L-ternative Visions: Reimagining 14th Street and Beyond: The Winners

See the design brief.

The Winners

First Place

Cricket Day, Becca Groban, Christopher Robbins, and Kellen Parker


14 ST.OPS

Savvy New Yorkers avoid 14th Street. Even if the L train weren’t shutting down for 18 months, the corridor is in desperate need of a redesign. Pedestrians are shunted out of big box stores onto overcrowded sidewalks, cyclists dodge buses lurching along Manhattan’s second-busiest route, while drivers — speeding, honking, desperate to get off this crosstown hellscape — turn intersections into harrowing games of chicken.

Fourteenth Street Stops aims to give 14th Street back to the walkers, the runners, the strollers, the bus riders, the bike riders, the commuters, and yes, the tourists.

We accomplish this by restricting access on 14th Street to buses, cyclists, and pedestrians, utilizing two-way dedicated Select Bus Service (SBS) bus lanes and bike lanes. Brooklyn-based L train commuters will be able to transfer at Union Square and two other Manhattan subway stations (or jump on a Citi Bike) via the least painful route possible: a two-way SBS thoroughfare on Lafayette Street and 4th Avenue.

This configuration allows pedestrians to reclaim tens of thousands of square feet of public space — roughly an extra 20-foot wide sidewalk for each block — plus five new pedestrian-only malls, each around the size of a New York City block.

These public spaces will adopt the personalities of the neighborhoods they inhabit and act as SBS stops (14 ST.OPS) along a streamlined transit corridor — a 14th Street that all New Yorkers will be eager to use.

FOR PEDESTRIANS

By eliminating private vehicles and prioritizing cycling and rapid bus transit, 14 ST.OPS reclaims road space for pedestrian use.

A 14th Street Shuttle will run on dedicated bus lanes in a continuous crosstown loop every four minutes during rush hour, along with a revamped M14 SBS, allowing residents in Chelsea and the Lower East Side to reach their destinations faster.

Buses will stop along the sidewalks or extended curbs, ensuring that our buses are accessible for all without major capital investment. Emergency vehicles and Access-A- Ride vehicles will also have access to bus lanes.

The bus stops also double as nighttime delivery zones, to ensure that local businesses aren’t adversely affected by the new traffic design.

A 2013 DOT study [PDF] entitled “The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets” showed that commercial sales along Brooklyn’s Vanderbilt Avenue, Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue, and Fordham Road in the Bronx all increased steadily after measures like traffic calming, pedestrian islands, and Select Bus Service were implemented.

In addition to the neighborhood-specific programming along each of the stops, the creation of five new pedestrian malls would ease foot traffic congestion and host playgrounds, dumpster gardens, outdoor gyms, and flea markets; most crucially in the areas along Union Square East, and the Union Square Triangle, an embarrassingly underutilized plot of public land that is currently marooned by a sea of private car traffic.

Three other malls are located on Broadway between 13th and 14th, and the two blocks on 9th Avenue between 15th and 13th.

FOR CYCLISTS

Our dedicated bike lanes down the center of 14th Street will feel like a balm to those riders now accustomed to dodging car doors, buses, and delivery trucks. Flexible sticks and planters will separate cyclists from bus lanes and pedestrians, and each intersection will have turning boxes and timed stoplights, ensuring that novice cyclists will feel safe.

According to Citi Bike data from the fall 2015, First and Second Avenues, and Eighth and Ninth Avenues were the most popular roads used by Citi Bike riders.

In addition to existing stations, Citi Bike superstations will occupy the ground levels of the eight privately-owned parking garages located directly on 14th Street, making it easier for commuters to hop off a bus and onto a bike. (Those parking garages may also host NYPD vehicles, distribution centers for online retailers like Amazon Prime or Peapod, or if recouping lost revenue is the primary concern, slot machines, pending state approval.)

FOR THE 200,000 COMMUTERS WHO USE THE L TRAIN’S EAST RIVER TUNNEL

While the west side of the Union Square triangle will be converted into a pedestrian mall, the east side will act as a vital stop for L train riders connecting to the subway station.

These riders will have traveled on our Brooklyn Shuttle via a dedicated bus lane over the Williamsburg Bridge to Delancey Street. After a stop at the Delancey/Essex subway station, the bus will continue west on Delancey to Lafayette Street, which will host two- way dedicated bus lanes that extend up 4th Avenue to Union Square. Another stop at Houston Street for riders to connect to the BDFM and 6 trains, and L train riders will arrive at Union Square, where they can transfer to one of the seven subway lines, or our 14th Street Shuttle, or jump on a Citi Bike.

In 2016, the DOT and the MTA released a report on Brooklyn’s B44 service before and after Select Bus Service with a dedicated bus lane had been implemented. They found that riding times along the 3.4 mile, six-stop northbound portion of the route decreased by 37% during the morning rush hour, from 32.3 minutes to 20.3 minutes.

Our Brooklyn Shuttle, traveling from Bedford Avenue to Union Square via Lafayette Street and 4th Avenue, would travel 3.8 miles with five total stops.

