BREAKING: City to Keep 14th Street ‘Busway’ Plan Despite No L-Train Shutdown

An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps
An appeal slowed down the M14 Busway, but a ruling on Friday may jumpstart it. Photo: Google Maps

This just in: the de Blasio administration will move ahead with a bus-only plan for 14th Street.

The so-called “busway” had been created for the L-train shutdown, but has been in limbo ever since Gov. Cuomo shelved the full closure of the Canarsie Tunnel under the East River in favor of a nights-and-weekend plan. Late Tuesday, amNY reported on a draft proposal that would maintain the stepped-up bus service — and on Wednesday morning, the city issued the formal confirmation via press release (and no live questions from reporters).

The city is calling the 18-month experiment “14th Street Transit/Truck Priority.” It will set aside 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues for buses only, albeit with local car dropoffs and deliveries. There will be no parking along the stretch, but images provided by the city Wednesday morning show that DOT plans to scrap the painted sidewalk extensions it began to install ahead of the L shutdown, and replace them with loading and dropoff lanes wide enough to accommodate double-parkers.

At intersections, the parking zones will give way to bus stops and adjacent bus-only lanes for boarding — which could keep cars and trucks from blocking the dedicated bus lanes in both directions.

“The new design builds on proposals made during the original L train planning process, but also incorporates key feedback from local residents to ensure that curb access remained available, and that through truck traffic not be diverted to local streets,” the city said in a statement.

The restrictions on cars will be enforced by camera once the 14th Street SBS service begins in June, the statement continued.

The new configuration. Source: DOT
The new configuration. Source: DOT

The city emphasized that this is an “experiment.”

“We have an opportunity to try something new and really get bus riders moving on one of our busiest streets,” de Blasio said in the statement. “As we continue to address congestion across New York City, this is an experiment that, if successful, could provide us another tool to move buses faster and save people valuable time for the things that matter.”

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Nick Sifuentes hailed the announcement.

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio and the city Department of Transportation for doing the right thing,” Sifuentes said in a statement. “The L train ‘slowdown’ threatens to be a slow-motion crisis for hundreds of thousands of daily L train riders. Making 14th Street a bus-priority street closed to non-local traffic will mean buses can play a huge role in picking up the slack when the L train is down. The busway will help keep New Yorkers moving while still preserving residents’ and delivery vehicle access. This is a big win for commuters who were waiting with bated breath to see how we would manage to get around during the L train slowdown.”

The Riders Alliance shared the joy.

“The 14th Street busway is a bold, historic step forward for New York. Putting riders first when the L train slows down shows real commitment to transit by city leaders,” spokesman Danny Pearlstein said in a statement. “Starting in June, riders will have a quick, reliable, subway-like way to get across Manhattan even while the L is under construction.”

The mayor’s press release had one key omission: It did not include a statement from Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who did not want it to go forward without more consultation with “the community.” (Johnson is on vacation and we expect him to have more to say upon his return.) (Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, long a champion of the busway, again hailed the proposal. “The best way forward has always been to embrace and enhance environmentally friendly forms of transportation, like bus service and increased bike access,” she said.)

The news came hours after MTA officials appeared to be goading Mayor de Blasio into sticking with his original busway plan. On Tuesday, the New York City Transit Twitter account had not-so-subtly reminded the mayor that buses will play a vital role in getting people around once the 18-month night-and-weekend repair work begins on Friday.

When you think about how the #LProject will impact your travel, other trains might come to mind first — but consider that buses might actually be your best bet to get across town in Manhattan,” the agency wrote, championing the mayor’s decision even before he apparently made it.

Governor Cuomo’s decision to call off a full L-train shutdown and replace it with the overnight repairs had created confusion about the fate of the 14th Street busway. East Side Council Members Carlina Rivera and Keith Powers both support retaining the busway, but Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whose district covers part of the West Side, has been more circumspect. But the passage of congestion pricing may provide de Blasio with a rationale for moving forward, given that there will be fewer cars in Manhattan once central business district tolling goes into effect in 2021.

Indeed, earlier this month, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg hinted that congestion pricing would have broader ramifications beyond merely raising toll money for the MTA.

“It certainly would open up a lot of pretty transformative possibilities,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “If congestion pricing is implemented well, there could be tremendous quality-of-life benefits.”

Lawmakers will be briefed on the plan at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, a source told Streetsblog.