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

Current conditions on the one southbound block of University Place. This is the view looking north from 13th Street. Photo: DOT
Current conditions on the one southbound block of University Place. 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

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

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.

  • “But University Place runs northbound. ”

    Are you sure about that?

  • C

    “Shared streets are still relatively new to New York City, and we must be strategic about their development and placement.”

    There’s your problem with DOT in a nutshell. A thing that’s totally common all over the world is hard to do here because Polly Trottenberg’s DOT thinks New York isn’t quite ready for it. We are a special flower! Her incrementalism and cowardice is going to be the death of us all.

  • Vooch

    Watch Pedestrians bullying suffering cars on a Shared Street in Munich

  • AstoriaBlowin

    The shared street at 43rd and Lex is a joke, if this one is executed anything like that one, it will be another thing to point to and say see these street treatments don’t work and no one likes them, just leave the road to cars.

    On 43rd the limit is 5 MPH but there is absolutely nothing in the design to slow cars down, the traffic backing up from Lexington forces them to get closer to the posted speed but then you have an entire block of idling cars, which is hardly the European style experience they are supposedly going for. In the above design if the dogleg is not really really tight to slow cars through the turning movement there is no way they slow down.

  • Janet Liff

    To be clear, The DOT didn’t “come back” with a share street design. They presented it and the committee asked for more. it would be wonderful if DOT took another swipe.

  • Adam Zeldin

    My understanding of the 5 MPH speed limit is that it is a cautionary speed limit not the true speed limit. The true speed limit would still be 25 MPH.

  • Janet Liff

    Yes. I live around the corner.

  • The picture shows it southbound, as does google maps!

  • 14th to 13th was converted to southbound months ago, and last month they added extra traffic lights at 13th to emphasize the point. I was hoping they’d just shut it down, since it started a 3-1 intersection flow, but several delivery trucks use that block daily. Otherwise, it gets next to zero car traffic.

  • Joseph R.
  • anonono

    The DOT didn’t “come back” with a share street design. They presented it and the committee asked for more.

    Why let the truth get in the way of making a sensationalized point?

    There’s more NYU students on longboards than traffic along this stretch, so this seems like a no brainer to continue the Broadway treatment all along here.

  • DoctorMemory

    Hm, it’d be more realistic if there were NYPD cruisers in both bulb-outs.

  • Simon Phearson

    I have always wondered why they painted 43rd tan at Lex. I agree, it doesn’t seem to affect driver behavior much.

  • This is a bitter disappointment. Turning around the block between 14th and 14th does help a little but I have seen motorists going the wrong way (“I can’t turn around now! It was an accident! [threats and curses]”)
    and also trucks backing up at full speed, because you can go the wrong way as far as you want, as long as it is in reverse.

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