Air monitors planned for L-shutdown bus routes

From left, State Senator Brad Hoylman recently joined Andy Byford, the Transit Authority president, on a tour of the construction site at the L train’s First Ave. station. The station is getting a new entrance at Avenue A and will also be the main staging area for the L train tunnel repairs. Courtesy Brad Hoylman’s Office

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The city announced last week that it will install air-quality monitors along new bus routes during the L train shutdown.

During the shutdown — slated to begin April 27, 2019 — the city plans to add additional subway, ferry and bus service, plus bike lanes. To transport 17 percent of displaced L train riders, the city intends to create a dedicated “busway” along 14th St., plus four new bus loops in Brooklyn and Manhattan that would send 80 buses per hour over the Williamsburg Bridge during peak hours.

After months of protest by local residents, the city committed to monitoring particulate matter, called PM 2.5, from diesel bus emissions. Those monitors are in addition to existing ones at construction sites for the L train along E. 14th St. in the East Village monitoring PM 10, where work is ongoing.

“Considering where we’ve come from, I view this as real progress and a real win for community groups that have been working on this,” said Pete Davies, a Soho activist and member of the Kenmare/Little Italy Loop Coalition.

Early last month, more than 40 Downtown community groups and district leaders from the East Side to the West Side signed onto a letter demanding that local politicians address air-quality concerns at E. 14th St. and Avenues A and B, as well as along the new interborough bus routes. The groups slammed an environmental assessment that was conducted due to an ongoing lawsuit against the L shutdown. The study found no significant difference in impact on air quality between “no action” — meaning, doing nothing during the L shutdown — and the “alternative service” plan.

At the end of last month, state Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and 18 other politicians from Brooklyn and Manhattan sent a joint letter to Andy Byford, president of New York City Transit Authority, requesting he implement air monitors along the bus routes, establish baseline readings and make the data public — which Byford has now committed to.

“I think there’s the old adage, ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure,’ ” Hoylman said. “No one knows what the impact of the tunnel shutdown will be on public health and the environment because of all these new buses. And the M.T.A. has committed to this project and is, as they say, ‘consulting with experts’ in determining how to proceed.”

But, Davies said, “The devil will be in the details.”

Where monitors will be located, how many will be installed, and how the city will establish a baseline standard for air quality remains to be seen.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation plan to establish a baseline “as soon as possible,” make results public, and monitor for PM 2.5, according to a presentation at a Community Board 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting on Nov. 1.

“We made it very clear, we’re not scientists,” Davies said. “But we trust, now that Byford has committed to this, that they will do this in a meaningful way.”

Soho resident Lora Tenenbaum, a former C.B. 2 member, fears that the monitors will be placeholders for a plan if air quality does ultimately worsen.

“Putting them there isn’t enough,” she said, adding that both analyzing air quality and taking action if there are negative impacts are critical.

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