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L Train Shutdown

MTA and DOT Are Weighing a River-to-River Busway for 14th Street During L Train Shutdown

This concept from BRT Planning International includes both an exclusive busway and bike lanes. So far DOT and the MTA are contemplating a dedicated street for transit, but not including bikeways as well.

DOT and the MTA may go beyond typical bus lanes in their plan to keep people moving on 14th Street during the L train shutdown, which will suspend service west of Bedford Avenue for 15 months starting in April 2019. The options on the table include a car-free busway on a portion of 14th or the entire street.

Dedicated street space for buses on both sides of the East River is the only way to keep hundreds of thousands of L train riders moving efficiently. Typical New York City bus lanes, which are often obstructed by other vehicles, would get jammed up.

Last night's presentation to the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee was the first DOT and the MTA have discussed their thinking about surface street treatments in any detail. The agencies have been coy so far about whether robust busways will be part of their shutdown plan.

Last night, officials presented four potential options for 14th Street:

    • "standard" Select Bus Service (dedicated lanes with no physical separation);
    • "enhanced" Select Bus Service (which includes additional turn and curb restrictions);
    • a car-free busway only in the middle blocks of 14th Street;
    • a full-fledged, river-to-river car-free busway.

The MTA has ordered 200 buses to handle the additional passengers during the L outage. The agency anticipates between 75 and 85 percent of the 275,000 daily L riders will divert to other subway lines, with much of the variation depending on bus service, which could absorb between 5 and 15 percent of displaced trips.

The low end of that spectrum would be highly problematic. With fewer people opting for buses, the subways would become so crowded that access to some trains and stations during the busiest commute times would have to be limited and controlled. Imagine officers managing crowds on J/M/Z and G platforms and keeping people from entering stations until it's safe. "Attractive" bus service could prevent that outcome, officials said last night.

"The difference for the average user is really dramatic," said Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom DeVito, who attended the meeting. "They made the point loud and clear that they want those 200 buses to be moving people as efficiently as possible."

One element conspicuously lacking from the presentation was crosstown bikeways on 14th Street. The agencies anticipate 5 to 7 percent of L train riders biking, taking taxis, or driving personal vehicles. DeVito said officials downplayed the possibility of safe bike lanes on 14th Street, instead suggesting "parallel routes."

“It was all just like 'where possible,' 'provide protection where possible.' It’s upsetting because your bike network is only as strong as its weakest link," said Claire Brennan, who also attended the meeting.

Brennan said people are already biking on 14th Street, and their numbers will only increase when the L train goes dark. "If there’s a cyclist in the bus lane, your buses aren’t going to move as quickly," she told Streetsblog.

Agency reps also presented a draft bus route plan for service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. There would be three routes, one of which would run from the Grand Street L stop, over the Williamsburg Bridge, up First Avenue to 14th Street, then down Second Avenue. The other two routes would connect to the Broadway-Lafayette station.

The presentation is supposed to be posted online soon. In the meantime, photos of the slides are available via @MaxSholl on Twitter.

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