Home L Train Shutdown Planning docs show a HOV3 approach to mitigating the L train shutdown

Planning docs show a HOV3 approach to mitigating the L train shutdown

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

Based on planning documents, a Peopleway may not be quite in the cards for 14th Street during the L train shutdown. (14ST.OPS)

At Transportation Camp over the weekend, I led an impromptu discussion session on the challenges we face and lessons we could learn from the looming L train shutdown. (You haven’t forgotten about the L train shutdown in my absence, right?) A room full of biased transportation policy wonks came to the general conclusion that the city should implement bus-only restrictions over the Williamsburg Bridge and the 14th St. Peopleway, prioritizing buses, bikes and pedestrians throughout the 15-month shutdown. This complete street could serve as a model for other busy NYC corridors, and the alternative is a transportation hell in which personal autos, for-hire vehicles, privately-operated jitneys and buses all compete for the limited space on the city’s limited access points into Manhattan.

Well, don’t hold your breath. A source provided me with a glimpse of some planning documents this week, and while NYC DOT is leaning toward certain restrictions across East River Bridge and some bus prioritization along certain Manhattan corridors, a full-fledged Peopleway may not be in the cards. The plans aren’t public yet and diagrams are labeled for discussion purposes only. DOT, I’ve been told, has been instructed to hold back on public announcements until after the mayoral election in November. But they tell the story of an agency both unaware of what it faces when a subway tunnel that carries over 260,000 people shuts down for an extended period and unwilling to lay down the gauntlet when it comes to restricting private automobile access to Manhattan.

According to the documents, New York City Transit and NYC DOT may not be on quite the same page when it comes to mitigating the impact of the shutdown. The MTA had drawn up a plan to run 60 buses over the Williamsburg Bridge during peak hours in both directions. The MTA had identified three potential bus corridors: Grand St. to 1st Ave. and 15th, Grand St. to the Broadway/Lafayette subway stop, and a Bedford Ave.-Broadway/Lafayette route. To do this, the MTA determined it would need bus priority across the bridge and on the approaches and exits at either end.

DOT, meanwhile, based on its modeling has other ideas. Per the documents, a bus-only plan for the Williamsburg Bridge failed due to expected congestion on surrounding streets, but the model may not have accounted for longer bus corridors (e.g., from the Williamsburg Bridge, north to 14th St and west to 10th Avenue). While the plan is not set in stone, the city agency is leaning toward a HOV3 set-up in which the Williamsburg Bridge would be a HOV3-only bridge from around 5 a.m. through at least the evening rush while the other three East River Bridges would be HOV3 only in the Manhattan-bound direction from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. DOT still plans to study the approaches and exits of these bridges in detail, but it’s not clear when those studies will be initiated. The L train shutdown, meanwhile, starts in less than 18 months.

To make matters worse, the planning documents raise some “political” concerns that this modest HOV3 plan won’t pass muster, and a bus-only lane could run up against enforcement issues. The fallback is a HOV3 policy on only the Williamsburg Bridge without a dedicated bus/truck lane as DOT claims enforcement of a mile-long bus lane is impractical. However, HOV3 enforcement on both Staten Island and the LIE is severely lacking, and I’m taking DOT’s word with a huge grain of salt. Even still, any plan that permits modest high-occupancy vehicles without prioritizing buses or truly high-occupancy transit options makes me worried about the traffic impact.

The plans for 14th St. are a bit better. The MTA plans to operate over 30 M14 SBS trips in each direction during peak hours, and DOT is amenable to prioritizing access over certain corridors to ensure this bus brigade can move through the city. The mayor hasn’t yet signed off on this plan internally, but DOT supports an eastbound busway from 9th to 3rd Aves., a westbound busway from 3rd to 8th Aves. and dedicated bus lanes in both directions between 3rd and 1st Aves. and westbound from 8th to 9th Aves. Access to other vehicles will be limited only to those making deliveries and accessing garages and only if vehicles turn from the avenue nearest their destinations. Sidewalks could be widened throughout some of the busway area, but either DOT or the MTA (or perhaps both) seem to feel adding a bike lane would both reduce space and “complicated” bus operations.

