OPINION: A power broker’s legacy; Schwartz pulls a Moses

BY QUINN RAYMOND | Ask any New York City history buff about the ultimate legacy of Robert Moses, and she’ll probably say something like, “He did a few good things, but in the end, he’ll be remembered for blocking mass transit from his state parks, to keep poor — as in, black — people out.

Ask a lifelong Villager the same question, and he might seethingly add, “And he nearly wiped out our neighborhood for a highway.

Is Arthur Schwartz — announcing a lawsuit, above, on behalf of disabled straphangers to restore M14 bus stops — as the writer claims, acting in the discriminatory spirit of Robert Moses by blocking the 14th St. busway? (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

It was Jane Jacobs’s community organizing that saved the Village from being sacrificed to Moses’ love affair with the automobile. I have to wonder what she would make of local activist Arthur Schwartz’s current lawsuit. Schwartz is fighting critical improvements to the M14 bus in order to preserve congested lanes for dangerous, polluting cars and trucks.

Some local history: A decade ago, I helped organize a campaign to save the M8 bus, which was then on the chopping block. A total of 3,609 neighbors from Avenue D to West St., signed our successful petition to save the bus. Notably, longtime community activist and District Leader Arthur Schwartz was not one of them. Since then, his view of mass transit has shifted from indifferent to hostile.

Robert Moses, with a model of his proposed Battery Bridge, in 1938. The project, which would have decimated Battery Park, was ultimately defeated in favor of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. (Photo by C.M. Stieglitz, World Telegram /Library of Congress New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection)

Like Moses, Schwartz has had a long, dedicated career of public service. Unfortunately, none of that may be remembered by future generations. Instead he’ll be the guy who used his power and legal acumen to keep lower-income people of color from getting to their jobs — just as Moses kept them from getting to the beach. This is especially odd, since Schwartz recently compared his critics to the Klan.

Let me be clear: Unlike Moses — whose hatred of people of color was well-documented, unambiguous, and expansive — I’m not calling Schwartz a racist. His long career is the story of a man who has sought justice for the powerless at (almost) every turn. But the policy he’s fighting for is both racist and classist, and no amount of progressive bona fides can get around that.

Folks like Schwartz who choose to drive in the Village are very different (racially, economically) from the folks who rely on buses to get to their jobs, schools and doctors appointments. We know this because of the study Community Service Society did during the congestion pricing fight.

And while I’m singling Schwartz out, he’s not the only limousine liberal (or SUV socialist?) in our city. Across the river in Brooklyn, there are similar “progressives” fighting against a shelter for women and children in Park Slope. There are countless stories like this across our ostensibly left-wing city. These kind of activists must be out-organized and defeated — at community board meetings, but also in Schwartz’s case, at the ballot box.

The difficult reality is that the chasm between what we say we believe versus our actual deeds is a universal condition. This is the central moral question, and it’s a tough one.

Framed another way: There’s a little bit of Arthur Schwartz in all of us, and when it comes out we need to take a step back, look at the big picture, and think of our legacies.

Quinn Raymond is an IT security consultant who grew up and lived in the Village for 30 years. He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.

41 Responses to OPINION: A power broker’s legacy; Schwartz pulls a Moses

  1. I find it hard to fathom how as a lawyer for the Transport Workers Union for almost 20 years, someone can call me an opponent of mass transit. I am not fighting to keep cars on 14th Street, I am fighting to keep them off residential side streets, the very street Jane Jacobs helped preserve. Jane, like me, would say, “get rid of the cars, don’t just shift them around.” The statistics from the first month of the Busway, with cars on 14th, shows bus speed increasing by 25% during rush hour, which was the target! Local people, far more astute than the distant bureaucrats in City Hall. By the way, I not only fought for the M8, I was in court seeking to stop the closure of that line and a dozen others back in 2010, trying to save the jobs of the largely Black and Hispanic bus drivers being laid off. I didn’t win but that same lawsuit succeeded in stopping the closure of over 100 token booths and the lay-off off 500 Station Agents. I am proud of my legacy.

