This letter forms part of a dialogue involving the future of 14th Street in relation to the L Train shutdown planned for at least 18 months, beginning in 2019. Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit advocate for multi-modal transportation, has proposed that 14th Street be turned into a “PeopleWay.” This design would exclude private cars, carve exclusive lanes for buses and bicycles, and incorporate some of the widest sidewalks in New York City. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), as part of its Citywide Congested Corridors Project, will study the transportation conditions along 14th Street, between the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway. In addition to the L Train shutdown, the DOT will evaluate local truck routes, pedestrian use, subway connection points, and crosstown bus speeds in shaping design interventions for 14th Street. The idea of excluding private vehicles is unique within the context of a major thoroughfare and is therefore confronting opposition. The fiercest objections are coming from residents on immediately adjacent streets, which would absorb the increased traffic volume deflected from 14th Street.
—Andreea Ioana Pantor
Debra Keller’s thoughtful letter in the February issue of WestView regarding the proposed 14th Street “PeopleWay” contains some common assumptions about traffic flow, including the view that it is a river that can overflow its banks when constrained. In fact, our crosstown streets are constrained by rivers at both ends. They are not true through-streets like those leading to bridges and tunnels.
In his recent book on Jane Jacobs, Eyes on the Street, Robert Kanigel describes Jane’s fight in 1958 to close Washington Square Park to vehicular traffic. “The stanchions were put up and the park was cut off to cars”, he wrote. “The traffic jams ominously predicted by the City failed to materialize. The experiment was pronounced a success, and the park was liberated; it has remained so to this day.”
About 40 years ago, the Federal Department of Transportation pressured the City to narrow sidewalks on 14th Street. It was thought that consumers needed better auto access to stores. There was justifiable outcry from the community. The Union Square Community Coalition surveyed retail consumers and, lo and behold, discovered that virtually no customer arrived by car.
During the enlightened Bloomberg administration, then-NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan initiated several changes in our community to humanize our city, including adding safe curbside bike lanes, walking areas, seating, and landscaping around Union, Madison, and Times Squares and along 8th and 9th Avenues, as well as other locations. We now need cross only three instead of four lanes of avenue traffic.
This proposal for a “PeopleWay” can be truly transformative, making 14th Street a true pleasure for sitting, walking, and riding.
Provisions for deliveries and emergency can be retained. Maybe it is time to “liberate” 14th Street like Washington Square was 60 years ago.