West Village Lawyer Arthur Schwartz Threatens to Drag DOT to Court Over Its L Train Shutdown Plan

The selfish crusade to block a crosstown busway and bike lane could leave hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers stranded while the L train is out of commission.

Arthur Schwartz. Photo: @advocat4justice/Twitter
Arthur Schwartz. Photo: @advocat4justice/Twitter

The looming L train shutdown is justifiably a source of huge concern for transit riders and people who live along the route. The unprecedented 15-month closure of the western portion of the L train, slated to begin next year, will disrupt the routines of hundreds of thousands of people.

Commuters are wondering how they’ll get to work, businesses are alarmed about losing customers, and residents along the L corridor are worried they’ll have to live through a year of honking traffic congestion.

For the public officials who have to help all these people get around without the L train, the situation demands a steady hand and a no-nonsense commitment to prioritizing bus service, bicycling, and other modes that can move large numbers of people given limited street space.

For people who don’t like those sorts of changes to the streets, the atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding the L shutdown is also ripe for spreading misinformation and fear.

That’s exactly what West Village resident Arthur Schwartz, a Democratic district leader and labor lawyer, has set out to do. Schwartz has told the Villager that he doesn’t believe the MTA’s measurements of L train ridership and the number of people who’ll be affected by the shutdown.

He’s now threatening to sue the city over its plan to compensate for the loss of L train service with a busway on 14th Street and a two-way protected bike lane on 13th Street. Last week, Schwartz sent an ultimatum to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg demanding an “environmental impact statement” for the city’s L train shutdown plan, or else he’ll drag the city to court.

One environmental impact statement can take years to complete, but the L train shutdown is scheduled to begin in April 2019.

Conducting an EIS for a project to improve transit and cycling obviously runs counter to the spirit of environmentalism, though this would be far from the first case where 1970s-era environmental law was deployed to uphold the car-centric status quo.

Schwartz’s letter also completely ignores the question of how traffic will be affected if the city does nothing to prioritize transit and biking while the L train is out of commission.

The threat doesn’t have to stand up in court, though. As long as it gets DOT to water down the plan, Schwartz’s ultimatum will serve its purpose. He told the Villager that he’ll withdraw the lawsuit if DOT opts to “compromise and reach an agreement” with people he deems to be “community leaders.”

Schwartz doesn’t care if there’s an environmental review or not. He just wants to stop the city from implementing much-needed street design changes that will help L train riders continue to get around car-free.

Who’d get screwed? First and foremost, the transit riders who’ll be depending on reliable and safe substitutes for the L train. The weaker DOT’s plan for buses and bicycling, the more time and money these riders will lose when they have to travel without the L.

Merchants and employers will also lose if Schwartz gets his way. Without a functional, high-capacity substitute for the L train, they’ll have fewer customers and employees will have a tougher time getting to work.

Even Arthur Schwartz will lose. If you think setting aside a few lanes for transit and bikes will ruin the streets of the West Village, wait til you see what happens when every L train passenger who can afford it decides to hail an Uber instead.


Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

Bill de Blasio’s L Train Shutdown

If it wasn't already clear that surface streets will have to do serious heavy lifting during the L shutdown, there's no longer any doubt. And yet, the person who can exercise the most control over the streets, Mayor de Blasio, remains stuck in a state of feckless apathy regarding the impending cataclysm.