The Earth Is Flat and 14th Street Doesn’t Need a Busway During the L Shutdown

Arguing with people who oppose a crosstown busway and bike lane to compensate for the loss of the L train is like trying to reason with people who think the moon landing was staged.

Large numbers of L train riders are bound for 14th Street. Image: MTA
Large numbers of L train riders are bound for 14th Street. Image: MTA

At a forum last week about plans to keep people moving during the L train shutdown, West Village NIMBYs fighting a crosstown busway and bike lanes let slip a core belief underpinning their opposition: They don’t think the L train carries hundreds of thousands of people under 14th Street every day.

“We don’t believe the numbers,” 13th Street resident Judy Pesin told me last week. “We think a lot of people that are coming to 14th Street are coming here because of the L train, don’t want to be on 14th Street, that’s not their final destination.”

Just like a Flat Earther will always scream about the moon landing being faked, a 14th Street busway NIMBY will always claim that the MTA’s ridership stats can’t be trusted.

“They’re counting the 50,000 they said by swipes, so when you swipe in at Union Square, how do they know what train you’re getting on? They don’t,” Pesin added. “If they’re using swipes at the subway stations, they’re clearly overstating it.”

“I don’t really believe the study they did that says 50,000 people would be affected,” attorney Arthur Schwartz, who’s threatened to sue the city over its busway and bikeway plans, told the Villager.

It’s hard to argue with someone who refuses to accept what is plainly true. We can point to the 30,000 passengers who already ride the M14 bus each weekday, or the crowded L train platforms where people have to wait for multiple trains to come before there’s space to board — it’s not going to win over Pesin, Schwartz, and other busway opponents any more than photos of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon will sway the Flat Earth true believers.

For the sake of everyone else — people open to facts, reason, and the observable movement of hundreds of thousands of people on the L train in Manhattan each day — we contacted the MTA to see what goes into their travel estimates and forecasts.

It’s a combination of data from turnstiles and trains. “Anonymized MetroCard usage over the course of the day, used as inputs to industry standard software models and compared against actual observed customer loads, give us reliable estimates of ridership by route,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek.

“It’s not just the 50,000 people who ride the L solely within Manhattan who are traveling underneath 14th Street,” he added. “So are the 225,000 people who ride between Brooklyn and Manhattan, even if many transfer to an uptown or downtown line from 14th Street.”

In fact, the MTA model assumes that only a small fraction of those 225,000 interborough trips will still be on 14th Street without the L train. Overall, including M14 riders, the MTA estimates 84,000 people will be using the 14th Street bus services during the L shutdown, Tarek said.

That’s still a very large number of people for one crosstown bus route to handle. If there’s no busway to get people across Manhattan on 14th Street efficiently, many of those people will opt for for-hire vehicles instead — creating exactly the traffic overload that people like Judy Pesin and Arthur Schwartz think they’re trying to avoid.