L-ternative Visions: Reimagining 14th Street and Beyond

The Problem

The looming shutdown of the L train is a transportation crisis in the making. Hundreds of thousands of people will be directly impacted, and virtually all New Yorkers will feel the pinch.

But this crisis is also an opportunity to reimagine affected streets as high-capacity surface transit corridors designed and managed for urban life in the 21st Century. As our world becomes hotter and more crowded, 14th Street can serve as a model of a street transformed to move more people more efficiently, in ways that are safer, saner and healthier.

If the City does not redesign the 14th Street corridor and make new connections for existing L train riders, massive shockwaves will be felt through the entire public transit network. Nowhere will the chaos be felt more acutely than on the street, where traffic congestion is generally mitigated by the fact that millions of New Yorkers do most of their traveling below ground.

Both the City and the State have vital roles to play. The City, which controls the streets, can choose to restrict private car traffic and redesign 14th Street to accommodate higher volumes of walkers, bikers and bus riders. The Governor and the State-run MTA must fund the deployment of higher-capacity buses, improve bus operations, and fund innovative alternatives such as pre-board fare payment stations that will help speed buses. Other solutions like high-capacity bike parking stations are also within the MTA’s purview.

Though the extent of City and State action is uncertain, one thing is clear: the public has a key role to play in pushing both the City and the State to rise to the challenge. In the past, public design competitions and advocacy campaigns have led to transformational changes to our transit and street network, as we have seen with Governors Island, the High Line, and the 2008 CityRacks Design Competition to create the next generation of bike parking for New York City.

Our hope is that the L-ternatives competition will inject some creative yet practical ideas into the mix, and compel both the Mayor and the Governor to take urgent and far-reaching action not only to avoid gridlock and commuter congestion, but to put NYC on a sustainable track to a more efficient, more resilient transit and street network.

The Competition

There is no time to dither.  With the L train going out of commission in January 2019, there is not time to consider, plan and build meaningful alternatives.  Accordingly, the following principles are key to submitting a successful solution:

Proven, high-capacity modes are the best stand-ins for the L. The world will someday be ready for your levitating omnibus, but for now, buses, bicycling, and walking are the most practical, grounded solutions.

High-capacity modes should be given exclusive rights-of-way.  Bicyclists should not share lanes with buses, nor should a bus full of commuters be at the mercy of a double-parked SUV driver.

The pedestrian is queen.  In the pecking order of our streets, pedestrians must rule the roost.  Already home to some of the highest pedestrian volumes in the city, 14th Street must be reimagined to provide safe expanded havens for walkers, especially around bus stops.

Cars must be put in their place.  In the weeks after 9/11, the “carpool rule” was in effect for motorists coming into Manhattan via bridges and tunnels below 63rd street. Drivers were required to have at least one additional passenger. During the transit strike of 2005, the contingency plan went much further, requiring cars entering Manhattan below 96th Street to have 4 or more passengers. Congestion pricing is another way to keep low-occupancy cars from clogging busways, bike lanes and crosswalks.

14th Street, and beyond. 14th Street is the focus of this competition. How would you transform it, river to river, to best serve commuters stranded by the L train shutdown?  As important as 14th Street is to those looking for L-ternatives, however, many streets, bridges and transit lines will be impacted. We are also interested in your ideas for how to protect local streets from being inundated with cars, and for how to improve connections to the Williamsburg Bridge, along with other Brooklyn L-ternatives. Please submit those to the “Readers’ Choice” track.

Key Principles of the Competition

  • This is a huge opportunity that should not go to waste. Our streets only function when our subways do. The only reason our streets are passable at all is because of our transit system. If we do nothing, the impacts will be severe, and cascade to streets and lines well beyond 14th Street and the Williamsburg Bridge.

  • More than just keeping the L shutdown from crippling NYC's economy and quality of life, our goal is to showcase what a 21st Century street can be, with strong priority for more efficient modes. All of the city’s major arterial streets should be transit corridors, and 14th Street can be the first.

  • While all modes have their place, we are most interested in how the forms of surface transportation that have proven most efficient -- buses, bikes and walking -- can be best served on the new 14th Street.

