Wheely mad: TransAlt to protest at anti-busway attorney’s home   

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON Updated Tues., Aug. 13, 12:45 a.m. | Call it busway rage.

Transportation Alternatives, the pro-cycling and mass-transit advocacy group, is seething that Village and Chelsea residents have dared to throw a monkey wrench into the city’s “experimental” pilot plan for a 14th St. busway.

And they are especially furious at one man, a Villager whose name is synonymous for them with a gunked-up bike derailleur, if not a busted front fork: Arthur Schwartz.

Attorney Arthur Schwartz announcing his lawsuit to restore bus stops on the M14 route that were removed for the new Select Bus Service. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

And they’re not just stewing about it: They plan to protest outside the activist attorney’s W. 12th St. townhouse on the evening of Wed., Aug. 14, and demand that he withdraw his lawsuit, which is currently derailing the busway.

Perhaps instead of pitchforks and torches, they’ll be angrily brandishing quick-release wheels, bicycle pumps and MetroCards.

A press release for TransAlt’s protest urges: “Protest Rich Residents From Stopping 14th St. Busway.”

Meanwhile, Schwartz is firing back that TransAlt are a bunch of fascistic bullies for trying to intimidate him — likening them to no less than Donald Trump and the Ku Klux Klan. Going on the offensive, early Tuesday morning, he announced that he plans to preemptively protest TransAlt’s protesting him at the group’s 111 John St. offices on Tuesday morning at 11:30 a.m. He fumed that the group crossed a line by blasting out his home address.

Last Friday, Schwartz succeeded in getting a last-minute court-ordered stay from an Appellate Division court to postpone the no-cars busway plan, which was set to kick off this Mon., Aug. 12.

The stay was issued because Schwartz on Friday filed an appeal of the ruling that had been issued just days earlier on their anti-busway lawsuit by a State Supreme Court justice, who cleared the traffic plan to start on Monday.

Schwartz has also been contesting the new crosstown bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts.

In a press release Monday afternoon, Thomas DeVito, TransAlt’s senior director of advocacy, railed against the community litigation as a “frivolous lawsuit.”

“The West Villagers who filed the suit have used every dirty trick in the book to delay needed improvements along New York’s slowest bus line,” DeVito fumed in the e-mail blast. “For them, it doesn’t matter how slow and unreliable our buses are for working New Yorkers, or how straightforward and obvious the fixes are. Their only concern is preserving parking for themselves and keeping anyone else off their street.”

DeVito apparently was quoting from The Villager’s report on the stay being granted last Friday, when he wrote, “Their lead lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, has asked publicly ‘who uses the bus?’ and he has flippantly acknowledged that his clients gladly chipped in ‘a thousand dollars here, a thousand dollars there’ to perpetuate his capricious lawsuits.”

The Villager article read: “The attorney said that, after Tuesday’s deflating State Supreme Court ruling, he had asked members of [block associations] fighting the city’s plan if they supported appealing the decision, and the answer was overwhelming.

“ ‘I said it might cost $5,000 to $10,000 to print the record,’ he said, referring to the paperwork — in multiple copies — required to file the appeal. ‘I got a great reaction… Everyone was pledging $1,000 here, $1,000 there.’ ”

Pumped up for changes on 14th St.: Transportation Alternatives members and cycling advocates at a meeting in March 2018 at P.S. 41 on the 14th St. plans showed their support for both the “PeopleWay” plan for 14th St., which included a no-cars busway, and a two-way crosstown bike lane on 13th St. The Department of Transportation had recently abandoned the dual-direction bike lane plan in the face of staunch community opposition, and instead installed one-way lanes on 12th and 13th Sts. The city is still trying to push through the busway plan. (File photo by Lincoln Anderson)

DeVito’s e-mail continued, “What’s happening today on 14th St. [is] a hyper-empowered minority using their wealth to deny better bus service for 27,000 working commuters.”

The transit advocate noted the protesters plan “to congregate in front of Arthur Schwartz’s $10 million brownstone to demand he drop the lawsuit.”

