Corey Johnson on the Car-Free 14th St. Busway: More, Please!

Corey Johnson — loves the busway. Photo: Emil Cohen
Corey Johnson — loves the busway. Photo: Emil Cohen

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who admits freely that he was once a skeptic of the city’s plans for a car-free “busway” on 14th Street, is now such an unabashed fan of the project that he wants to see more of them across many “major thoroughfares.”

Speaking on WNYC on Monday morning, Johnson called the 14th Street busway “exciting,” and added, “We should look at it on 34th Street, on 42nd Street, on these major thoroughfares.”

He said the first three weeks of the largely car-free experiment have not only decreased commute times, but also not inundated side streets with cars. And he has a personal insight, given that he lives on 15th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

“I was skeptical, but I was wrong,” Johnson said. “I thought that some of these streets would be parking lots.”

He then brought up the well-documented theory of induced demand, which holds that the more lanes created for cars, the more cars fill the added space. The same theory holds true in reverse, Johnson said.

“In Seattle, they tore down a highway that was carrying 90,000 cars a day, but the area around it did not see an overwhelming crush of traffic,” he said. “It looks like that theory or fact of induced demand is coming to fruition [on 14th Street]. When was the last time you ever heard anyone rave about getting on a bus and moving crosstown quickly? … So this is a raving success. It’s something to build on and be a model in other places.”

The city already has a plan — abandoned in 2011 in favor of car drivers — for a busway on 34th Street. And there have long been plans for a car-free Deuce. (Streetsblog has reached out to Johnson’s office for possible transit-only routes beyond the obvious streets he mentioned on air, such as Fordham Road or 37th Avenue in Queens, and will update this story when we hear back.)

Johnson also used the segment to push back against the notion that his Streets Master Plan bill amounts to a “war on cars.” Lee from Staten Island had called in to say that she resents any effort to restrict cars because she is disabled and needs her car to get to doctors’ appointments. She also pointed out that as a resident of Staten Island, her toll money goes to the MTA, which has not extended the subway to Staten Island as it should.

Johnson spun Lee’s less-than-typical situation into a positive.

“This is not about declaring war on cars, Lee, it’s about trying to improve the entire city because if we get cars off the road in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, it will make it easier for someone who must take a vehicle into Manhattan to get into Manhattan without congestion,” he said. “And the number 1 thing we need to do is invest in and make mass transit reliable and safe for New Yorkers who could take the subway. … For people that could abandon their cars and say, ‘The subway is working, the buses are working, I’m not going to take my car’ — if we had New Yorkers that did that, it would improve congestion for people who must use their cars like you. … So this master plan seeks to help people who are cyclists, pedestrians and people who take the bus. And if you do this in a holistic way, you will improve the entire system, the streets and the subways for all people, so that individuals like you, Lee, it will improve your commute time.”