface.

“Even in the best of times, those three agencies don’t even communicate with one another,” he said. “How are they going to do this in uncharted waters?”

One person who attended the Aug. 6 meeting wanted to know how the “citizen science” represented by the groups that were present is used to make MTA decisions. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

Numerous people at the meeting said they feared air quality would worsen significantly under the plan — citing the fact that just 15 of the 200 new buses would be electric. The remaining buses are all expected to be diesel.

“I’m here because I don’t want my daughter to get asthma,” said Georgette Fleischer, a longtime Nolita resident who lives at the corner of Cleveland Place and Kenmare St. Her apartment is on a corner where, under the current plan, two bus routes would be added. At Community Board 2 last month, DOT proposed two alternative traffic configurations for the Kenmare St. routes.

“I think New York City needs to lead on a transportation challenge like this one, and it’s impossible to be a leader… without taking the environmental impact very, very seriously,” she said. “Please, 15 [electric-powered] out of 200 buses is a completely unacceptable token toward environmental responsibility.”

But the SEA — which will later be used to determine if a lengthier Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is warranted — found no negative air-quality impacts between a “no-action plan” during the L train shutdown and the city’s proposed plan.

Greenhouse gas emissions — which are the primary cause of global rising temperatures under climate change — would actually be reduced over the 15-month period because of the added buses and ferries, according to the SEA. Furthermore, the 185 added diesel buses have filters that capture 95 percent of particulate matter — one of the key pollutants studied under the assessment. As a result, 14th St. and the new interborough bus routes won’t see significant impacts from particulate matter, the MTA predicts.

Compared to taking no action during the L train shutdown, the current mitigation plan would “result in a beneficial temporary impact to air quality,” the SEA states.

Many in attendance cited the steam pipe explosion at W. 21st St. and Fifth Ave. on July 19, which spewed asbestos into the surrounding area, saying the aging infrastructure under local streets would not be able to handle the vibrations of added buses and rerouted traffic. But the MTA’s assessment says buses and passenger vehicles have “rubber tires and suspension systems that provide vibration isolation,” so there would be no expected impacts on vibration levels on the new bus routes or surrounding streets from diverted traffic.

A group of Soho and Little Italy residents, calling themselves the Kenmare/Little Italy Loop Coalition, felt their concerns were ignored. Pete Davies, a longtime Soho community activist, noted that, compared to 14th St., Kenmare St. was hardly mentioned in the SEA. The coalition slammed the MTA for a lack of details on the proposed new interborough bus routes, particularly those that would run along Kenmare St., and for lack of a clear plan to manage the flow of vehicles diverted toward Downtown neighborhoods from 14th St. and the Williamsburg Bridge.

The new Loop Coalition is also requesting resources for advertising to aid local businesses, which the coalition fears would be harmed by the influx of buses and crowds during the year-and-a-half-long L train shutdown.

“[A] traffic plan should never be drawn up from a desk,” Michele Campo, a member of the Loop Coalition and president of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, told the MTA officials. “The impact from traffic cannot be seen from an office.”

Some West Villagers were concerned about maintaining local access to buildings on 14th St. However, DOT has agreed to grant local access to residents through a system where delivery trucks, cabs and for-hire vehicles can turn onto 14th St. as long as the vehicle turns off the busway by the next avenue. Bus lane cameras and the police would enforce those rules, according to presentations that the MTA and DOT made to Community Boards 2 and 3 last month.

“This is the first time I’ve been out in eight days,” said Georgie Michelle, a 14th St. resident since 1972. “I wanna know what you’re going to do for me. I won’t be able to get food. I won’t be able to go to the doctor.”

Michelle said she relies on FreshDirect to get food and a car service to go to the doctor. Because the meeting was a public comment session rather than a question-and-answer style hearing, the MTA representatives didn’t inform Michelle that 14th St. residents would have vehicle access to their doorways.

Christopher Godfrey, one of the few Brooklyn attendees, noted that some groups were severely underrepresented at the public meeting. His own fellow Brooklyn commuters living off the J and Z lines, namely, black, Latino and Orthodox Jewish straphangers, were hardly represented. It’s expected that the J, M and Z lines would absorb nearly one-third of displaced L train riders.

Most who testified at the 5 p.m. Monday meeting had attended previous public hearings or live in Manhattan.

“These are all heavy public transportation users, and I’m little bit surprised that they’re not here,” said Godfrey, a clinical psychology professor at Pace University.

But he also asked the MTA how the “citizen science” represented by the groups that were present is used to make decisions.

“[This is] an opportunity to collect that kind of narrative data,” he said, “and put it into service and at least know what was the story before, what do people know, what were the plans, how did the plans change, [and] what was the degree of accuracy of their knowledge.”

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