Some time ago, we published a photo of Charles Street taken in the 1930s where there was only one car parked—just one.
Now, we have a fierce debate about banning private cars from 14th Street and reserving it for crosstown buses and bike lanes to replace the L Train. There is even talk about widening the sidewalks for old fashioned walkers, but is this the right thing to do?
There is no solution…
The concrete curse of New York traffic is the gridiron pattern decreed back at the start of the 19th century (I am sitting in a building locked into a 20-foot width by the whim of a city planner a century ago).
“I don’t want 14th Street traffic spilling over onto my street,” we hear. And yet, monstrous double-sized buses will hog 14th Street, which is already jammed with traffic (it takes twice as long to cross town on 14th than on 8th).
The solution is: Move to East Williston, Long Island.
Barry Benepe’s letter in your March issue alludes to some 40-year-old traffic study by the Union Square Community Coalition (USCC). Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate for me to clarify USCC’s current position regarding the various 14th Street proposals.
USCC is firmly opposed to any proposal—such as the so-called PeopleWay—that would eliminate or reduce private cars on this essential crosstown street. We believe that such changes would be detrimental for business (see what happened to Chestnut Street in Philadelphia when it was “mall-ified”) and disastrous for the adjacent crosstown streets—largely narrow and residential—which would be inundated by the traffic overflow from 14th Street.
Traveling crosstown anywhere in Manhattan is difficult enough without nonsensical re-designs. 14th Street is w-i-d-e and specially designed to accommodate vehicles that would damage narrow residential streets, some of which traverse historical districts. It would be utterly ridiculous to narrow such a street by widening sidewalks or installing bike paths. We should, instead, consider ways of speeding traffic, such as ending gridlock at intersections, and improving the enforcement of existing regulations.
A former NYC Council Member, Greitzer once chaired the Transportation Committee. She is currently a USCC board member.
Contrary to Arthur Schwartz’s seemingly logical conclusion (published in the March 2017 issue of WestView) that closing streets to automobiles diverts those same automobiles to boundary streets, actual experience demonstrates that is not the case. On page 75 of Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs quotes a study that states, “when a road is closed…as much as 60% of the traffic vanished.”
When Washington Square Village closed streets, the boundary streets of Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place were widened to accommodate the expected diverted traffic. But, the traffic never came and the sidewalks were widened to take up the 40-foot excess street width. Exactly the same thing happened on West 97th Street on the south side of Park West Village. In both cases, farmers markets, trees, and playgrounds were placed on the widened sidewalks instead of parked cars.
Rather than jumping to what seems like a reasonable conclusion, we should let those who grasp traffic planning and road design/use analyze the Transportation Alternatives proposal. It is bold, attractive, and humanizing, and may also generate a prosperous retail promenade. It could turn 14th Street into a unique, beautiful urban experience, as successful as the High Line. Since all of us walk the streets and few of us drive cars in Manhattan, we should design for those of us on foot, including children, young adults, and the elderly. As we improve our health through increased walking and bicycle riding, we will have less of a need to be rushed to hospitals for heart attacks.
I live near 5th Avenue, and recently learned of the new traffic-throttling plan of the NYC DOT. I ask you to reject it. They intend to escalate traffic and narrow the 5th Avenue roadway by 10 feet, from 23rd Street to 8th Street. As you know, congestion pricing was rejected firmly in the Bloomberg era. Now, the DOT is trying to deliberately create congestion and take away parking places so fewer and fewer people will use cars. This is pretty nasty stuff.
Bicycle lanes are not about bicycles; they are a method to narrow roadways and throttle traffic. Not only does this cost residents money in higher taxi fares and inconvenience in the form of slower bus and car service, it also threatens the lives of the residents on 13th Street and other side streets. As traffic becomes more and congested, emergency vehicles grow slower in response time. It also makes business deliveries more difficult and expensive, which we don’t need now. You may find extremist AstroTurf groups like Transportation Alternatives trying to shout their way to your approval. Ignore them. They are not residents of the area, and sure don’t pay taxes or live in the neighborhood.
The DOT plan is designed to bring the same misery to our neighborhood that they have brought to the rest of Manhattan. Please reject this vicious and unnecessary plan.
13th Street and 5th Avenue