The future of 14th Street in Manhattan is a street fight.
Activists clashed Wednesday after disability advocates announced a lawsuit against the MTA, calling for the transit agency to bring back bus stops along 14th Street it removed for Select Bus Service.
Attorney Arthur Schwartz, who has been fighting the MTA's efforts to ban most cars from the street, announced Tuesday that he filed a second lawsuit, saying the MTA and city transportation department are in violation of the city's human rights law by eliminating about a dozen bus stops. This new case was filed on behalf of Lower East Side residents, the group Disabled in Action, and the 504 Democrats, a political club for people with disabilities.
The MTA rolled out Select Bus Service on the M14 bus in Manhattan in July. The M14 A and D SBS buses run east-west along 14th Street, and north-south in the East Village along Avenue A and Avenue D.
The removal of stops is meant to make bus trips faster — and the MTA also decided to remove local stops in order to introduce speedier crosstown bus service on 14th Street to help travelers during the "L" train slowdown — but Schwartz says it is negatively impacting people with disabilities who cannot afford taxis or walk the extra distance to the bus.
"I'd have to go further and further. You know what it's like when it's raining? I can't carry an umbrella," 14th Street resident Georgi Michele, who uses a wheelchair, said at a rally Wednesday. "So therefore what happens is I order a cab and it costs me $20 or $30 in each direction just to go to a doctor."
"I am ambulatory. It made me late, but it didn't create the huge inconvenience that people with disabilities face," said Mike Schweinsburg, president of the 504 Democrats.
Schwartz says the fight to restore the bus stops is tied to his fight to stop the city from implementing the 14th Street car ban. That suit argues the car ban would shift too much traffic onto side streets, including West 12th Street, where Schwartz lives.
"It really is about distant city planning and ignoring the pleas and the interests of people in local communities," the attorney said at the rally. "That's why the people with disabilities are out here supporting the people in Chelsea, Flatiron, and Greenwich Village in their efforts. They see this as the same kind of fight."
The lawsuit has drawn the ire of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which has tried to build support for the car ban. Thomas DeVito, the senior director of advocacy for the group, says the attorney is conflating the busway with the car ban.
Protesters on Wednesday targeted Schwartz, on the Manhattan street where he lives, incensed at his lawsuit.
"On 14th Street, I could walk to Union Square faster than I can take a bus. It is very slow," one of the protesters said.
Some of Schwartz's critics say if he's successful, the MTA would find it difficult to overhaul its bus network to improve service.
The MTA says the Select Bus Service route will cut travel times. The agency hopes it will reverse a one-third decline in ridership on the since 2007.
The MTA defends its overhaul of the M14 route, saying no rider would have to travel more than two extra blocks from a discontinued bus stop.
The agency adds that it will vigorously fight the latest lawsuit on behalf of riders.