    • The only way we will get people out of cars – and keep those cars off of residential streets – is if we provide the citizens of New York with reliable, fast transit options. The idea that you have ANYTHING in common with Jane Jacobs is laughable.

      Your legacy will be defined by this lawsuit. That’s it. It’s the last, worst thing that you’ve done and it’s all anyone will remember of you.

      • You’re only as good as your last game

        Exactly right. This issue will not easily go unnoticed as our city shifts towards transit-centered and less car-oriented policy. This busway will be viewed as big-auto’s last stand.

    • Why are you not asking for your street to also be closed to cars, if you would truly say “Get rid of the cars, don’t shift them around”?

      Bus speed has not increased by 25% – that is a complete fabrication. It has increased by 6% from the all-door boarding. To get to 25%, we need the busway. I would encourage you to read the extensive studies and reports the DOT did (the ones you claim don’t exist, just like the community outreach they did). The impact of cars on side streets would be minimal. Removing travel options removes a large portion of the traffic as people take alternate methods, it doesn’t just divert 100% of it elsewhere. This is all very basic transportation theory that you would know if you were genuinely curious about the issue and finding an equitable solution. It’s clear that your interest is, as this article lays out the case, elitist, self-interested, and conservative by definition. Give it up.

      Bonus: I love that the article says “His long career is the story of a man who has sought justice for the powerless at (almost) every turn. But the policy he’s fighting for is both racist and classist, and no amount of progressive bona fides can get around that.” And then you open your retort with some progressive bona-fides.

    • Now that the Transit Worker’s Union has repudiated Arthur’s position today, this response from him makes even less sense.

    • Arthur, your argument is not unreasonable. But I have a question for you: do you support the removal of the (excellent) protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th? Or are you in favor of them? This question is a great litmus test to see if you’re a NIMBY “limousine liberal” or if you truly do want to improve transit for the common man.

    • If you honestly believe that we should “get rid of the cars” then why haven’t you personally done so? Otherwise your statement smacks of hypocrisy and/or delusion.

  2. It shouldn’t be surprising in this era of “alternative facts” how someone like Quinn Raymond can conflate issues, distort history and play the race card where none exists or portray it as class warfare which is absurd on its face given the socioeconomic and cultural diversity of those locals opposed to the ill advised Polly Trottenberg Plan.

    Robert Moses sought to demolish our neighborhood with a super highway catering to cars not people. Jane Jacobs not only argued against that but taught that only the community knows what’s best for the community.

    Arthur Schwartz and those like me and others that support him demand the right to a say in that which affects our neighborhoods and communities. Unlike Moses, nowhere do we argue for more cars, nor do we argue for parking spots. We argue for a sensible traffic plan that does not arbitrarily push vehicles off 14th Street, a street that was designed and constructed for heavy volume, onto narrow surrounding side streets I’ll equipped to handle excessive traffic and not designed to do so.

    Since when is arguing the law, demanding required studies and exercising our right to community input racist or elitist? Transportation zealots cheer the court when they get their way and hurl false accusations against an officer of the court when they do not.

    It’s not only poor people who ride the buses, another absurd representation and it has not been demonstrated by any required study that banning cars are the solution to the speed of busses. Traffic mitigation changes already instituted have demonstrably increased bus speed and reduced congestion. Why doesn’t Trottenberg and her bicycling minions step back, observe and admit that this is likely enough and that the solution cannot possibly be in moving cars from a wide thoroughfare to ancient narrow streets.

    • “…14th Street, a street that was designed and constructed for heavy volume…”

      You’re kidding right? You realize how old the Manhattan Street grid is and how old cars are, no? Or did history only begin when you moved here? You do realize overnight parking wasn’t allowed on NYC streets until the 1950s, right?

