Statement of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives:
The coming L train shutdown is “a crisis not to waste,” presenting New York City with an exciting opportunity to rethink Manhattan’s 14th Street. That was the message from Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg last night at a TransitCenter event on "Reimagining NYC streets.” Trottenberg spoke of the need to transform this key transportation corridor with Bus Rapid Transit. We couldn’t agree more that 14th Street needs a radical reconfiguration, but that transformation must also create new bike and pedestrian infrastructure to boost capacity.
Whether the L train is shut down fully for 18 months or operates with limited service for three years, the City needs to start taking steps now to reimagine transportation in the communities that are going to have to do without the subway. To keep 14th Street moving, officials must be prepared to make timely investments to give buses priority, build protected bike lanes, and expand pedestrian space.
Right now, approximately 50,000 people use the L train every day within Manhattan alone. In 2015, average weekday bus ridership on the M14 line was 32,868 commuters. Given that the M14 will not be able to meet the demand resulting from an L train shutdown, we need to transform 14th Street into a PeopleWay, a public transit corridor that maximizes bus ridership and facilitates an increase in biking and walking to accommodate stranded weekday commuters.
Private motor vehicle trips are the least efficient form of travel in terms of capacity. The City would not be able to cover the loss of the L train with car trips without tearing down buildings to create additional street space. Sidewalks, protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes carry 15 times as many people as lanes for private cars. A combination of two-way protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes and expanded sidewalks could double the corridor’s current capacity, serving up to 24,500 people per hour or more than 500,000 people per day, according to figures from NACTO.
The Regional Plan Association has proposed closing 14th Street to private cars between Irving Place and Sixth Avenue, with expanded bus service. We share the vision that the City should turn the entire 14th Street corridor into a “PeopleWay,” replacing existing private vehicle traffic and suspended subway travel with bus rapid transit, bikeways, and more sidewalk space. We believe that the City should not only create this PeopleWay to meet the challenges of the L train shutdown, but also make it permanent as part of the effort to create a more sustainable and efficient transportation system for New York City’s future.