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Gothamist: Lawmakers Push for Car-Free 14th Street During L Train Shutdown

Gothamist

June 7, 2016

Lawmakers Push For Car-Free 14th Street During L Train Shutdown

By Miranda Katz

At a meeting last month on the eventual disruption to L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan, State Senator Brad Hoylman floated an idea that earned him a hearty round of applause: why not make 14th Street a bus-only zone, so as to ease cross-bound congestion and more easily shuttle Brooklyn-bound passengers to the ferry terminal the MTA envisions for 23rd Street? Now, 11 local politicians are asking the MTA and Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of such a plan, noting that "whichever L line plan is chosen, it is likely that the above-ground portion of 14th Street will see gridlock if left as is during a long term disruption of L train service."

The MTA is currently weighing two options for when it inevitably commences work on the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Canarsie tunnel in 2019: shut down all service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 18 months, also halting service within Manhattan, or run limited shuttle service between Bedford Avenue and 8th Avenue, which it says would serve just a fifth of straphangers who'd want to take that shuttle. Though it says it hasn't yet made up its mind, at the three public meetings on the matter so far, the MTA has pushed the 18-month option as the more efficient one, and many straphangers have agreed.

The letter, sent yesterday to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, notes that this idea actually first surfaced when the Regional Plan Association released a whitepaper in April 2016 titled "A New L Train For New Yorkers," [PDF] in which it endorsed the 18-month option and recommended reserving a portion of the 14th Street corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, and buses during the shutdown:

The 14th Street Corridor segment stretching between Union Square (Irving Place) and 6th Avenue would be reserved exclusively for pedestrians, cyclists and two dedicated bus lanes. No private automobiles would be permitted...Outside the new bus, pedestrian and bike corridor, vehicle traffic on 14th Street would be rerouted to travel in one direction only away from the restricted segment. Physically separated dedicated bus lanes would allow buses to travel in both directions for the entire length of 14th Street.

So, that's not quite Hoylman's initial vision of making the entirety of 14th Street car-free, but it could help ease street congestion in the absence of L train service in Manhattan—as the letter also notes, the DOT's own data shows that pedestrian traffic on 14th Street has shot up since 2007, and the politicians imagine that'll increase significantly when work on the Canarsie tunnel commences.

As noted in the RPA's whitepaper, this idea is quite similar to what the DOT proposed for 34th Street several years back, though that plan never came to fruition. The concept of the 34th Street

"Transitway" was the result of a similar study to the one these politicians are requesting, and would have entailed "a two lane, bi-directional bus lane aligned against one curb of the street. The remainder of the street would be used for one-way traffic, running outbound from midtown: westbound from Sixth Avenue, and eastbound from Fifth Avenue. Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the only buses would be allowed as through traffic, with the remainder of the space used for new pedestrian spaces."

The politicians are also asking the MTA and DOT to see what impact shutting down 14th Street to some degree would have on surrounding streets, particularly 13th Street and 17th Street, which they note might bear the brunt of added congestion if 14th became a car-free zone.

When the idea first came up at last month's meeting, it was well-received, with some even suggesting making a car-free 14th Street permanent. Christine Berthet, a member of Community Board 4's transportation committee and of CHEKPEDS, a coalition that advocates for pedestrian safety, told us, "If they have to shut down L service, they have to do it—but that's an excuse to close 14th to all traffic except buses and maybe deliveries. And if they do that, and people see that the world doesn't end, then maybe they'll leave it like that forever!"

But, as the politicians note in their letter, such a plan does raise some concerns about transportation options for people who are dependent on driving; accordingly, they're asking the DOT and MTA to also study how such a street closure would impact seniors and individuals with disabilities.

When presented with Hoylman's idea last month, both the MTA and DOT hedged: NYCT President Veronique Hakim said only that "making 14th Street work is obviously a top priority," while a DOT spokesperson said that "DOT looks forward to working closely with the MTA regarding all options." A DOT spokesperson gave us the same comment when contacted today, and the MTA didn't respond to our request for comment, but we'll update if they do.

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