Contestants may submit in one of two categories:

1) Jury Track, which includes solutions that help move as many people as possible on 14th Street while minimizing impacts to surrounding streets and reducing car volume. Submissions may take many forms, including changes to street engineering and the creation of apps.

2) Readers’ Choice Track, which is for ideas involving L-ternatives in Brooklyn and/or connections to 14th Street via the Williamsburg Bridge.

Successful submissions to the Jury Track will:

Show how 14th Street can operate as a commuter-first corridor

  • Increase the capacity of 14th Street to accommodate more trips

  • Outline a robust plan for bus travel, bicycling and improved pedestrian travel along 14th Street

Connect, connect, connect

  • Prioritize the connections between bus, bike and foot travel on 14th Street

Prioritize public life and the experience of all users, with pedestrians being #1

  • Provide a streetscape rendering that shows how a given design concept would work for people traveling on the street, including people of all ages and abilities

  • Prioritize unique commercial and residential curbside parking needs and delineate a plan to accommodate both

Showcase innovations

  • Address unique solutions for deliveries and for-hire vehicles along 14th Street

  • Take into account the cascade effect of a subway shutdown by considering car restrictions that might be necessary on local streets adjacent to or beyond 14th Street

Address policy and governance

  • Consider the important coordination that the City and State of New York must achieve, in terms of funding, design and execution

Successful submissions to the Readers’ Choice track will:

  • Outline a robust plan for bus travel and bicycling between 14th Street and Brooklyn

  • Outline a robust plan for improved pedestrian travel between 14th Street and surrounding destinations

  • Prioritize the connections between bus, bike and foot travel on 14th Street and other key transit destinations.

  • Recognize the numerous destinations and communities along the corridor that will be affected by the L-train shutdown

  • Include innovations that improve commuter flow beyond 14th Street and connect commuters to key streets, bridges and destinations outside the immediate 14th Street corridor.

  • Consider new curbside management and parking policies to reduce congestion from deliveries and other forms of commercial traffic

  • Demonstrate how the disabled will navigate the post L streetscape

Your Hosts

Transportation Alternatives is a New York City-based non-profit advocacy organization whose mission is to encourage bicycling, walking and transit use as alternatives to auto use, with its attendant environmental and social harms. For the past four decades, TransAlt has advocated for safer streets and more accessible and equitable public spaces. Transportation Alternatives is a member-based organization with over 12,000 dues-paying members and more than 160,000 active supporters in New York City.

Gothamist is a daily weblog covering New York City news stories, personalities, and media, with running commentary and humorous photos.

Presenting Partners

Gehl Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to transform the way cities are shaped by making public life an intentional driver for design, policy, and governance.

Van Alen Institute is a non-profit organization operating on the belief that design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. They collaborate with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. Building on more than a century of experience, they develop cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions.

Jury

Our jury is composed of transit and transportation experts, urban designers, advocates, and community stakeholders, all of whom are esteemed stewards of the public realm in New York City. Note: More jurors will be added in the coming weeks.

  1. Paul Steely White, Transportation Alternatives

  2. Jen Chung, Gothamist

  3. David Bragdon, Transit Center

  4. David van der Leer, Van Alen Institute

  5. Shin-pei Tsay, Gehl Institute

  6. Masha Burina, Riders Alliance

  7. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer

  8. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

  9. Councilmember Dan Garodnick

  10. Councilmember Rosie Mendez

  11. State Senator Brad Hoylman

  12. Miodrag Mitrasinovic, The New School

  13. Susan Steinberg, Stuyvesant Town Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association

  14. Kate Slevin, Regional Plan Association

  15. Keith Berger, 1 Northside Piers

  16. Susan Dooha, Center for Independence of the Disabled

  17. Lester Marks, Lighthouse Guild

  18. Sean Basinski, the Street Vendor Project

Categories and prizes

Readers’ Choice:

Anyone can compete to win the hearts of Gothamist readers. Readers’ Choice submissions will be submitted via a web-form questionnaire posted on the Gothamist site. Over the course of the competition, Gothamist will feature interesting or outrageous submissions. Gothamist, Transportation Alternatives, and Gehl Institute will select five finalists from the submission pool. The winning entry and the rest of the finalist will be on display at the final event in February 2017.