The demonstration is scheduled to last from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

An early Critical Mass protest by New York City bike messengers in the 1980s. Will the TransAlt protest outside Arthur Schwartz’s house look anything like this? (File photo by Carl Hultberg)

In a statement to this paper early Monday evening, Schwartz unloaded on TransAlt, calling them nothing less than un-American Trumpian fascistic bullies.

“TransAlt, in deciding to picket the house of a lawyer, who represents clients, to demand that ‘I drop’ their case, is engaging in a form of bullying which is in the tradition of Donald Trump, and has nothing to do with how we function in a non-fascistic Democratic society,” he declared. “I do not drop that word lightly, and I am asking lawyers from around the city, and my elected representatives, to join me on my stoop.

“I might also add that for an organization whose top officials make $200,000 per year running a nonprofit, their complaint that Village and Chelsea residents active in block associations are ‘rich,’ is demagoguery similar to that we see emanating from the White House.”

About six hours later, Schwartz sent out an e-mail announcing he intends to hold a press conference Tuesday morning outside the Lower Manhattan office of TransAlt, which the attorney described as “the $4.5-million-per-year cyclist lobbying group.”

“This kind of undemocratic bullying, reminiscent of how white-hooded zealots would threaten white lawyers who represented black people in the South, or dictators who threaten lawyers who represent unpopular figures, needs to be called out,” Schwartz proclaimed.

“I represent everyday residents of Chelsea and Greenwich Village,” he said, “people who speak for Greenwich Village, and Transportation Alternatives is taking the fight to my home, where I live with my wife and teenage children, for one purpose only — to intimidate me.”

Schwartz, who is the Village’s male Democratic district leader, is calling on other elected leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, “to stand with him” on Wednesday night when the enraged TransAlt protesters descend on his home.

Meanwhile, in addition, Schwartz called a press conference for Wednesday morning, at 11 a.m., on the south side of 14th St., just east of Fifth Ave. — where a bus stop was recently removed as part of the newly implemented Select Bus Service on the M14 route.

At the press conference, Schwartz will announce his second lawsuit related to the 14th St. traffic changes — to demand that the city restore the removed bus stops. His plaintiff in that case will be Disabled in Action, a group representing disabled New Yorkers.

At a press conference conference last year announcing the M.T.A.’s commitment to install elevators at the Sixth Ave. and 14th St. subway station, Milagros Franco, who has been disabled since birth and lives in the E. 20s, said that each new subway elevator is another victory for accessibility. Arthur Schwartz was the attorney on the case, which was brought against the L-train full shutdown plan. (File photo by Lincoln Anderson)

In a quote announcing the event, Schwartz said, “We need to talk about how the city, in its quest for [bus] speed, has abandoned folks in wheelchairs and walkers, has not addressed the real concerns of the affected communities, how we are not a ‘wealthy minority group of landowners,’ but representatives of thousands of people who live in the Village, Chelsea and Flatiron and have for decades.”

The Steering Committee of the 14th St. Coalition urged its members, “Bring handmade signs with messages like: ‘COMMUTERS ARE NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN COMMUNITIES’; ‘STREETS ARE FOR EVERYONE’; ‘THE BUSWAY PROMOTES ABLEISM’; ‘WE ARE NOT AN EXPERIMENT’; ‘NOT EVERYONE CAN RIDE A BIKE’; and ‘SAFETY BEFORE LOBBYISTS.’”

Members of the Coalition, which includes Village and Chelsea block associations and large residential condo buildings, fear if the busway happens, neighboring side streets would be flooded with cars diverted from 14th St., and that the first-of-its-kind scheme in New York would wreak havoc on 14th St., as well. They were disappointed by two tweets Comptroller Stringer made last week about the issue.

“Today should have been a triumphant day for bus riders in Manhattan,” Stringer tweeted last Friday, after the stay blocking the busway was issued. “Instead we are stuck with the failed status quo. I stand with those fighting for a world-class bus system in New York. We need projects like the 14th St. busway.”

