ALL RISE! Judge Rules City Can Build 14th Street ‘Busway’

An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps
An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps

Long-suffering riders of the M14 bus will get some relief soon, thanks to a State Supreme Court judge who lifted a temporary order barring the Department of Transportation from starting its busway pilot along 14th Street.

Justice Eileen Rakower ruled that additional evidence submitted by the DOT — a traffic analysis submitted by Deputy Commissioner for Traffic Eric Beaton — met a state requirement that the agency take “a hard look” at the impact that banning most private cars from 14th Street would have on nearby residential streets.

As a result of that proof, Rakower lifted the restraining order that kept the busway from getting fully implemented.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Arthur Schwartz had cited Beaton’s analysis as evidence that the busway would fill neighborhood streets with cars — but Rakower told Schwartz that her only concern was that the DOT had actually studied the issue. As long as the DOT could show it had studied the impact on surrounding streets, Rakower was satisfied that the agency could move forward.

As a practical matter, that finding means that Rakower didn’t rule on what Schwartz considers the merits of his case, namely that barring cars on 14th Street will result in a flood of vehicles to West 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th streets. Rakower did suggest that DOT could tweak existing traffic signals on those side streets as the agency sees the effects of the diverted cars once the busway is up and running.

The analysis that Beaton submitted did show that the DOT modeled traffic increases on the two streets north and south of 14th Street. Per Beaton’s affidavit, the largest potential increase in vehicle traffic would be West 13th Street, where the DOT predicted an increase of 166 vehicles per hour between 8am and 9am. According to Beaton, while the increased amount of vehicles sounds bad, it amounts to “approximately four to five additional vehicles per signal cycle at an intersection, or about 100 feet of car queuing-which is sufficient to allow for all cars to get through each intersection during one signal phase.”

Beaton told the court that side streets would see approximately 1,000 extra cars per day between them. But, the estimates themselves were “conservative” according to the affidavit, and didn’t take into account the potential for increased ridership numbers on the M14 once the Busway is fully implemented.

The Busway implementation will begin on August 12th according to the DOT.

Transit activists hailed the busway ruling as one that would bring relief to the M14’s 27,000 daily riders and bus riders across the city.

“Today’s court decision is a huge victory for New York’s two million daily bus riders,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance. “The 14th Street busway will provide faster and more reliable bus trips, saving precious time for tens of thousands of people who badly need it. The judge’s ruling also sets the stage for future victories and better bus service citywide.”

Pearlstein thanked city officials for creating a busway plan that holds the potential for “putting riders first on our streets and standing up to rich and powerful people in court.”

Tuesday’s ruling is the latest setback for wealthy residents and/or business owners seeking to delay or halt city street redesigns. Last month, a judge refused to restrain the city from beginning construction of a protected bike lane on Central Park West, setting aside an argument from residents of 25 Central Park West that the lane reconfiguration constituted such a major project that it required a full environmental-impact statement.

Those parties will be back in court for a full hearing — similar to Tuesday’s busway hearing — on Aug. 20.

Meanwhile, a Bronx judge is expected to rule sometime this month about whether the city can go ahead with its plans for a “road diet” on dangerous Morris Park Avenue. Business owners there earlier convinced another judge to block the city from construction while the case is pending. The plaintiffs also argued that the roadway reconfiguration requires a full environmental review, even though the Department of Transportation has done similar “diets” in dozens of neighborhoods.

— with Gersh Kuntzman