The routes aren’t symmetrical — the B44 has a straight shot, the Williamsburg Bridge is a virtual highway with a 35 mph speed limit — but it’s not implausible, just ambitious, to imagine getting riders from the Bedford stop to Union Square in 25 minutes.

Ambition is what the DOT, the MTA, NYC Parks Department and the Business Improvement Districts along 14th Street must aspire to on 14th Street; 8.5 million people are counting on it.


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Second Place

PAU Studio

THE SILVERLINEING

Could the temporary shutdown of one of New York’s most important subway lines have a silver lining? From Bushwick to Williamsburg to Manhattan’s 14th Street corridor, the L-train in this new era has gone from a sleepy gray subway corridor to a luminous silver line, connecting some of New York’s most vibrant and creative neighborhoods. The shutdown will give the L-train critical long-term resilience, and we must confront the consequences with the determination and innovation for which New York is renown. This will demand the grit that daily inspires New Yorkers to make lemonade from lemons, albeit spiked with a shot of tequila.

This challenging event affords the opportunity to consider not only the 14th Street corridor, but the potential to design a pilot for the long-term surface mobility of our city, with a much-needed reorientation towards the pedestrian, the cyclist, and the street-level straphanger. Most take for granted the disproportionate amount of space dedicated to private vehicles in New York. It is only in recent years, thanks to grassroots advocacy and government leadership, that we have seen the re- appropriation of roadbed for bike lanes, pocket parks, and of course, Times Square. In response ubiquitous naysayers – similar to those who recently predicted the “Carmaggedon” in Los Angeles that never came – claimed the sky would fall, but these Chicken Littles looked even smaller and more yellow bellied when the predicted calamities never struck. Armed with this experience we must be courageous visionaries in the reconceptualization of 14th Street, of course with the necessary sensitivities to businesses and residents concerned about traffic (I live and work near Union Square, so I empathize.) But ultimately we must hold to the conviction that our streets belong to the people, whether they are propelled by bikes, wheelchairs, buses, or Air Jordans.

Our proposal for 14th Street has precisely this focus on the indefatigable foot soldiers of New York, demanding that our pedestrians be the rulers of the road.

We propose two achievable phases for a new “Silver Line” along 14th Street centered on the deployment of new station pavilions inspired by Bogota’s Transmilenio and Curitiba’s BRT system. These pavilions would be durable, affordable, sustainable, and “temporary” in the sense that they would not require any foundations or infrastructure in the roadbed – they would simply sit on the street. Constructed with a tough, modular system that can be assembled easily on site, the structures would serve several purposes at once.

The Silver Line pavilions would:

  1. clearly demarcate the border between dedicated transit lanes at the center of the street and one-way bicycle lanes on each side of the street, leaving the entire width of the sidewalk for pedestrians free of bus stations and bicycles, with no conflict points other than well-signaled crosswalks;
  2. provide safe, wheelchair-accessible, weather-protected, information-rich waiting areas.
  3. be elevated so people, including those in wheelchairs, will already be at the level of the transit system with their fares paid, allowing fast embarkation and disembarkation;
  4. be solar-powered, sustainably providing the energy needed for lighting and digital wait-time clocks, as well as the ability to recharge one’s phone while waiting;
  5. be light, low-slung and largely transparent as part of a landscaped median that runs the length of each block, beautifying all of 14th Street in a manner that will ennoble the pedestrian experience, segregate bike lanes, and enhance shopping;
  6. be partially self-financed through the creation of tasteful advertising space.

Consequently, the Silver Line will:

  • show that 14th Street can operate as a commuter-first corridor;
  • increase the capacity of 14th Street to accommodate far more trips;
  • prioritize the connections among bus, bike and foot travel on 14th Street;
  • uplift public life and the experience of all users, with pedestrians being #1;
  • and create dedicated residential parking along area side streets and dedicated commercial parking and taxi/livery pick up points along the avenues. (Loading could also take place on 14th Street during off-hours)

In terms of policy and governance, we view the implementation and operation of the Silver Line under the shared auspices of the MTA and City DOT, with the clear precedent of Select Bus Service. Public/private partnerships to build the Silver Line pavilions should also be considered.

We propose this system of sidewalks, bike lanes, and dedicated bus lanes as a Phase One that would operate during the L-train shutdown. During this interim period, we propose that planning, approvals and funding be sought for a new Manhattan-wide streetcar system, similar to the BQX system proposed for Brooklyn and Queens, that would begin operations concurrent with the re-opening of the L-train. This Phase Two streetcar system would re-use the pavilions deployed in Phase One.

A Manhattan streetcar system would provide high speed mobility to our "transit deserts,” connecting the major cross streets with the burgeoning edges of the island. Over the last two decades Manhattan has grown towards its edges, reclaiming post-industrial land along both rivers. Columbia has expanded northwest towards Manhattanville. The High Line, Hudson Yards, the Con-Edison sites, the Alexandria Medical Center, our rediscovered waterfronts – it is wonderful that a thousand flowers have bloomed, but what will irrigate them? It is also wonderful that the Second Avenue Subway and the #7 Subway extension have opened, but we cannot serve all of these growing areas with projects that would take decades and billions we don’t have.

