Scores of New Yorkers Turn Out to Reimagine 14th Street

Photo: Brad Aaron
Photo: Brad Aaron

A capacity crowd of around 80 people gathered at a community center in Chelsea last night to brainstorm the future of 14th Street.

The forum was the second 14th Street PeopleWay workshop, hosted by Transportation Alternatives, to help prepare for the crush of people who will need a new way to get around when the L train tube under the East River is closed for Sandy repairs.

TA Director of Organizing Tom DeVito prefaced the breakout session by explaining why designating 14th Street exclusively to transit, biking, and walking is the only realistic way to get the job done.

“Ride-share companies are eager to take advantage” of the situation, DeVito said. In September Uber proposed that the city suspend taxi regulations in order to spur more Uber trips along the corridor. “This is a recipe for catastrophe,” said DeVito. With 250,000 people taking the L train every day, he said, “That’s just not feasible.”

Data show that at peak travel times 14th Street handles 490 cars an hour in the eastbound lanes, and 430 cars per hour westbound — or eight cars and seven cars a minute, respectively. DOT can minimize the auto traffic impact on surrounding streets with traffic-calming measures — including neckdowns, chicanes, and mid-block crossings — according to TA.

The M14 is already the eighth busiest MTA bus line, with 32,868 daily riders. It’s also one of the city’s slowest lines. TA estimates that a car-free transitway on 14th Street could enable buses to travel smoothly while arriving every 30 to 60 seconds during peak hours.

To complement proposed bus improvements — dedicated lanes; off-board payment; at-level, ADA-compliant boarding; and transit priority at signals — the PeopleWay concept includes protected bike lanes and Citi Bike “super stations.”

Several of the people I listened in on during the breakout session live on 14th Street and in the immediate area. Some said they regularly traverse the street by bike. At least one of them owns a car. Among the problems they identified with the current layout of 14th Street were crowded sidewalks, lack of bike lanes, too much daytime car traffic, traffic noise on 14th and surrounding streets, and crowded bus queues.

Suggested opportunities for improvement included dedicated bus and bike lanes; bus bays designed to minimize congestion; street-level bus boarding; adequate parking for personal bikes; ferry service from Brooklyn, with bus fare integration; accommodations for deliveries that would not clog the street; and nighttime sanitation pickup.

One popular suggestion was replicating the PeopleWay design on other crosstown Manhattan streets at designated intervals. The idea of providing New Yorkers incentives to drive less on the whole came up more than once.

More than 70 small business owners along 14th Street have expressed support for the PeopleWay concept, along with City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

TA and Gothamist are sponsoring a competition for 14th Street redesign proposals, with cash prizes. Submissions are due by January 8. TA is also exploring a Grand Street PeopleWay to accommodate L train commuters on the Brooklyn side of the East River.