West Village residents voiced their concerns last night about the city’s plans to deal with the effects of the L train shutdown, but MTA and DOT officials held firm in their belief that the current plan to mitigate the upcoming L-pocalypse will cause the least amount of pain for all involved.
The West Village town hall, the first public meeting about the shutdown since a group of neighborhood residents filed a federal lawsuit to try to force an Environmental Impact Statement to study the effects the MTA and DOT traffic plan, had the potential to get contentious. Outside a packed New School auditorium, two attendees sparred over whether cyclists were an imposition on the rest of the city’s population and the phrase “TA shill” was shouted at someone handing out literature. However, perhaps because of the soothing effects of a PowerPoint before speakers were invited to ask questions or because of the somewhat strict one-minute limit on those speakers, the meeting remained civil, if sometimes pointed.
The city’s plan for a two-way bike lane on 13th Street was targeted from the very beginning of the three hour-meeting, the first question of which was: “What are you going to do in the way of training these inexperienced cyclists to keep from getting myself killed?” Meeting attendees attempted to wrest a promise from DOT chair Polly Trottenberg that the lane wouldn’t remain a permanent fixture on the block once the 15-month Canarsie Tunnel construction was finished.
Trottenberg stressed the need to “provide a safe protected cycling route” and late in the evening told a speaker that instances of cyclists killing pedestrians are extremely rare. The DOT PowerPoint mentioned the agency was open to the idea of splitting the two-way lane into one-way lanes on 12th and 13th Streets. When a man demanded an assurance the pedestrian and cycling improvements be removed at the end of the L-pocalypse so the Village would be spared from the government’s “social engineering,” Trottenberg said she hoped the improvements “would work well” and the community might agree to keep them.
Meeting attendees asking for commitments for a plan that would restrict car traffic in lower Manhattan even more than the city is planning on at the moment were also rebuffed in the name of balancing concerns of Manhattan residents and L train commuters. New York City Transit Authority president Andy Byford admitted that “from the MTA’s perspective we’d have 24/7 service” on a 14th Street busway rather than one restricted to what the city is calling peak hours. (So far, those hours have yet to be defined.)
Trottenberg and Byford also displayed a kind of punchiness in a room full of critics. At one point Trottenberg mock apologized to a resident who told her she felt the plan was being rammed down her throat by saying: “I’m sorry, and President Byford is sorry as well, that the MTA has to fix the Canarsie Tunnel.” Byford was dismissive of a question about air quality in the neighborhood as a result of buses and car traffic. He bluntly said the agency was “not obliged to do an Environmental Impact Assessment” despite groans from the crowd.
Ultimately, the evening felt more like an opportunity for residents to vent and for Trottenberg and Byford to push their vision for balance than it did an opportunity to make any changes in the mitigation plan. “At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone,” Byford said in a press gaggle before the meeting kicked off, inadvertently summarizing the theme of the night before it even began.