Clearly, the best part of this plan is the city’s treatment of 14th St., and even this limited busway could serve as a model for future corridors. But overall, this talk of HOV3 lanes is nothing but disappointing. The city doesn’t seem willing to take a politically risky step of re-envisioning travel corridors from the Williamsburg Bridge to the west side of Manhattan at 14th St. and can’t wrap its head around telling drivers they have to take a back seat to buses for 15 months. It also seems as the city doesn’t understand who’s traveling along the L train or where they are going as this plan heavily favors those who can access the bridges. Further, even with HOV3 restrictions across the East River crossings, Manhattan will be inundated with private automobiles and for-hire vehicles. It will be our own version of Carmageddon.

It’s obvious why DOT and the Mayor’s Office aren’t keen for this plan to see the light of day before election day. Drivers won’t like it, and a transit community already skeptical of Bill de Blasio’s approach to policy won’t either. In that sense, it’s the worst of any world, and I’m skeptical it will truly solve the transit crisis for those who rely on the Canarsie Line. With just over 17 months to go before the shutdown, it’s looking dicey indeed that anyone planning for it is truly ready for what’s coming.

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john danielson October 25, 2017 - 5:33 am

What a nice surprise! I’d come looking to see if you had posted on Metrocard replacement (although maybe that isn’t official for another day or so?) but here I find another new topic entirely.

Marsha October 25, 2017 - 9:14 am

Welcome back SAS! Looking forward to more frequent posts. Lots to discuss in the subway world these days-MetroCard replacement, never-ending maintenance and who should pay for it, seat removal on the E train, etc. We missed your voice.

Brooklynite October 25, 2017 - 10:01 am

Great talk at TC this past weekend!

The lack of a bus lane in the plan is dispiriting. HOV3 restrictions don’t seem to be enforceable on such a massive basis, while bus lanes can easily be enforced just like the current ones are – with a camera on the front of every bus. Furthermore, HOV3 won’t do anything to solve the traffic problem; even if the bridge has less congestion, the rest of the streets on both sides will still have plenty of traffic. I’ve heard that there’s a plan to institute HOV3 restrictions on multiple crossings, which seems like overkill to be honest.

Regarding those proposed bus routes, why are they all either funneling people to 1 Av (not much of a traffic generator) or Broadway Lafayette, which is on the same 6th Avenue line that the displaced passengers taking the train will use? IIRC the map of destinations for tunnel riders suggests that something like Union Square would be a better alternative.

NattyB October 25, 2017 - 10:42 am

while bus lanes can easily be enforced just like the current ones are – with a camera on the front of every bus

I think that needs Albany’s approval, which, in a normal society, would be a no-brainer. But . . .

Brian Van Nieuwenhoven October 25, 2017 - 10:47 am

you beat my comment below by 2 minutes. Yes, Albany would have to come into the picture for this, and it’s not even on their radar. It’s too easy to imagine an extremely conscribed piece of legislation (focused only on these crossings from Jan 2019 to June 2020) limping along through the session and getting kicked out of a “big ugly” bill at the last minute thanks to Senate/IDC/Cuomo shenanigans.

Brooklynite October 25, 2017 - 3:54 pm

What’s the text of the law regarding the number of cameras? If it’s restricted to SBS routes, the M14 SBS could just be temporarily extended to Grand St L station in Brooklyn, just so happening to run via the Williamsburg Bridge…

johndmuller November 1, 2017 - 1:31 pm

Perhaps the bus lane on the bridge could become also a “Lexus Lane” with a ridiculously high toll, say $50-$100 per trip and be enforced with ez-pass sensors and cameras (to bill those w/o ez-passes) mounted periodically on the bridge superstructure.

Brian Van Nieuwenhoven October 25, 2017 - 10:44 am

It’s clear that some of these proposed restrictions will be impractical unless novel enforcement technologies/tactics are brought into the picture. The Williamsburg Bridge is not exactly a place where you can easily pull over wayward cars the usual “state trooper cruiser” way.

Automated enforcement or camera-based acquisition of registration information (even if that camera is mounted on a city/state patrol motorbike with an actual cop on it) might help so that at least some bite can be taken out of obstinate drivers.