      • Reader, you are quite uninformed and betray your ignorance because you have a desired result in mind and don’t care to learn facts and backgrounds.

        14th Street was completely renovated in the 90’s, well after I made Greenwich Village home, with concrete and steel support as it was designed in the original NYC street grid as a major crosstown thoroughfare and later a designated truck route and needed an upgrade to support the volume and weight of modern day usage. Only a fool would redirect traffic from a street designed to handle it onto narrow surrounding streets mostly asphalt on sand which not only would further congest those streets but threaten underground utilities and the foundations of surrounding historic buildings.

        Educate yourself as to the absurdity of banning cars from 14th Street; particularly given that recent traffic changes have largely solved the congestion and bus travel time issue and absent required studies it is uniformed to state a car ban will be better for the overall community; not just bus riders.

    • David – what are your thoughts on climate change?

  3. Wow, a hit piece on Arthur Schwartz. How dare a lawyer file a lawsuit!!! The outrage!

    Will the Villager now publish the results from European government studies showing that bike lanes and an increase in bike use causes a huge increase in accidents and deaths to pedestrians and bike riders? That many of those accidents do not even involve cars? That Vision Zero is a moronic fantasy dreamed up by the DOT head and now embraced by the Mayor and Speaker thanks to campaign donations?

    I love how the writer uses the same line of subtle attack Kamala Harris recently used on Joe Biden; “I’m not calling Schwartz a racist….he’ll be the guy who used his power and legal acumen to keep lower-income people of color from getting to their jobs.” Yeah right, Schwartz and the other plaintiffs are using their power to keep minorities from commuting to work. Utter nonsense.

    Urban planner Lawrence Solomon, in his article, “Rip out the bike lanes — before more innocent people get hurt”
    https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/lawren

    details a number of these studies which are based on real data rather than the nonsense propaganda issued by bike lane advocates. As the DOT adds more bike lanes, more undecipherable signage painted all over the streets, more traffic officers and traffic cameras trapping drivers at intersections timed to generate as many summonses as possible, and worst of all,more tourists and inexperienced bike riders getting on rental bikes and taking off into NYC traffic as if it were a bike park, we will see a continued increase in accidents and deaths.

    Instead of blaming drivers, blame the Mayor, the DOT and the bike fanatics at Transportation alternatives for the carnage. They are redesigning NYC streets to be a killing field.

  4. Wow, a hit piece on Arthur Schwartz. How dare a lawyer file a lawsuit!!! The outrage!

    Will the Villager now publish the results from European government studies showing that bike lanes and an increase in bike use causes a huge increase in accidents and deaths to pedestrians and bike riders? That many of those accidents do not even involve cars? That Vision Zero is a moronic fantasy dreamed up by the DOT head and now embraced by the Mayor and Speaker thanks to campaign donations?

    I love how the writer uses the same line of subtle attack Kamala Harris recently used on Joe Biden; “I’m not calling Schwartz a racist….he’ll be the guy who used his power and legal acumen to keep lower-income people of color from getting to their jobs.” Yeah right, Schwartz and the other plaintiffs are using their power to keep minorities from commuting to work.

    Urban planner Lawrence Solomon, in his article, “Rip out the bike lanes — before more innocent people get hurt”
    https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/lawren

    details a number of these studies which are based on real data rather than the nonsense propaganda issued by bike lane advocates. As the DOT adds more bike lanes, more undecipherable signage painted all over the streets, more traffic officers and traffic cameras trapping drivers at intersections timed to generate as many summonses as possible, and worst of all,more tourists and inexperienced bike riders getting on rental bikes and taking off into NYC traffic as if it were a bike park, we will see a continued increase in accidents and deaths.

    Instead of blaming drivers, blame the Mayor, the DOT and the bike fanatics at Transportation alternatives for the carnage. They are redesigning NYC streets to be a killing field.

