By Paul Steely White
On any weekday, the Canarsie Tunnel, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan beneath the East River, hosts 250,000 L Train passengers. Corrosion and structural damage occurred after Hurricane Sandy and flooded the tunnel with seven million gallons of saltwater. This spring, the MTA announced that major repairs need to be made in the Canarsie Tunnel. The L Train will be shut down for repairs for at least 18 months beginning in 2019, from Bedford Avenue to Eighth Avenue.
In New York, traffic congestion is generally mitigated by the fact that millions of New Yorkers use subterranean travel. The chaos of the L Train shutdown will be most keenly felt on the roads and bridges that will have to handle the overflow, namely the routes directly above ground from the L—14th Street, Grand Street, and the Williamsburg Bridge. At Transportation Alternatives, we are floating a proposal that could help New York weather the L Train storm. The plan is called the 14th Street PeopleWay.
Researchers on my staff took a hard look at the L Train today and developed a planned transportation pathway that’s fit for people who walk, bike, or ride the bus. It can hold masses of New Yorkers and it could be replicable on any major street in the City. The PeopleWay is a new type of street bred for hyper-efficiency—no private cars, strictly exclusive lanes for buses and bikes, and some of the widest sidewalks that New York’s ever seen. The street is designed to move the most people in the least amount of space by giving priority to the most efficient methods of transportation. This could double the capacity of 14th Street.
New York in 2016 is at an overcrowded crossroads: Average weekday subway ridership is at 5.7 million, its highest since 1948. At 8.5 million people, the City is more crowded than it’s ever been. Climate scientists across the board predict that New York is going to get hotter, smoggier, and stormier, with bits of every borough submerged by rising sea levels by 2050.
When we talk about the future of our City in terms of sustainability, we’re talking about more than the natural environment. People will keep moving to the greatest city in the world, and New York needs to adapt to accommodate more humans. If we’re all going to squeeze into five boroughs, we will need to free up some space. Right now, the least efficient, most free-loading users of space are the private automobiles that sit parked at the edges of our sidewalks and stuck in traffic on our roads, most often only transporting a single person. New York’s future requires weaning off the automobile. The PeopleWay is the best route to that less crowded, less polluted, and more efficient tomorrow.
Paul Steely White is the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s leading advocates for bicycling, walking, and traffic safety for all.