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DOT Plans One-Block ‘Shared Street’ on University Place (Yes, One Block)

12:01 AM EDT on June 10, 2019

An unreconstructed block of University Place, pictured in 2019. This is the view looking north from 13th Street. Photo: DOT

One measly block.

Manhattan Community Board 2 wanted the city to convert all of University Place into a car-free greenway — but the Department of Transportation has come back with something far more modest: a one-block-long “shared street” that will put pedestrians at risk of being hit by automobiles.

University Place runs from Washington Square Park to Union Square Park. In April, the DOT told CB2 it wanted to turn just one block of University — the lone south-bound block between 13th and 14th streets — into a southbound “shared street” that would reduce car speed limits to 5 miles per hour thanks to curb "bulb-outs" and a zig-zag roadway pattern (see bright orange car lane in the graphic below).

Photo: DOT
Photo: DOT
Photo: DOT

The plan was part of the 14th Street “busway” — and it does makes sense … from a car-centric view of roadways. The rules of the busway allow drivers to use 14th Street, but only for pick-ups and drop-offs — and drivers are then required to take the next right turn.

But University Place runs northbound. So if an eastbound driver were to drop off a passenger after crossing Fifth Avenue, his or her next right turn would be Broadway, where there the sheer number of pedestrians often mean only one or two cars can turn on a light.

The conversion of one block of University Place to a one-way southbound configuration from 14th to 13th streets will allow drivers to quickly exit 14th Street and then loop back westbound on 13th Street. (PDF)

Drivers exiting 14th Street would use University Place for just one block. Photo: DOT
Drivers exiting 14th Street would use University Place for just one block. Photo: DOT
Drivers exiting 14th Street would use University Place for just one block. Photo: DOT

The community board begrudgingly accepted the plan at its May meeting. But by a 38-1 vote, the board asked for more:

“CB2's very first choice would be a greenway on University Pl. from 14th St. to W. Fourth St. where it would connect with Washington Sq. Park,” the board resolution stated. And the board is entirely unconvinced that drivers will truly move slower than the 5 mph posted speed limit.

“CB2 strongly urges DOT to arrange a true 5 mph speed limit that can be enforced,” the resolution continued.

DOT spokesman Brian Zumhagen said the agency “appreciates the support” and is open to doing more … someday.

“Shared streets are still relatively new to New York City, and we must be strategic about their development and placement,” he said. “Should University Place prove successful, which we believe it will, we would of course be happy to discuss potential expansion in the future.”

The DOT’s failure to give Greenwich Village more pedestrian-only space comes as the de Blasio administration is under fire for not accelerating the pace of shared street installations — indeed, University Place would be just the second stretch created, following the 2017 conversion of Broadway between 24th and 25th streets.

The mayor is also often criticized for not building more car-free areas.

It’s unclear why the Vision Zero mayor stalls (and City Hall declined to comment for this story): More and more community groups are begging the city for safe zones. A few Lower Manhattan streets that were closed to cars after 9/11 have become beloved public spaces and tourist attractions. And Council Speaker Corey Johnson has spoken of his desire to “break car culture” with an ambitious plan for more bike lanes, public plazas and at least one dozen “pedestrianized streets that restrict vehicle access” by 2025.

But for now, with the 14th Street busway plan about to start this month, a one-block shared street is all we’ll get.

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