I would like to see Albany support that in the next session.

Stop laughing.

Uptowner October 25, 2017 - 12:50 pm

The upshot: NYCDOT and MTA care more about moving people by car than moving people by transit.

Beebo October 25, 2017 - 7:15 pm


Kinda cute. Basically a bus articulated into 3 sections, that follow sensors under the dashed line in the road.

Interesting that the driver *could* steer the thing off its “tracks” to avoid parked cars, etc.

SEAN November 1, 2017 - 11:35 am

Kinda cute. Basically a bus articulated into 3 sections, that follow sensors under the dashed line in the road.

What you are describing exists in Las Vegas believe it or not. The route called MAX runs on Las Vegas Boulevard North
from downtown to Nellis AFB using French made articulated busses with under mounted cameras & markers in the pavement.

Lady Feliz October 29, 2017 - 6:01 pm

Added proof (if any were needed) that NYC should break away from Albany’s grip and become its own state. The State of Gotham has a nice ring to it…

smotri October 31, 2017 - 1:37 pm

We’d be stuck with a mayor and city council that don’t seem to care about transit – this 14th Street non-solution is a prime example of this.

Brooklynite October 31, 2017 - 9:25 pm

That’s more a function of who’s in elected office than what that office is called. Look at the current situation – state leaders only care about transit when they can put their name on something or cut a ribbon. Janette Sadik-Khan at NYCDOT, on the other hand, did some interesting work on bike lanes, Broadway ped plazas, and so on.

SEAN November 1, 2017 - 11:41 am

Added proof (if any were needed) that NYC should break away from Albany’s grip and become its own state. The State of Gotham has a nice ring to it…

Please, please take Westchester, Nassau & Suffolk Along with the city. We’ll all be better off.

Bolwerk November 2, 2017 - 1:47 pm

But JSK was weak or completely quiet on the difficult transportation stuff: subways, light rail, POP, bus improvements, etc.. Granted, not or only tangentially her department – a fact that is itself absurd – but those are the keys to expanding mobility in the city.

smotri November 3, 2017 - 10:12 am

These officials – Cuomo, de Blasio, Sadik-Kahn, the MTA people, etc – have about as much vision as what is in ‘Vision Zero’; that is, NONE.

Spendmore Wastemor November 1, 2017 - 3:33 pm

Just build a 7 ft diameter slightly reinforced plastic tube, sink it, and run the ends from Williamsburg to 14th street. Call it the “Williamsburg Free Fitness Walk Against Trump”. Install Metrocard gates and leave them open, with signage “Free Tunnel Fare paid for by the 1%”. It’ll be jam full in no time.

Which brings us to
Option: Tube clearance feature: if the tube jams, a mile long pusher plunger and disinfectant lube is stationed on either end. After a slight inconvenience, the tube is both cleared and sanitized in one go.

Bolwerk November 2, 2017 - 1:51 pm

Spendmore might need his lithium dose increased.

mister November 16, 2017 - 8:13 am

Now that this blog is dead, where is everyone getting their NYC centric transportation blog fix these days?

Woody November 16, 2017 - 7:09 pm

Likewise, across the continent, where is everyone getting their Cali-centric HSR info these days, since cahsr.com is also defunct?

Rachel M November 22, 2017 - 10:06 am

I’m completely befuddled at the obsession with the impending L train shut down when the L is basically useless since the M doesn’t run past Myrtle anymore. No one is acknowledging the impact that has on the *exact same communities* as the L shut down and that a large swath of those communities are going to have back to back train shut downs. I don’t even think you’ve mentioned that on this blog at all. But the M doesn’t serve rich communities, so I guess we will all just be fine with no train service for 9 months.

mister November 23, 2017 - 11:44 am

Actually, while the M is shut down, the L is taking on even more riders. Also, the M shutdown is at the end of the line, the L shutdown will be right at the most heavily trafficked portion. The M shutdown also has direct shuttle bus service that can (and is) being provided. It’s not easy to handle, but it won’t be as big of an impact at the impending L train shutdown.


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