In an earlier tweet, last Tuesday, Stringer praised the first ruling, which would have allowed the project to go forward:

“This is terrific news,” he trumpeted. “Thanks to all the advocates who fought tirelessly to make this day a reality. Now — let’s get our buses moving!”

The 14th St. Coalition members took Stringer’s tweets personally, saying it was “calling us the failed status quo.”

The Coalition, which was the lead plaintiff in Schwartz’s previous two lawsuits on the 14th St. plan, actually is not part of this latest suit, though a number of its block association members are.

Stringer is a candidate for mayor, as is Speaker Johnson, who has vowed to “break car culture” in New York City.

21 Responses to Wheely mad: TransAlt to protest at anti-busway attorney’s home   

  1. Transportation Alternatives, the well funded lobbyists behind many of these street level changes are bunch of elitist bullies throwing a temper tantrum because they didn’t get their way.

    This fight is making sure our neighborhood and our streets are safe and easy to travel for EVERYONE – a simple fact that’s gotten lost in this love fest/push for commuters and bicyclists. We are neighborhoods full of local businesses, of residents who’ve been here for decades, of projects, of public and private schools, of fancy and rent controlled buildings, of day workers and visitors. The “rich” label that’s being slung at us is just another lie bandied about by TA, the side in this that is actually oozing money.

    How about we work together to make sure everyone is safe on streets that are becoming increasingly lawless?

  2. Wow! Great scoop.

    This is looking worse and worse for Arthur Schwartz and his small band of insiders trying to manipulate laws and have undue influence on city processes to favor their personal interests over those of tens of thousands of bus riders, and not to mention the entire political establishment. They have no ideological backbone and are ineptly trying to make the city back down with a completely ludicrous lawsuit and what seems to be a poorly thought out PR campaign.

    TA are absolutely right to pressure him personally and professionally for this disgraceful NIMBY effort. The language on both sides is a bit inflamed, but Schwartz is flailing and we all know the right side is going to prevail sooner (if Schwartz stops delaying) or later (when the city prevails in court).

    The sad thing about all of this is that traffic won’t noticeably increase on those side streets anyway. The whole thing was bananas to begin with. Give it up, Arthur! Take the bus for a change.

  3. Schwartz is shaping up to go down in history as one of New York’s most odious characters. Using personal wealth and privilege to stop a busway that will benefit tens of thousands of riders each day, weaponizing environmental review to preserve parking, and somehow claiming that faster bus speeds equal “ableism” is beyond the pale. He has no place in polite society. Just gross.

    If you want your streets preserved in amber, move to a gated community in the suburbs with a homeowners association that can play by its own rules. This is a city. Cities change. And selfish dinosaurs like Arthur Schwartz and those who’ve flushed thousands of dollars down the toilet fighting the city forcing taxpayers to defend this lawsuit, have no place here.

    Drop the suit and go away.

  4. An increase of well-planned (and policed) bike lanes are a good transportation improvement for everyone. The issue of my concern is the diverting – and resulting increase – of traffic to side streets both north and south of 14th Street in order to accommodate the proposed car-free busway. These particular residential streets are quiet, narrow and not designed to accommodate the level of traffic activity that would be inflicted on them with this change. With parking on both sides of these smaller side streets, a car pulling in or out of a space would stop entirely the passage of traffic and only frustrate (think car horns) anyone attempting to traverse those streets. And if those parking spaces are eliminated to accommodate this increase in traffic, we are back to a larger, wider street that accommodates more traffic and a higher speed of traffic: a new 14th Street. Not to mention the safety buffer that parking provides between street and sidewalk pedestrians. An ‘Urban Planning 101’ precept that should be considered.

    It simply makes sense to keep traffic – both cars and busses – on 14th Street and work towards improving / implementing dedicated bus lanes for faster service.

