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Leaked Documents Show MTA/DOT May Bail on 14th Street ‘Busway’

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

The Busway is still in play, but it's not doing so well.

Transportation officials are still considering converting 14th Street into a bus-only roadway — though a presentation given to elected officials on Wednesday and subsequently leaked to Streetsblog described such a plan as "complicated" compared to a traditional bus lane.

The briefing revealed that the city Department of Transportation and the state-run MTA are looking at two designs for 14th Street after having settled on a 17-hour, seven-day-a-week busway to mitigate the disaster of the L-train repair project, which has been radically reimagined. One would be the "Busway": converting 14th Street between Ninth and First avenues into lanes for buses only, with taxi and local delivery vehicles permitted only to make drop-offs. That plan also calls for seven-foot-wide pedestrian expansions into the street. That plan has the support of transit activists who thought it would allow the city’s buses to move faster than the average New Yorker can walk.

The downside? According to the MTA/DOT, the Busway was more suited to a complete L shutdown, and is deemed a “complicated traffic pattern that may divert through traffic to other crosstown streets.” Opponents, who have threatened to sue the city and the MTA, say a busway would send car drivers onto local roadways in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, inundating those quiet neighborhoods with cars.

Officials pointed out flaws with the Busway (left), but not with the traditional SBS bus lane. Photo: MTA/DOT
Officials pointed out flaws with the Busway (left), but not with the traditional SBS bus lane. Photo: MTA/DOT
Officials pointed out flaws with the Busway (left), but not with the traditional SBS bus lane. Photo: MTA/DOT

The other plan presented was a traditional dedicated bus route, which officials said would “provide extensive bus priority” , and, according to the presentation to the elected officials, has no drawbacks. Bus lanes are of course no panacea for speeding up SBS service, as Comptroller Scott Stringer reported earlier this year. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has recently promised to dispatch tow teams to dislodge bus lane blockers.

But there is a drawback to the traditional bus lane plan: new roadway markings can't be painted until late-April or May because of weather-related issues. The markings for the Busway have already been added to 14th Street, suggesting that the more-comprehensive plan is ready to go.

Transportation Alternatives is demanding the retention of the full busway, and will rally at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday before an MTA briefing to the public. The event will feature a violinist wearing a Bill de Blasio mask — a suggestion that the mayor is fiddling while transit riders burn, the group said.

The presentation makes it clear that MTA and DOT are still committed to launching Select Bus Service on 14th Street by this spring. As it stands, public outreach for weighing the 14th Street options would run through the next two months, while the M14A/D SBS-specific outreach and analysis would last through June. Fare machine installation would stretch from March through the middle of June as well.

The M14A SBS design would eliminate four stops going down Avenue A/Essex street between 14th Street and Grand Street, and an additional two stops from the stretch between Grand Street and the FDR. The M14D SBS would eliminate five total stops between 14th Street and the loop the bus makes between Houston, Delancey and Columbia Streets. By eliminating every other stop, and “focusing on high ridership locations and transfer points” per one of the slides, the agencies say bus riders will have faster service while still always being within two blocks of a bus stop.

On Wednesday, Council Speaker Corey Johnson got into a Twitter battle with some busway supporters, who claim the Chelsea lawmaker has not clearly backed a car-free 14th Street, despite his mammoth "break the car culture" speech on Tuesday. The speaker said he has a "nuanced" position on the busway, which he declined to reveal on Twitter. His office said he would present that full position later to Streetsblog.

The M14A and M14D routes both received Fs on the annual report cards issued this week by the Bus Turnaround Coalition. Transportation officials say they are committed to fixing the problem for long-suffering riders. A busway was the plan for the L-train shutdown, which would have made the current failing service even worse. The current poor performance, and evidence from other cities, suggest that a busway could turn that around.

Download the full MTA/DOT briefing here.

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