The Readers Choice winner will receive an annual metrocard, an Elby bicycle, as well as a year’s free entry to all Transportation Alternatives events, including parties and group bike rides.

Jury Track:

Formal Jury Track entries for solutions to moving people on 14th Street will be accepted via a web-form questionnaire, then discussed by an esteemed jury. Entrants will be eligible for the following prizes.

1st Winner: $5,000

2nd Winner: $3,000

3rd Winner: $2,000

The top 3 submissions from the Jury Track will receive featured placement on Gothamist. The winner will also receive a private audience with planning officials from the New York City Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the New York City Department of City Planning.

Jury proposals are due by 11:59pm, EST on January 8th, 2017. Jury Track finalists will be announced January 20th, and the three winners will be announced at the final competition event in February. All finalists will receive placement at the closing event.

Eligibility

To promote the most open and creative responses, we encourage both student and professional submissions. Entries are welcome from both individuals and consortiums.

Fees

There is no fee to enter the Readers' Choice competition.

There is a registration fee per submission to enter the Jury Track competition: $50 standard for firms and individuals, and $25 for students, young professionals (under age 35), and non-profit organizations. All submissions come with a free annual membership to Transportation Alternatives, a $50 value. There is no limit to the number of times an individual or organization can submit designs.

Proposal requirements

Readers’ Choice

  • Eye-level rendering of your L-ternative proposal, which should contain all the elements defined in this design brief.

  • Up to 500-word narrative describing your proposal, with an explanation of how it meets the desired outcomes outlined in the competition brief.

Jury Track

  • Two main renderings that include all elements

    • A plan or diagram that depicts circulation, major destinations, and proposed rerouting for all users of the corridor, and any impacts to neighboring streets.

    • A cross-section of 14th Street that depicts the eye-level experience of a person walking or rolling down it.

  • Up to 1000-word narrative describing your proposal, with an explanation of how it meets the desired outcomes outlined in the competition brief.

  • Up to 5 supporting images (optional)

  • All images should be print-ready with 300 dpi

 

The two main images accompanied by the proposal narrative will be the primary components in the judging. In addition to the main images and narratives, entrants may express, represent and support their ideas through a variety of media including additional visual images, video, schematics, etc. Supporting images and other descriptions will assist in addressing any questions that may arise.

Any submissions that are missing primary renderings or a proposal narrative will be eliminated from the competition prior to jury discussion.

Schedule and Milestones

September 21:     Competition Launch, Submissions Open

Sept 21- January 8:      Readers’ Choice and Jury Track submissions received on rolling basis

September 26th, 6-8pm:    Launch and Workshop, Town and Village Synagogue

October 26th                 West Side of Manhattan Workshop, location TBA

November TBA             North Brooklyn Workshop, location and date TBA

Sept 21-January 8:    Gothamist features interesting or outrageous Readers’ Choice submissions

January 8, 11:59pm:      Competition submission closes

February, TBA:         Finalists announced

March, TBA        Closing event and winner announcement
 

Contact Information

designcompetition@transalt.org

Submit to the Jury Track Here

Submit to the Readers’ Choice Track Here

Appendix A: Key Background Information

Past Disruptions to 14th Street

In the days immediately following the September 11th attacks, 14th Street was the southernmost street in Manhattan on which vehicular traffic was permitted.

During the 2005 transit strike, all vehicles south of 96th Street were required to have at least four occupants. While no further restrictions applied specifically to 14th Street, nearby 26th Street and 29th Street were designated for “exempt vehicles,” meaning they could only be used by emergency vehicles, buses, paratransit vehicles, commuter vans, and motorcycles (no private cars) (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/transitstrike-1.pdf).

Following Hurricane Sandy, the Canarsie Tube, which carries the L beneath the East River, was closed for 11 days.