    • Actually 12th and 13th st .don’t. have parking on both sides of the street. Because there is a new bike lane there, many cars are able to easily pass around unloading vehicles by borrowing the bike lane. The bike lane similarly enables emergency vehicles to move more freely. (Adding loading zones on these residential streets for USPS and taxis would even further improve car travel speeds on 12/13th.) When the busway is put in car drivers will know to avoid the area – it is the traffic law of induced demand working in reverse. In Seattle they just tore down an entire downtown highway and it didn’t even make the traffic worse. DOT knows what they are doing here. Let them do their jobs! As a 14th St. resident I love the bus and I need the bus. Time to make the right decision for our commute time, our air and our climate. Bus way now! See you Wednesday Arthur! Don’t be mad. You want to fight, you’ve got a fight.

    • Here’s an Urban Planning 101 concept for you – induced demand (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand). If you build a car thoroughfare, more people will drive. The inverse is known as reduced or dissuaded demand: if you take away a car thoroughfare and replace it with a high-capacity bus (like the M14) that runs at a usable speed (unlike the M14), people will shift from cars to the bus.

      Traffic will always be a problem in cities where there are people and cars are allowed. Full stop. The solution is to give people alternatives (buses, bike lanes, subways) that *work* so that they don’t have to sit in the traffic.

      Until you ban cars outright. But hey, baby steps.

  5. No fan of Schwartz, but even less a fan of protesting at people’s homes. TA will lose a lot of support from those they most need – regular people. If the law is on your side — Act Like It! People living on 13th and 15th Streets will need to make a big (yet temporary) sacrifice for the rest of us, so maybe treating them like you’ll appreciate it, could keep you from being seen as Bike Nationalists.

  6. Transportation Alternatives (TA) is an extremist group funded by billionaire Mike Bloomberg, a man who likes to use his wealth to force everyone to do whatever he imagines is right. Their intention is to force bike culture on the entire population wether we want it or not. They literally hate anyone who dares to even slightly disagree with their agenda. Targeting a lawyer because he filed a perfectly reasonable lawsuit against their ZERO VISION agenda is typical of their fascistic approach to advocacy. The notion that TA represents “the people” is ludicrous. Their executives make hundreds of thousands a year. While they represent a very small portion of the electorate, their financial backing gives them a lot of influence over our weak-minded and very easily bought elected officials. Using the DOT as their weapon, they are systematically destroying the streets of NYC, making them odious for drivers, bikers, residents and pedestrians. Bloomberg saw NYC as a place for tourists, period. Everything he did, and everything the DOT and TA are trying to do, is bad for residents and great for tourists. It is also very bad for bike riders, as the 19 deaths so far this year prove! Suing to prevent this atrocity from going forward is a courageous act of resistance. If these punks think they can intimidate Arthur Schwartz by picketing his home they are in for a big surprise.

  7. The neo-fascists at TransAlt play phony class warfare, insinuating that we who support this lawsuit are “rich”, while their execs rake in salaries of $200,000 annually?

    They also never mention the fact that the founder of TransAlt’s media arm, Streetsblog, is Mark Gorton, a super-wealthy hedge-funder who established several multi-national LLCs.

    As Balzac wrote, “Behind every fortune e there is a crime.” I wonder what are Gorton’s?

    So these Spandex Nazi are basically trust-fund brats, benefitting from the profits of an über multi-millionaire at the expense of the hard-working women and men of Community Boards 2, 3, and 4..

  8. What seems to lacking is the INTELLIGENCE needed for genuine cooperation, conversation, analysis and a solution finding process. Instead this is looking more like a turf war the likes of the 5 corners.

    Friends, where did the paradigm arise that is represented here? Transportation Alternatives is a well funded and well organized lobbying group with innate, professional PR savvy and a media attract-ability. TA are acting like bullies and gangsters – headin’ over to the lawyer’s place for a lynchin’ or tar and featherin.’ Is this New York City?

    TA, everyone is onto you. You are corrupting the integrity of the political system. You have the electeds at your mercy. If you’re so self- assured and righteous, if you’re so convinced of your position – why let a little group of disparate residents and shopkeepers hassle you, huh?

    But, maybe it’s time for us to agree to disagree and compromise. Figure out, we educated and sophisticated New Yorkers, how to communicate and creatively find a good and unbiased method and solution?

