Home L Train Shutdown Plans for a 14th Street for people and buses, but is DOT listening?

Plans for a 14th Street for people and buses, but is DOT listening?

by Benjamin Kabak
A 14th Street PeopleWay could be a model for other major crosstown thoroughfares in Manhattan. (14ST.OPS)

A 14th Street PeopleWay could be a model for other major crosstown thoroughfares in Manhattan. (14ST.OPS)

When the MTA Board met last week in an unscheduled session to approve a handful of procurement contracts, some good news emerged from the meeting: The looming L train shutdown has been shortened from 18 months to 15. The work will begin in earnest in April of 2019, two years from now, and will wrap before the summer of 2020, if all goes according to plan.

I call this good news, but it’s hardly a great development. For 15 months, over 200,000 daily commuters who rely on the L train to ferry them between Brooklyn and Manhattan will have to find alternate routes. Commutes will be markedly longer, and other train lines will bear the weight of increased crowding and capacity crunches. Streets will be jammed with people trying to find another way to travel, and neighborhoods will feel the effects, in all regards from increased automobile traffic to drastically reduced foot traffic.

I’ve written over the past few years about how the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation can weather this looming storm. By expanding subway service on connecting lines, prioritizing bus traffic on key corridors, expanding the bike network and ensuring frequent ferry service on the East Service, a holistic approach to demand management can ease, but not alleviate, the pain. Yet, the institutional silence from the key decision-makers has been deafening as public-facing planning sessions have been few and far between with little in the way of concrete proposals to show for it.

A redesigned 14th St. for people, buses and bikes could help solve the problems posed by the L train shutdown. (14ST.OPS)

A redesigned 14th St. for people, buses and bikes could help solve the problems posed by the L train shutdown. (14ST.OPS)

No one in power seems to be treating this with the urgency it warrants, but that’s not for lack of voices. Earlier this year, Streetsblog focused on the need for a car-free 14th Street and a car-free Grand Street during the 15-month shutdown. Similarly, two RPA officials, in a February piece in Crain’s New York, discussed how the city needs to think big on transportation to solve this problem with approaches that can alleviate the impact of the shutdown and then be exported elsewhere throughout the city to upgrade our transit infrastructure. This is, of course, a no-brainer approach but one DOT and the MTA have yet to embrace publicly.

Meanwhile, at the end of March, Transportation Alternatives unveiled the winner of its own contest to redesign 14th Street. The victors were a group of friends — Christopher Robbins of The Village Voice, architect Cricket Day, Becca Groban and Kellen Parker. They call the plan 14ST.OPS, and it would involve redesigning the corridor as a transitway/peopleway dedicated to only buses, pedestrians and cyclists. Their plan includes five pedestrian malls and numerous other SBS connectors on perpendicular avenues that will allow commuters to and from Brooklyn to access transit services that have priority over private automobiles. Loading zones on the avenues can compensate for the loss of direct access for deliveries, and wider sidewalks will accommodate the increased flow of people.

The Brooklyn Shuttle could connect to the 14th St. corridor via a turnaround on the east side of Union Square. (14ST.OPS)

The Brooklyn Shuttle could connect to the 14th St. corridor via a turnaround on the east side of Union Square. (14ST.OPS)

For transit access to and from Brooklyn, the 14ST.OPS plan includes a new route called the Brooklyn Shuttle that will get dedicated lanes and a turnaround point on the east side of Union Square. Here’s how the team described the Shuttle:

While the west side of the Union Square triangle will be converted into a pedestrian mall, the east side will act as a vital stop for L train riders connecting to the subway station. These riders will have traveled on our Brooklyn Shuttle via a dedicated bus lane over the Williamsburg Bridge to Delancey Street. After a stop at the Delancey/Essex subway station, the bus will continue west on Delancey to Lafayette Street, which will host two-way dedicated bus lanes that extend up 4th Avenue to Union Square. Another stop at Houston Street for riders to connect to the BDFM and 6 trains, and L train riders will arrive at Union Square, where they can transfer to one of the seven subway lines, or our 14th Street Shuttle, or jump on a Citi Bike.