Subway Network Info

The L train carries 400,000 New Yorkers every weekday; this includes 50,000 in Manhattan alone and 200,000 under the river (http://web.mta.info/sandy/river_crossings.htm). Therefore, about a quarter of a million weekday riders will have their route interrupted. This is approximately the same as the population of the city of Buffalo (258,000), and only slightly less than the entire population of Jersey City (265,000).

Mapping and data visualization scientists at Carto have estimated that close to 115,000 people use the L train specifically to commute to work in Manhattan (https://carto.com/blog/looking-at-the-l/). Also according to Carto, there are close to 19,000 Brooklyn households in poverty whose closest subway station is located on the L.

There are 469 individual stations in the subway network; 422 if stations connected by free transfer are combined. Six will be directly affected by the Canarsie Tube repairs: Eighth Avenue, Sixth Avenue, 14th Street - Union Square, Third Avenue, and First Avenue in Manhattan, and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, will have no L service.

Rider volume per station: Average weekday ridership, 2015

Station

Average Weekday Ridership*

Rank (out of 422)

Eighth Avenue

45,253

18

Sixth Avenue

50,335

17

14th Street - Union Square

108,440

4

Third Avenue

7,140

223

First Avenue

23,789

60

Bedford Avenue

27,132

44

*Figures for Eighth Avenue and 14th Street-Union Square also include connecting lines other than the L train.

Source: http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_sub.htm

The L train has experienced a surge in usage accompanying increased economic activity and residential development along its corridor. According to the Regional Plan Association, on a high-usage day in 1985, about 40,000 people would ride the L train. On a typical day today, this total exceeds 300,000. The Bedford Avenue station in particular has seen a drastic increase in ridership in number of users in the past several years. Since 1995, ridership there has increased 373%. (http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-A-New-L-Train-for-New-Yorkers.pdf) The implementation of modern communications-based train control (CBTC) along the L line since 2008 has allowed the MTA to operate at a maximum capacity of 26 trains per hour, compared to only 15 trains per hour in May 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/22/nyregion/22subway.html).

 

BRT Planning International has calculated the following increases in travel times between subway stations when the L train shuts down as planned:

 

Credit: Annie B. Weinstock, BRT Planning International, LLC. http://brtplan.com/2016/09/07/391/

 

In addition, the following diagram indicates other forms of transportation people will have to use in order to travel between selected origins and destinations:

Credit: Annie B. Weinstock, BRT Planning International, LLC. http://brtplan.com/2016/09/07/391/

If the number of peak rush-hour L train riders who will be affected by the shutdown all took cars instead, at an average density of 1.5 people per vehicle, 14th Street would need to be approximately 56 lanes wide - which would obliterate everything from 13th through 15th streets and be far wider than the largest highway in the United States.

Bus Network Info

Average weekday ridership for the M14 in 2015 was 32,868 passengers, making it the 8th most-ridden route in the entire city and the second busiest in Manhattan (http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_bus.htm). The M14 consists of both the M14A and the M14D; they share their route along 14th Street between Ninth Avenue and Avenue A. The M14A has its western terminus at Abingdon Square and travels south down Avenue A, whereas the M14D has its eastern terminus at Delancey Street and travels south down Avenues C and D. Official timetables show an M14 bus scheduled to arrive every three minutes during morning and afternoon rush hours.

The M14A offers riders a connection to the F, J, M, and Z trains at Delancey Street-Essex Street.

Like many other New York City bus routes, the M14 has seen a decrease in passengers in recent years. Total 2015 ridership was down 3.6% compared to 2014 (http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_bus_annual.htm).

The B39 bus is currently the only route to travel over the Williamsburg Bridge. Its Manhattan terminus is at Allen and Delancey Streets, and riders can presently connect to and from the M14 along Delancey. The M9 bus also connects 14th Street with the B39 and Delancey Street-Essex Street Station via Avenue C.

The M15 bus route offers both local stops and Select Bus Service (SBS). Both travel north-south via 1st and 2nd avenues, stopping at 14th Street and connecting to the F train’s Second Avenue station at Houston Street.