There is a silver lining to this shutdown; a re-imagined 14th Street will be the pilot for a new vision for Manhattan’s mobility, a back-to-future scenario in which state-of- the-art sustainable streetcars propel millions throughout its territory in an equitable, accessible, safe, fast and joyful manner. This is the upside of using scarce political capital to obtain congestion pricing, convincing businesses that their deliveries can be accommodated, and showing well-heeled New Yorkers who drive and pay exorbitant parking fees that there is a better way. We can make 14th Street a 21st Century corridor, and in so doing remake Manhattan for a new millennium.

 

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Third Place

James Wagman Architect

life-lemons

The L train is shutting down. Inconvenient. Inconceivable! Inevitable.

THE PROBLEM

The proposal to close the L train for 18 months was met with immediate horror and concern. With the rise of commuters from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the L train has provided a crucial method of transportation for residents crossing the East River with 14th Street serving as the connection hub to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. Despite this extreme and unavoidable action, these measures can be seen as a catalyst for designers, urban planners, community boards and local and state government to reconsider and reimagine how New York City’s streets operate and what purpose they can serve.

THE OPPORTUNITY

The L train closure provides the perfect opportunity to put innovative ideas of metropolitan transportation to the test. This all begins with 14th Street and transforming it into a more efficient and environmentally friendly zone. Per the Community Consensus Proposal from the Regional Plan Association and Riders Alliance, we must prioritize the movement of transit and people crosstown with a 14th Street Transitway that is closed to private vehicles. By prioritizing the modes of transportation proven most efficient – buses, bikes and walking – we can begin to redefine streets as community spaces.

THE INSPIRATION

RPA and the Riders Alliance recently released their proposal, “Fixing the L Train and Managing the Shutdown”. Their suggestions for transit improvements along 14th Street target closing significant portions of 14th Street to private automobiles. Taking this into consideration, we were also inspired by Barcelona’s radical implementation of the “Superblock” which would remove car traffic completely within specific blocks throughout the city, thereby redirecting car traffic around pockets of pedestrian only areas. We propose adapting this idea to specific blocks along 14th Street to help meet the priorities of RPA and the Riders Alliance plans.

THE METHOD

The Manhattan Version of the Superblock would incorporate all key elements of the proposed 14th Street Transitway while also mitigating the consequential traffic congestion of neighboring streets. Rather than closing off the street in its entirety, we can use the Barcelona model to create blocks of private automobile free zones. As depicted in our site plan, 13th, 14th and 15th Streets would be closed to private vehicles with access limited to pedestrians, cyclists, buses and residents’ cars with permits. However, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 10th Avenues would remain open to all transit.

Currently, buses on 14th Street travel at a speed of 4mph. By eliminating cars, we can not only increase their speed but the volume of higher capacity buses and the number of trips within the existing bus system to accommodate the influx of commuters above ground. 14th Street itself would consist of 2 reduced-width bus lanes, as well as 2 bike lanes and well maintained sidewalks on either side.

THE STREET OF THE FUTURE

The MTA and the NYC DOT have the means and the methods to bring forth the changes proposed by the RPA and Riders Alliance. However, what more can we do to take advantage of a golden opportunity to redefine our city streets? JWA sees 14th Street as the possible Street of the Future, a model by which we can demonstrate a renewed focus on pedestrian safety, technological advancement, and environmental consciousness. When visitors and residents alike step onto 14th Street, they should be in awe, presented with a vision of what a modern, 21st Century street could and should be.

One of the city’s primary concerns is reestablishing the street’s hierarchy – the pedestrian is queen. In collaboration with the city’s efforts through Vision Zero, we can maximize pedestrian safety by reducing the number of cars on the streets, starting with 14th Street and possibly expanding a network of superblock zones throughout the city along its main boulevards.

After establishing the safety of our pedestrians, we should also provide state of the art amenities, such as seating, trash and recycling bins, bike racks, street lights, etc. LinkNYC has also already set up numerous kiosks along 14th Street, thus setting the pace for providing technologically advanced services. By introducing new and innovative technologies, we can also begin to promote urban courtesy, encouraging pedestrians to respect our streets with basic rules meant to keep the streets clean and safe.

14th Street also intersects with the southern end of the High Line, from which we can continue a similar expansion of greenery and public art. By promoting the planting of more trees, the use of environmentally friendly modes of transportation (bicycles, walking, electric buses), and the reduction of vehicular air and noise pollution, we can work to increase our national and global standing as one of the greenest metropolises.

CONCLUSION

The original goal for the closure of the L train was to repair the serious damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Displacing the vast number of people who use public transportation from below ground to above highlights the necessity of prioritizing safe spaces and transportation efficiency. The transformation of 14th Street to a public transitway is the first step towards evolving the city’s streets. Concurrently, adapting the Barcelona “superblock” idea in Manhattan would begin to establish a new network of pedestrian- and environmentally-friendly spaces while redirecting and improving the general flow of traffic within the city.

We’ve got our lemons; now let’s make some lemonade.

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