NYC Needs a Car-Free 14th Street When the L Closes — And When It Returns

In 2019, the L train west of Williamsburg will be shut down so the MTA can repair Sandy-related damage to subway tunnels under the East River. Hundreds of thousands of people will have to find other ways to get around, and there’s no conceivable way to do that without dedicating a lot of street space to buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Enter the “PeopleWay,” Transportation Alternatives’ concept for a 14th Street solely for transit, cycling, and walking. Yesterday staff and volunteers with TA and the Riders Alliance were out at Union Square making the case for the PeopleWay and gathering signatures for an overhaul of the street. The campaign calls for improvements to be made permanent after the L resumes full service.

Even with a fully functional L train, bus service on 14th Street carries more than 32,000 weekday trips. Car traffic slows them down and leads to unreliable service. Sidewalks are too crowded. Biking without protection next to cabs, trucks, and buses is terrifying.

Now add L train riders to the mix. On a typical day, 50,000 passengers make L train trips that start and end along 14th Street. Another 230,000 ride between Brooklyn and 14th Street. To help all these people get around without the train, optimizing 14th Street for the most spatially efficient modes of travel isn’t a choice so much as a necessity.

TA estimates that a redesign with dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and more pedestrian space can double the capacity of 14th Street.

City officials and local electeds are already talking about repurposing street space on 14th Street. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has called on DOT to explore a car-free 14th Street, local reps Council Member Corey Johnson and State Senate Brad Hoylman have both expressed interest in the idea, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has said that the L train closure is “a crisis not to waste” and “we should do something transformational in terms of bus service.”

Advocates aren’t going to sit on their hands, though. TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said sustained activism is necessary to ensure the city pursues an ambitious plan that can provide L train riders with a viable replacement. “We know we can win a stronger, more robust design on 14th Street if we have greater numbers, if we get more people involved, because right now there’s a strong likelihood that whatever we win without activism is going to be watered down,” he said.

In addition to TA and the Riders Alliance, the PeopleWay coalition includes the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Gray Panthers, the Chelsea-Hell’s Kitchen-based group CHEKPEDS, and the Regional Plan Association. The RPA has put forward its own plan that calls for busways on 14th Street, the Williamsburg Bridge, and connecting streets.

Stuy Town resident Arlynne Miller said she signed onto the campaign out of a sense of urgency about the impending L shutdown. “I rely all the time on that train to get me to trains in Union Square, Sixth Avenue, Seventh Avenue, and Eighth Avenue,” she said. “If we don’t have more buses, and if we don’t have a way for those buses to move more quickly down 14th Street, it’s going to be tragic.”

Next up for the PeopleWay campaign: Wednesday’s joint meeting of Manhattan Community Boards 3 and 6, which will focus on the impact of the L train shutdown. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s Podell Auditorium.

  • Bob

    As someone who lives on 14th and 5th: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let this happen. 14th street is busting at the seams with pedestrians (especially outside of the Whole Foods). I would imagine 23rd and 14th are the most residential major crosstown streets and space should be allocated as such.

    (the fact that all the major crosstowns are not Transitways like 34th was meant to be is a sad reality. Mayor Bloomberg made a mistake by backtracking on that and it will haunt the City for a while)

  • Scott

    PeopleWay sounds a tad communist, no?

  • Jeff

    Tell me about it. My office is right on 14th St at the corner of 14th St and Union Square W, and our conference room is borderline unusable because the little brats honk at each other all day (and not to mention how they block emergency vehicles which have to crawl through the corridor with their sirens on).

  • BBnet3000

    That would be People’sWay.

  • Vanderlyn

    I am curious how this will help the BrooklynManhattan travelers, though, in and of itself. Seems like you’d need dedicated bus lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge and maybe Allen Street/Chrystie Street/1st Avenue/2nd Avenue to efficiently transport cross-borough travelers, and feed them to and from a car-free 14th Street.

  • The 14th Street PeopleWay is necessary but not sufficient. Gonna need more PeopleWays.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    Someday people will be shocked to learn that we used to allow cars on 14th Street.

  • Kevin Love

    Someday people will be shocked to learn that we used to allow cars on the Island of Manhattan.

  • That suits me just fine.

  • Andrew

    The vast majority of Brooklyn-Manhattan riders will take other subway lines, which will be far quicker than a bus even under the most optimistic of arrangements. Most of the L ridership from Brooklyn isn’t actually going to 14th Street itself, and if you’re going to be transferring anyway, what’s the point in sitting on a slow bus across the Williamsburg Bridge and all the way up to 14th?

    This proposal addresses the (largely separate) 14th Street crosstown market.

  • Carl S

    My concern about closing 14th to traffic is how the surrounding roads will be impacted. There is much congestion in the 20s when streets are closed near the U.N. and I think this will have similar consequences. Cars block unprotected bike lanes such as the one on East 20th Street and make them unusable for bikers. The drivers also become frustrated, honk their horns constantly and don’t yield to pedestrians as they are in a rush to get going. A better alternative might be to narrow the street in order to tame the traffic but still let it flow through in a manner similar to how Broadway was narrowed between Union Square and Madison Square Park.

  • AnoNYC

    Congestion pricing.

  • van_vlissingen

    Shouldn’t talk about making it permanent before it even happens.
    Strategic mistake.
    Talk about opportunity to do something innovative to help with an impending transit disaster. Once we are into month 2 or 3, start talking about permanency.

  • the project and advocacy must include dedicated bus lanes on the bridge. that is another important test for future Manhattan Bound SBS implementation

  • Janet Liff

    and better management of curbside space on the side streets.

  • Vooch

    you mean 1 dedicated motor lane in each direction for Private Cars, the other 6 motor lanes for buses and commercial vehicles 🙂

  • Buses bikes and off peak commercial off peak hours only :)))))

  • NO honking no emergency sirens! ! that is a major benefit of the people’s way..

  • Vooch
  • Yeah with some adjustments
    PEOPLE ZONE
    NO CARS
    2016 -2025

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