In addition to the aforementioned routes, several other buses currently cross 14th Street. From west to east, they are: M11, M12, M20, M5, M2, M3, M101, M102 and M103. The combined M101/M102/M103 won the 2015 “Schleppie” award from the Straphangers Campaign for its unreliable service. In 2015, 37% of buses along this route arrived bunched together or with significant gaps in service (http://www.straphangers.org/pokeyaward/15/).

Bike Network Info

As of August 2016, there were 12 Citi Bike stations located on or within a block of 14th Street, with an additional station scheduled to open soon. These stations have a total capacity of 464 bikes.

While there is currently no protected bike lane on 14th Street, painted bike lanes are available on segments of West 15th and West 16th streets. Protected bike lanes are in place on First, Second, Eighth and Ninth avenues where they intersect with 14th Street. Construction is currently underway on protected bike lanes on Fifth and Sixth avenues. The DOT has designated most of 13th Street a potential future bicycle route, but no further details are available.
 

Relevant Vehicle Trip Info

Using NACTO estimates of car and passenger volume, and data of L train frequency and ridership, Transportation Alternatives has calculated that 14th Street would need approximately 56 lanes of traffic to accommodate all weekday peak hour riders if they switched to cars during the shutdown. This is about twice as wide as the widest highway in the United States.

Economist Charles Komanoff calculated that 8500 motor vehicles currently use the Williamsburg bridge during the 7 AM - 10 AM weekday peak, and more than 3000 additional car trips over the bridge will be generated if just one-fifth of cross-river L riders switch to Uber during the shutdown. (http://www.newsweek.com/can-uber-prevent-traffic-chaos-l-train-closure-497719)

14th Street Stats and Characteristics

14th Street has two travel lanes in each direction. Many blocks also have an unstriped parking/bus stop lane on both sides of the street, for a total of six lanes. There are dedicated loading zones at the south side of Union Square. East of First Avenue, the north side of 14th Street has a “service road” that wraps in a loop around Stuyvesant Town. This consists of two parking lanes and one travel lane separated from the “main line” of 14th Street by a concrete median containing bus shelters and a Citi Bike station. Several slips allow for entry and exit.

The entirety of 14th Street is paved in standard asphaltic concrete, with the exception of between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street, where the roadway is historic cobblestone.

14th Street starts in the west at a triangular interchange between the West Side Highway (NY State Route 9A) and Tenth Avenue. This triangle allows for eastbound traffic only. East of Tenth Avenue, traffic is two-way. The following intersections, from west to east, are Washington Street, Ninth Avenue, Hudson Street/Ninth Avenue (a complicated intersection with plazas on the north and south sides of the street), Eighth Avenue, Seventh Avenue, Sixth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, University Place/Union Square West, Broadway/Union Square East, Fourth Avenue/Union Square East, Irving Place, Third Avenue, Second Avenue, First Avenue, Avenue A, Avenue B, and Avenue C. The street ends for public access at the Con Edison 14th Street East River Complex between Avenue C and the FDR Drive; east of the plant’s gates, 14th Street may be used by Con Edison traffic only.  

41 pedestrians, 33 cyclists, and 34 motorists were injured on 14th street in 2015. The most dangerous intersections were Third Avenue and Fifth Avenue, each with 13 injuries in 2015.

In August 2016, an 81-year-old man was killed crossing 14th Street at Second Avenue by an ambulance driver who failed to yield the right of way. Prior to this crash, the last fatality on 14th Street had been a pedestrian killed at Broadway in 2012.


Additional Resources

Carto (formerly CartoDB) has used Census and travel data to analyze alternative routes L train users in Brooklyn may take during a shutdown:

https://carto.com/blog/looking-at-the-l/

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) published a report in April 2016 evaluating possible shutdown scenarios and recommending a set of potential mitigation measures.

http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-A-New-L-Train-for-New-Yorkers.pdf

The NYU Rudin Center for Transportation published a report in August 2016 presenting service alternatives during the shutdown: http://wagner.nyu.edu/rudincenter/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/NYU-Rudin-L-Train.pdf

Economist and former Transportation Alternatives Director Charles Komanoff has modeled how car trips cannot replace mass transit during the shutdown:

http://www.newsweek.com/can-uber-prevent-traffic-chaos-l-train-closure-497719