  5. [IS THERE A REASON MY COMMENT IS NOT VISIBLE?]

    Wow, a hit piece on Arthur Schwartz. How dare a lawyer file a lawsuit!!! The outrage!

    Will the Villager now publish the results from European government studies showing that bike lanes and an increase in bike use causes a huge increase in accidents and deaths to pedestrians and bike riders? That many of those accidents do not even involve cars? That Vision Zero is a moronic fantasy dreamed up by the DOT head and now embraced by the Mayor and Speaker thanks to campaign donations?

    I love how the writer uses the same line of subtle attack Kamala Harris recently used on Joe Biden; “I’m not calling Schwartz a racist….he’ll be the guy who used his power and legal acumen to keep lower-income people of color from getting to their jobs.” Yeah right, Schwartz and the other plaintiffs are using their power to keep minorities from commuting to work.

    Urban planner Lawrence Solomon, in his article, “Rip out the bike lanes — before more innocent people get hurt”
    https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/lawrence-solomon-rip-out-the-bike-lanes-before-more-innocent-people-get-hurt

    details a number of these studies which are based on real data rather than the nonsense propaganda issued by bike lane advocates. As the DOT adds more bike lanes, more undecipherable signage painted all over the streets, more traffic officers and traffic cameras trapping drivers at intersections timed to generate as many summonses as possible, and worst of all,more tourists and inexperienced bike riders getting on rental bikes and taking off into NYC traffic as if it were a bike park, we will see a continued increase in accidents and deaths.

    Instead of blaming drivers, blame the Mayor, the DOT and the bike fanatics at Transportation alternatives for the carnage. They are redesigning NYC streets to be a killing field.

    • Laurence Solomon is a shill for the oil industry, for what it’s worth.

    • The Villager is now moderating all comments before they are posted, so there can be a brief delay before reader comments go up online. This decision was made to control spam.

  6. I also find it hard to fathom. Maybe you should spend some time thinking about this, Arthur!

  7. Quinn. Perhaps you were either too young or left the Village too soon to know that, if not for Arthur, there would be no children playing on Pier 40 today. To many of us that will be his legacy. When all of the others turned their backs on us, he took the fight to the Governor’s office and won. Where were you?
    I have lived in the West Village all of my life. I bike, I walk and yes I drive. This is not a Have v Have not issue. We need a comprehensive solution that is fair for everyone. If you lived on 13th Street, I’m sure you would see it differently. How about this? Let’s experiment on Montague Street and see how it goes.

    • If you want to help me cajole the local NIMBY’s in Brooklyn to improve transit, walkability, and bike-ability here I will throw you a parade.

      Also please read the Pew Research study on who takes mass transit vs who drives and then let’s have a conversation.

    • Thank you, Michael M.

  8. 77% of Manhattan households are car-free, and households that own cars have a median income nearly double those who don’t (2015 US Census data). It’s insane how much of our public streets are given over to private car users. The M14 average speed in 2019 is 4.3mph, slowest in the city. Here in Brooklyn Fulton St. has been bus-only for many years and the buses move much faster. The majority of NY’ers suffer slower transit, increased pollution, and increased risk of injury every day because of the dominance of infrastructure for cars. It’s past time we had a more equitable transit system throughout NYC.

  9. The only reason the city suddenly cares about 14th Street is because it’s becoming a tech hub. If they cared about people, they wouldn’t have gotten rid of any stops along the way. The plan allows Uber to pick up and drop off along 14th Street (and I’m sure the private tech vans I keep seeing), but not yellow cabs. When I heard this, I knew it was connected to tech.

    • Your point about Uber is not true. Anyone can pick up and drop off on 14th, but they must turn off on the next available block.

  10. Doesn’t make his facts untrue. I love watching you sjw commies stab each other in the eye with your holier than thou “Im more intersectional than you!”

