The Soft Underbelly of DOT’s L Train Shutdown Plan for 14th Street

Allowing taxi and Uber pick-ups and drop-offs in the busway, even for a maximum of one block, could create serious problems.

DOT's proposed design for the 14th Street busway. Image: DOT/MTA
DOT's proposed design for the 14th Street busway. Image: DOT/MTA

DOT released revised details for the 14th Street section of its L train shutdown plan yesterday. It could have been worse, but there are a few weaknesses that stand out.

When the western section of the L train goes out of commission next April, the busiest blocks of 14th Street will be reserved for buses, plus deliveries and passenger pick-ups and drop-offs that will only be allowed on the block of the busway where they have business. Those bus lane rules, plus transit-priority rules on other streets and the Williamsburg Bridge, will be in effect from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

In addition, the two-way protected bike lane planned for 13th Street has been divided into two one-way protected bike lanes on 13th and 12th Streets. Like the original 13th Street design, these one-way bike lanes would be separated from car traffic by plastic bollards, not parked cars.

Until yesterday, it wasn’t clear what hours DOT intended the transit-priority rules to remain in effect. Some bus lanes in the city are only reserved for transit a few hours each weekday, around the morning and evening rush. This clearly won’t be sufficient for people who ride the L train, which stays busy long into the night and on the weekends. Advocates and elected officials made 24/7 bus priority a key demand.

DOT’s 17/7 bus lane rules deliver most of what advocates asked for, but there are still some weaknesses in the plan that could cause serious problems.

Bus ridership on 14th Street is expected to remain high until midnight, with at least 1,000 trips per hour for two hours after general traffic will be permitted in the bus lane. If the city is going to impose a cutoff, midnight would have been a better time.

The rules for commercial traffic and other private vehicles may also be too lax. Some exception for local deliveries was always expected, but DOT now says any vehicle making a pick-up or drop-off will be allowed, as long as the driver only uses a single block of 14th Street.

“In accordance with citywide bus lane camera rules, drivers will be able to make any permitted turn on to 14th Street to make a local delivery or passenger pickup/dropoff and then required to make the next right turn off 14th Street,” said a DOT spokesperson. “If a driver continues straight past the right turn, bus lane cameras will issue a violation.”

The camera enforcement is reassuring, but even with the one-block-only rule, allowing access for general pick-ups and drop-offs could jam the busway with taxis and Ubers. There’s very limited capacity for additional vehicles on 14th Street, where the MTA plans to run a bus every minute or so during peak hours.

Splitting the bike lane into two streets, meanwhile, figures to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, each one-way bike lane will be six feet wide, DOT says, providing more total room than the 10-foot two-way bike lane originally planned for 13th Street. On the other hand, expecting people to bike on 12th Street, which is farther from 14th Street, where most people want to get to, could lead to unintended consequences like more people biking on the busway or contraflow on 13th Street.

Key leaders like Mayor de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson have hung DOT out to dry during this planning process. East Village Council Member Carlina Rivera called for shorter bus priority hours than DOT wanted. The agency has faced intense NIMBY opposition in Johnson’s district. If these officials don’t start standing up for bus priority and safe bikeways and the plan gets watered down further, it’s going to get ugly for transit riders.

The City Council convenes a public hearing on the L train shutdown tomorrow afternoon in the East Village. The meeting begins at 1 p.m. at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law/Brookdale Center, Jacob Burns Moot Court Room, 55 Fifth Avenue.

  • BrandonWC

    Any idea what the end points of the 12th St lane will be?

  • AnoNYC
  • William Lawson

    Unbelievably stupid, makes you realize what a precious commodity common sense is.,

  • crazytrainmatt

    DOT was reasonably attentive to westside greenway connections for the new 26th and 29th St PBLs (though they didn’t fix the block on 29th between 11th and 12th). That presentation showed the 13th St lane only going between 8th Ave and Ave B.

    From google, 12th St is cobblestone the last block before the Hudson greenway, while 13th is cobblestone with patches of asphalt until Hudson St. Crossing the west side highway, 12th St has a crosswalk but 13th St. doesn’t have a light or a median cut. And because it’s the village, 13th and 12th are 5 streets apart by the water :). And people wonder why folks ride on the sidewalk…

    On the other side, none of these streets crosses the FDR to the east river greenway but you can take the existing bike lanes to the closest access at 10th and ~20th.

  • How does one make a delivery using the only lane?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I tend to think that the East River Greenway doesn’t matter much (and has so few accesses in this area that it’s hard to line up with them) but connections to the Hudson River Greenway are vital. Stopping 4 blocks short is bad.

  • The cobblestone block is easily fixed. DOT has applied fixes to other bike lanes on sett streets to provide a rideable bicycle lane. If anything, the condition of some of these cobblestone streets is way, way worse than what they’re supposed to be & a freshly laid one (or one with refurbished, relaid blocks) is no problem for most bikes. The decrepit, uneven streets may seem like they have “charm” but they’re just crappy.

  • Got an answer on why just one HOV lane on the bridge . Apparently the second lane is too narrow for a bus ,and could not accommodate two buses in parallel.

  • smartone2

    One thing that NOONE is noticing and acknowledging in the planning. East of 1st Avenue there will only be two lanes available on 14th Street .The two far lanes on each side of street are where the repair staging areas will be.