DOT Chooses More Congestion on Kenmare to Appease NIMBYs

The agency decision to retain two-way traffic will lead to bottlenecks and blocked bus lanes.

Kenmare Street facing the Williamsburg Bridge. Photo: DOT
Kenmare Street facing the Williamsburg Bridge. Photo: DOT

The city has chosen a flawed traffic-mitigation plan in SoHo — which its own experts say will be worse for bus riders during the L-train shutdown next year — in a bid to appease fact-averse NIMBYs who fought the superior option by speciously alleging that it would block fire trucks.

When the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel is closed on April 27, Kenmare Street will be a main conduit for shuttle buses between Williamsburg and subway transfer points in Manhattan, carrying 48 buses per hour during peak times. Over the summer, DOT said maintaining two-way traffic on Kenmare between Bowery and Cleveland Place would lead to blockages and traffic back-ups [PDF].

But an agency spokesman said that the ended up city choosing the two-way option because it was the preference of “stakeholders.”

The spokesman declined further comment, but in public meetings over the summer, DOT representatives strongly implied that a one-way Kenmare would mean a smoother ride for bus riders because it would allow for a wider loading lane against the north curb and eliminate left turning vehicles from what is currently the eastbound travel lane.

Advocates couldn’t believe that the DOT would choose the worse options.

“The city is leaving obvious transit improvements on the table at time when they ought to be using every tool at their disposal to keep people moving,” Transportation Alternatives Organizing Director Tom Devito told Streetsblog.

During those public meetings and in presentations, the DOT referred to two competing schemes: “Option A” would have maintained a single eastbound lane for car traffic alongside a traffic lane, bus-only lane, and parking and loading lane in the westbound direction. But it would cause “bus blockages,” “more difficult turns” and a travel lane that “would be blocked by drop-offs and pick-ups.”

“Option B” would have made the entire street one-way, allowing for a wider parking/loading lane — and ensuring delivery trucks wouldn’t spill into the way of bus traffic. It’s clear from the documents that DOT preferred Option B, saying it would “reduce blockages and improve turns” and that one-way traffic “reduces vehicle conflicts.”

Image: DOT
Image: DOT

But DOT went with Option A.

“This … is part of a disturbing trend in which City Hall tries to placate a few loud voices at the expense of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose commutes will be upended by the L Train shutdown,” DeVito said.

The “few loud voices” in question were the Kenmare-Little Italy Loop Coalition, led by Georgette Fleischer of Friends of Petrosino Square. A one-way, Option B configuration on Kenmare Street “would be a disaster,” Fleischer told the Villager in July, because doing so would supposedly hinder emergency vehicle access. To travel south, fire trucks from Engine 20 on Lafayette Street currently travel against the flow of traffic for one block after the exit the station house.

In early September, Fleischer and company held a rally calling on DOT to reroute the buses away from their neighborhood. Council Member Margaret Chin, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, and Assembly Members Deborah Glick and Yuh-Line Niou all attended.

“What they’re planning on doing is changing the usage of the L train into buses — buses everywhere — and this does not make a great deal of sense,” Glick told rally-goers.

The group made its case based on ill-informed concerns about air pollution, slower traffic, and loss of business.

Ultimately, the Kenmare Street connection is the fastest and least impactful way to connect L train riders to the Broadway and Lexington subways lines, the MTA wrote in its responses to public comments submitted to the Federal Transit Administration [PDF]. The report also concluded that the influx of diesel buses, which are significantly less polluting than they were in the past, would not have a noticeable impact on greenhouse gas emissions along the shuttle route.

The Option A vs. Option B debate may be moot on some level: DOT’s traffic studies show that HOV3 restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge will cut traffic on the corridor by as much as 75 percent. Eastbound traffic is already slim, according to DOT — just 615 vehicles per hour during the evening rush, of which 75 percent are bound for the bridge. With the bridge restricted to high-occupancy vehicles, most of that automobile traffic will evaporate.

“I can see why DOT would prefer to make Kenmare a one-way street [because it could be] a real bottleneck,” bus rapid transit whiz Walter Hook told Streetsblog. “The one-way option would allow the traffic signals to be green waved, and would reduce the risks of the road getting blocked up.”

  • macartney

    It still shocks me in the year 2018 that Deborah Glick is the best the 66th Assembly District can do.

  • Joe R.

    This might be the best thing for livable streets advocates. When this and the other compromise solutions result in horrific traffic conditions the finger will be pointing only in one direction. Some people have to see something in action before they believe it. When have an 18 month demonstration of why single occupancy vehicles shouldn’t be prioritized above all else more people might finally listen to what we have to say.