    With any luck the next loser mayor you all install will bankrupt the city completely and you can all perish in the weeklong blackouts when there’s no EBT.

  11. QR: “I love POC more than you do!”

    What a joke.

  12. Fulton Street is already a busway

    I recommend anyone seeking to view a successful busway to visit the thriving Fulton Street corridor in downtown Brooklyn.

  13. Why would “rich whites” have to pay for free buses? They can ride them too. Your elitism is showing. “Ew, the bus!”

  14. You have your facts wrong. Anyone can pick up and drop off along 14th St. Removing stops increased stop distances by no more than a block and speeds service for riders.

  15. Free libraries and parks for everyone, right?

  16. It sounds like you did a lot of great things, in the past. It’s a shame that this will be your legacy. You will be remembered as the man who defended the interests of residents of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in NYC against those of transit riders who earn below the city’s median income. You should really remove “progressive” from all your online bios.

  17. Write again, please

    Interesting read, Quinn. I wonder if you or any other readers had comments on the following issues.

    1. One the major unintended effects of SEQRA and other environmental laws enacted in the 1970s was that it created a barrier to community-based development and paved the way for a private sector driven recovery in NYC and beyond. Environmental impact studies are expensive, somewhat useless formalities, and when combined with high costs of land and building it has helped exacerbate the problem of exclusively high-end development in Manhattan and the contiguous areas in the outer boroughs. The idea of heavily regulating private developers is a good one, but other countries do not require EIS studies for municipal projects. It does raise issues of government accountability if we loosen regulation on city and state agencies, but conversely many would welcome a larger scale return of building authority to the government. Urban renewal clearly failed, but new programs for large scale development of affordable housing are clearly necessary, particularly as similar NIMBY efforts go up against shelters that house even people making above the median income who cannot afford to stay in their homes. Any thoughts on this?

    2. Someone also commented on this in another article, but the busway lawsuit is arguably one of the more egregious examples of how 1960s/70s activism was taken too far and how some took the wrong lessons from it. An analogous example would be how the virtuous historic preservation movement inspired partly by the Moses-era destruction of entire neighborhoods, as well as the high-profile demolition of Penn Station and other landmarks has nonetheless stymied development and growth in certain rich areas and directed rezonings and development to lower income areas (ie gentrification). I think the abuse of environmental laws here and the “neighborhood character” lawsuit in a historic district on CPW exemplify how those empowered by the 60s/70s organizing are trying to game the system they created to get their way at the expense of transit riders and bikers. All while labeling those in favor of change “zealots” and “extremists” who are “destroying neighborhoods.” It looks increasingly like a generation that won glorious hard-fought victories is merely trying to prevent the next generations from doing the same when they perceive it affects them and the status quo they created negatively. I would imagine this generation will likely find itself in a similar position, but I’d love to hear the opinion author’s view on how this issue represents a larger generational struggle between younger progressives and older more conservative activists. You kind of got at it in your brilliant conclusion but how “progressives” react when hot-button issues arrive on their doorsteps could merit a whole other piece and I’m sure a bunch of us would love to know your thoughts.

    • Interesting perspective, thank you. I agree with the historic contours you outline, and with the YIMBY/PHIMBY ethos in general.

      Of course the wealthy and well-connected will game whatever system they’re in, and the trick is to create public processes that can reasonably mitigate these advantages without unintended consequences. To this end, our City Charter and related laws could probably use some more aggressive revision than they’re getting. But the “abolish community boards” take is short-sighted (not saying that’s your take, but it’s becoming popular among a certain set).

