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Trottenberg: Transit-Only 14th Street “Not in Our Plan” For L Train Shutdown

1:37 PM EDT on September 28, 2017

An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps

Speaking this morning at New York Law School, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg ruled out making 14th Street a transit- and bike-only route during the L train shutdown. While Trottenberg said buses would get priority of some sort, she left a lot of wiggle room and didn't commit to a high-capacity transitway that can operate without interference from private motor vehicle traffic.

The question of how DOT plans to handle 14th Street during the L outage came from Manhattan Community Board 5 member James Beitchman, who lives on a parallel crosstown street. Beitchman asked whether the city would seek public input, "as opposed to the advocates, who seem to have a very strong voice these days."

"It was very funny," Trottenberg said. "The advocacy community said, 'Let’s shut down 14th Street to all vehicles, we’ll just do buses and bikes,' and then immediately 13th Street and 15th Street and 12th Street and 16th Street said, 'Well, wait a minute, we’re not sure we like that plan.'"

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

Trottenberg said that 14th Street will "have to accommodate tens of thousands of people" but gave the impression that a high-capacity transitway is negotiable.

"We are doing a very careful traffic analysis that’s looking at the whole network, not just 14th Street, and trying to come up with a very balanced plan," she said, "where there may be parts of 14th Street at certain times of day we’re going to have bus-only access, but it’s not going to be no cars, no loading, that’s not our plan." DOT is thinking of adding bikeways on smaller parallel streets, she added.

Trottenberg may have been playing to the audience here, but given the urgent need for surface transit capacity during the L shutdown, it's discouraging that she downplayed the importance of providing bus service that can carry as many people as possible on 14th Street. If a few cars are allowed to impede the path of buses, that could seriously degrade the quality of service.

That is what the "advocacy community" -- which includes people who live and work around 14th Street and see an opportunity for major improvements to their daily lives -- has drawn attention to since the L shutdown was announced. The ranks of supporters for a car-free "PeopleWay" dedicated to biking, walking, and transit include likely soon-to-be Council Member Keith Powers.

Whether Beitchman and other residents of parallel streets agree or not, high-capacity bus service is essential to keep L train riders moving when the subway goes dark for 15 months. Without a clear path on 14th Street, buses will crawl, leading more people to opt for cabs and personal cars and swamping other crosstown streets.

Loading and deliveries have to be accounted for too, of course, but that aspect of the plan can be ancillary to the core goal of providing reliable transit for very large numbers of people. Trottenberg's response suggests all considerations will be "balanced" instead of making excellent surface transit the clear top priority.

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