  • Daphna

    The “stakeholders” who are displaced L train riders seeking substitute transportation greatly outnumber a few local Soho residents and Georgette Fleischer and her Friends of Petrosino Square group. The DOT should not be presenting options to the public. The DOT have employees with the know-how to analyze traffic, predict flow and design for it. They should explain what road design needs to be implemented, why and seek the best possible public relations for the plan. A weaker, less effective plan should not even be presented. The NIMBY types would then learn that no amount of whining will change the plan and that the best solution will be implemented whether they like it or not.

  • Fool

    Upzone the village. Wealthy, white, racist.

  • fdtutf

    15 months, but yeah, exactly.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “But an agency spokesman said that the ended up city choosing the two-way option because it was the preference of “stakeholders.”

    You mean the owners. The political/union class. What did I write when I ran for office as the real government principle of New York City and State?

    Under capitalism, you get what you earn, at least in theory. Those who believe that people need an incentive to work and innovate can agree with that.

    Under socialism, you get what you need, at least in theory. Those who believe that we are all part of one human family can agree with that.

    But over time, when you have the same group of people in power, both capitalism and socialism degenerate into feudalism, under which the privileged expect to continue to get what they have been getting, and perhaps a little more, whether they need it or not, deserve it or not. For those who have real needs, and who produce real earnings, it’s just tough luck.

    The feudalism of unearned privilege explains much about the state of the State of New York, where all past deals are set in stone.

  • r

    “Stakeholders” always means people who drive or are driven everywhere. Always. If you walk, take the bus, or never/rarely experience NYC from the inside of a car, you are worthless to City Hall.

    The traffic congestion in this area is horrible on a regular weekday. The idea that DOT would knowingly make it worse is beyond infuriating. I hope people understand that when this very predictable disaster unfolds beginning in April, it is all Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fault.

  • Georgette Fleischer

    With this article, Streetsblog hits an editorial low. I’ve never before been interviewed only to have the journalist include none of my content; instead, David Meyer scavenged for content to take out of context from Villager articles, whose journalists actually attend the CB2 meetings and rallies they write about. Meyer did not know until I informed him that Lafayette Street runs south from Spring Street; he does not know the area or the issues sufficiently well to write about them. Sloppy copy editing indicates how slapdash Meyer’s work product is.

    Here is some of what I sent Meyer in an email:

    “That stretch of [eastbound] Kenmare [between Lafayette and Cleveland Place] is essential to Ladder 20’s rescue efforts to the northbound blocks between Lafayette and Bowery north of Kenmare, i.e., residents living mostly in old-style Little Italy and northern Chinatown tenement buildings which are particularly vulnerable in the case of fire, or, as [my infant daughter and I] have twice experienced, as recently as this past September, gas leaks.

    Without that eastbound lane, to get to us, for instance, Ladder 20 would be forced to go north- instead of south-bound on Lafayette from its station house at 253 Lafayette, turn right at Houston, right on Mott, right on Kenmare, and right on Cleveland Place. The new
    route would trade a direct route to us for a circuitous one, a route that requires two turns by the trucks and any ambulances for one that requires four turns. I believe it would double response time to this area. Faced with a fire or gas leak, minutes if not seconds can make the difference in saving lives.”

    If David Meyer wants to write about this issue, he should speak to Ladder 20.

  • JarekFA

    Oh my god so the fire truck would have to go 2 blocks the wrong way in addition to just a half a block currently!!!!!

    Georgette — when’s the last time you’ve taken a bus? I can’t wait for when SoHo ultimately gets completely pedestrianized and see your head explode. You’re a selfish person. You have no business living in a city.

  • opafiets

    Outbound Holland Tunnel traffic can back up onto Kenmare. Those will be some slow-moving buses in the afternoons. I get the reasons why an expressway across lower Manhattan was stopped years ago, but every day you can see the reasons why it would have been needed, maybe not in the form proposed, but as a tunnel of some kind, leaving the surface streets intact. But those are fantasy proposals at this point.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That would be a heck of a thing.

    “Our most densely populated…”
    Officially, it is our equivalent of Darien — the lowest density neighborhood, if one doesn’t count factory workers (or, in reality, if one does).

    One of only two locations (the other being Tribeca) in NYC with minimum housing unit sizes above 400 square feet.

  • JarekFA

    Let’s upzone the F out of it then. You’re never more than a 5 min walk from the train.

  • Twofooted

    DOT consults with FDNY on all projects. You think this didn’t occur to either agency? Are you aware that not everyone lives within a few blocks of a fire station and that somehow FDNY is able to reach their homes?

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