      What we’re fundamentally wrestling with is the equitable and efficient allocation of space and public monies. This is especially true when it comes to:

      -housing (owners vs renters)
      -education (school funding and integration)
      -transportation (drivers vs riders, walkers, bikers)

      But the inter-generational conflict reading of this problem is not necessarily helpful for a few reasons:

      -most older people are victims of the same bad policy decisions
      -many of the greatest thought leaders on these problems are older (Andrés Duany is 69! Jane Jacobs would be 103!)
      -there’s no path to victory that doesn’t include the support of older people, because they vote in primaries

      When we did the Save the M8 campaign, the overwhelming majority of comments were heartbreaking pleas from older people who did not want to be cut off from their city, loved ones, and services. When bike and transportation advocates alienate these people, it only delays progress. The same goes for women and people of color, who are often excluded and drowned out by opinionated white men like me (I recognize the irony).

      Schwartz and his patrician allies are ultimately a paper tiger, but their shelf-life is relative to how easily we allow ourselves to be divided: by age, race, transportation mode, etc. Healing these divides takes a lot of work and conscious thought.

  18. So Robert Moses called Schwartz a racist? That’s what you implied, Quinn. (Just Saying.)

    “SUV socialist” is a nice turn of phrase, tho.

  19. Hey John

    I think climate change is a very serious issue that cries out for emergency action to prevent it from causing further harm to our planet.

    Having said that, I do not think banning cars from 14th Street has anything to do with that but sure will further choke the community with congestion, noise and air pollution. That adds climate change insult to climate change injury.

    Moving cars from 14th Street onto narrow side streets does nothing to improve the environment and to the contrary harms it. Car fumes more easily escape into the atmosphere on wide 14th Street and would be trapped on narrow side streets. The inevitable congestion on those narrow side streets would add noise pollution and air pollution to our neighborhoods and homes.

    Nothing more than reducing vehicles (not reshuffling them from a wide to narrow streets) will accomplish that. The city is responsible for the unfettered growth of For Hire Vehicles and now claims that faster buses will make life better to the complete disregard of the root cause of the problem that our city officials permitted to happen. So yes I think climate change is real and needs a lot more than a Polly Trottenberg ego boosting busway to remedy.

  20. Reader is quite the fool to think buses replace cars as they each serve a useful and different purpose depending on individual need. Arthur Schwartz’s legacy will be that he stood up to uninformed opinionated zealots like you who believe they know better than the vast majority of our community with your my way or the highways one dimensional view.

  21. All of this is quite amusing. I have no “patrician allies.” and have used environmental laws. civil rights laws, the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, whistleblower laws, voting rights laws etc for 40 years to protect those whose rights are run roughshod by “big government.” Somehow I am a racist anti-working class NIMBY who volunteers, at least once a week, to keep some elderly woman or man from being evicted. I represent the Fulton Houses tenants Association, that is a “patrician” group of NYCHA tenants who oppose the 14th Street plan. I represent Black Lives Matter, a “patrician” Black activist group. I do litigation for Disabled in Action, and only last year got the MTA to install four new elevators at 6th Avenue and 14th Street. I am the principal litigator for the Transport Workers Union Local 100, an “anti-working class” organization which regularly asks me to save the jobs of transit employees threatened by a governmental authority which would rather function without the restraints of the Public Authorities Law etc. I don’t just talk about the poor, and people of color, and working people like you do, I work with them every day.
    There is nothing new about utilizing SEQRA or NEPA to fight misconceived transportation projects. My mentor, Al Butzel, used NEPA to stop Westway in the 1980s; government said it would reduce pollution, end congestion, and create a beautiful accessible waterfront. You can talk about “bike activists” alienating people, as though you own b.s., which the mostly elderly Chelsea residents and Villagers I represent read, makes them think that your own snooty armchair intellectualism is just another effort to push them out of a neighborhood they have lived in for 20, 30, 40 years and more.Quinn, you know very little about who rides the M14 bus, or when they ride it, or what the bus speeds were outside of “rush hour”(I say were because in July alone they sped up by 10%).

  22. I could be wrong, I’m basing it on what I read a few months ago. Maybe this has changed.

    https://www.thevillager.com/2019/06/opinion-14th-st-plan-favors-uber-co-over-taxis/

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