    Dare we admit that we are going about this the wrong way? Dare we experiment with a collective, creative solution?

  9. classic trump response, perry

  10. agree. not everyone rides a bike, and seniors need taxi access when shopping local to support small business & healthy alternative grocery like farmer’s market & Whole Foods & Trader Joes. We dont all live along the 14 t bus, and all subways need elevators.
    TA is promoting ageism & able-ism WE need busses & taxis. And No congestion pricing on taxi’s, a NYC institution and career that supports families. a well vetted licensed service not like the uber boober lyft other Bloomberg-type investments. This is LITERALLY KILLING cab drivers.
    Congestion? yeah, drop tables & chairs in the middle of the street, eliminate laness & they get congested

    • yes, we need Congestion. It’s the only thing that will make outsiders leave their cars at home. Congestion is our friend. Had there been more of it, we might not need congestion pricing.

  11. To all those bemoaning TA’s political power – you’re damn right. TA has built power since its founding in the 1970s through hard work and the organizing efforts of thousands of volunteers, and yes, a few “highly paid” CEOs. And they are fighting for clean air, for streets that are safe for our children to walk and ride a bike on, for streets that are safe for seniors to cross, for buses that are reliable and fast. Are you so shocked that they have built political support in the most “liberal” city in the country when their agenda is founded on protecting the environment, improving public transit, and decarbonizing transportation in the era of climate change? Get a grip, NIMBYs. They won a citywide 25mph speed limit, they won speed cameras near schools, they won congestion pricing, and yes, they are coming for your parking spots. And they will keep winning because they are on the right side of history and are part of a large coalition pushing this city towards a healthy, humane, and equitable 21st century transportation system.

    And by the way? This spillover traffic that is repeatedly cited just. won’t. happen. We know from “experiment” after experiment that road and highway removal also reduces vehicle trips. If you want to point a finger at the causes of increased traffic today, point at the delivery vehicles double parked on every block (again forced to do so because neighborhoods refuse to remove personal car parking in favor of commercial loading zones) and the thousands of new registered vehicles in the city, many used for Uber and Lyft. It isn’t bus lanes and bike lanes that are the problem, you selfish dinosaurs.

  12. I’m not a biker or usually a bus-rider, because I’m lucky to live near the subway lines I need. But I really, really hope this project comes through. Huge, huge numbers of people depend on this bus. There are many New Yorkers unable to drive — think of friends with epilepsy or a visual impairment, or those who can’t afford a car and the insurance — and very few New Yorkers who have the luxury of street parking in our part of Manhattan.
    It’s startling to see such a privileged group of residents trying to thwart the bus lane, especially since they are no doubt aware of their cars’ oversized contributions to climate change. The city needs to be doing everything it can to discourage car use, and to improve the lives of the tens of thousands of commuters who rely on the city bus each day.

  13. I see on this issue, there is complete unanimity [sic] among all factions!
    Arthur Schwartz likens the protest against him as “. . . in the tradition of Donald Trump . . . . ” I don’t agree. I think it’s reminiscent of the SA.

  14. Transportation Alternatives’ decision to picket Arthur Schwartz’s home may not have been particularly politic, but the “fascism” charge is off-the-charts irony. Bicyclists are an oppressed and stigmatized group in New York City, while motorists are ultra-privileged and have a virtual license to kill. Time and again we hear of pedestrians or bicyclists killed by motorists in what are euphemistcally called “accidents” or “crashes,” with no charges filed. The bicyclists are on the side of social justice, and the motor-heads (and their enablers like Schwartz) on the side of fascistc Ugly Americanism.

    And if Schwartz and his co-litigants have a legitimate argument against the plans for 14th St., they blow all their credibility with their opposition to the 12th and 13th St. bike lanes. We urgently need more space for bicycles—everywhere.

    On the factual tip, I’d like some corroboration that Transportation Alternatives’ “top officials” make $200,000 a year. Did you check with the organization, Villager?

    I’m also still waiting for The Villager to explain what “Select Bus Service” is.

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