You can read more about 14ST.OPS – and the runners-up in the contest – at TransAlt’s L-ternatives Vision website. These Peopleway proposals are the types of plans though that DOT should be embracing, both as a solution to the L train shutdown and a long-term approach to redesigning streets in Manhattan so that people and transit are appropriately prioritized. With two years to go, time will fly.

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Charles Krueger April 10, 2017 - 5:38 pm


Ed April 11, 2017 - 1:08 pm

This goes against a huge cultural gradient, but the “powers that be” should be looking into shutting at least parts of Manhattan from privately owned privately operated vehicles.

Really, if you can’t do this on the most densely populated island on the continent, with notoriously congested traffic and the best mass transit in the country, at a time when at least some people are worried about the environment, there is no place you can do this.

I choose the words “private owned privately operated” words carefully to exclude commercial trucks making deliveries (but hours can be limited), busses, private vehicles taking passengers commercially (eg taxis, but these should be limited and could be via licensing), police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. Actually strictly speaking my description would include bikes, though in fact it would be better to put bike traffic on these sorts of street and eliminate the bike lanes from the streets that would still have heavy auto traffic.

The obvious place to start is lower Manhattan, below City Hall, which was not laid out with cars in mind to begin with.

But two of the big uptown-downtown avenues, one of the East Side and one on the West Side, should be so designated, along with four cross-town arteries, and of the latter 14th Street and 34th Street are obvious candidates.

EfficientAG April 12, 2017 - 11:24 am

I’m not so sure the DOT is blind to this. Every person I speak to during public meetings/other events knows the benefits of further pedestrianization. Consider that the DOT pedestrianizing Broadway around 25th street with a 5 mph shared space. I really don’t believe that the actual staffers and middle managers don’t nod their heads in agreement.

The part where this doesn’t translate into action is political. It’s literally a manner of an elected or appointed official not wanting to have egg on their face, when some loading dock operator complains about the plan (despite the PeopleWay explicitly permitting local deliveries).

Tom April 11, 2017 - 1:20 pm

I wonder if DOT’s silence is strategic. Whatever solutions they come up with will likely have backlash from car-centric folk. Why give them such a long lead time to mount a defense? Better to announce a painful solution closer to the looming threat.

Manuel April 11, 2017 - 10:42 pm

You city and the DOT have no clue how much of a disaster this shutdown is gonna be….

mister April 12, 2017 - 7:28 am

Actually, it’s not going to be a disaster at all. More like an inconvenience.

Phantom April 12, 2017 - 4:55 pm

Agree, mister.

It will be a pain in the neck, but only for a time, while the necessary work is done.

Manuel April 14, 2017 - 12:07 am

I take the L train every night at 10pm and it’s packed good luck putting those people on buses on the Manhattan side

Brooklynite April 14, 2017 - 10:46 pm

The numbers that mister linked above show that even during the rush hour, the crowding won’t be worse than in other places on the system. At 10pm (yes, even on the L) the only problem is frequencies, not capacity – adding a few more trains over the Williamsburg Bridge will fix the problem.

Brooklynite April 14, 2017 - 10:47 pm

Correction: here are the numbers.


Eric May 2, 2017 - 2:48 pm

Great article comparing the subway signal replacement projects in London and New York:

Joe Shmo June 10, 2017 - 9:25 am

So let me get this straight: The plan for helping alleviate more congestion is…remove cars altogether in one of the city’s biggest crosstown streets?

This is why I stopped doing Urban Planning half way through my studies. Ya’ll a bunch of naive hippies.

Unrealistic, and is looking from a biased lens of people who see cars as obstacles, rather than a human necessity. We have subterranean transit underneath bus transit. There is no need in 14th street for more buses when they are often not crowded. 14 St is far from a crowded pedestrian street outside Union Sq. All this would do is crowd 34th and 23rd streets even more to their breaking points.

Joe Shmo June 10, 2017 - 9:30 am

To add: If you want to ‘solve’ the L shutdown, do these things:

– Make an L shuttle in Manhattan
– Free ferry to Brooklyn
– Regular Metrocard fare and increased capacity for Canarsie and Starrett City Express buses.

It ain’t perfect, but better and far simpler than this mess, which is more to use the shutdown as an excuse to push more Urban Planning ideas of getting rid of cars from public spaces altogether.


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