L Train—14th Street Project Update and Aftermath

The 14th Street shutdown would have forced bikes to side streets, like this one, but can now be reconsidered since MTA’s non-shutdown plan was announced. Credit: DOT Vision Zero website.

By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

After months of valiant and sustained efforts to save their neighborhoods from an ill-advised MTA/DOT scheme for an L Train shutdown planned to start April 2019, local citizens persuaded Governor Cuomo to seek a 3rd opinion from engineers. Engineers recommended alternate plans, which do not require full shut-downs.

Since the Oct. 2012 Superstorm Sandy that caused the damage to the L train tunnels (and many others), MTA worked on a repair strategy, announcing one on their website Jan. 2017, without many details. Elected officials were caught off-guard, saying the plan differed from earlier discussions of changes.

The community then had to scramble to learn more about the plan, and appeal for better solutions. The appeals most often seemed to fall on deaf ears. Given the difficulty of volunteer groups to muster the resources to counter such a mammoth bureaucracy, how can one not be grateful that citizens’ voices are now being taken seriously, evidenced by Gov. Cuomo’s interventions?

With MTA’s acceptance of the L Train non-closure repair plan, the DOT’s anticipated daily 84,000 commuters above ground on 14th Street will not occur. Using the closure as an excuse for a “testing ground” for radical alternatives that changes our safety is still being fought, with these criteria:

  1. Abandon the 14th Street “busway” which includes an ‘unstated’ vehicle ban on 14th Street, diverting excessive traffic throughout the Village, Chelsea, and Flatiron, threatening their safety;
  2. Restore four-lane vehicular traffic on 14th Street;
  3. Cancel the 14th Street sidewalk expansions and bring back dedicated bus stops;
  4. Reconsider the bike lanes on 12th & 13th & 14th Streets.Andy Byford, President of NYC Transit, came to Community Board meetings to discuss the new plans in January. He said 95% of the MTA project is exactly the same, but they don’t yet have the full alternative service plan. They’re working this through with Polly Trottenberg, DOT Commissioner, e.g., bus lanes, bike lanes, bus service, etc. They need a few weeks to look at the engineering challenges, and that they’ll get back as soon as they know. Responding to a question for more electric buses, Byford said NYCT is buying 60 electric buses, including 15 articulated electric buses, and looking for a proper depot and on-street charging where buses lay over. The Fast Forward plan, he said, includes buses, not only the subway, and bus routes are being revised to meet demographic changes.
    Regarding signalization improvement, Byford said the L and 7 lines have been re-signaled. In answer to a question about installing disabled access, an elevator on 14th Street & 6th Ave. will be installed now, plus 36 more accessible stations in five years spaced to allow accessible stops closer to each other.
    The big question remains of how do we pay for all these repairs and improvements?
    Congestion Pricing could generate up to 1.7 billion dollars per year to help fund MTA NYC Transit’s Fast Forward Plan. CB2 fully supports the creation of a Congestion Pricing plan that will implement charges on vehicles entering the Central Business District (CBD), including tolls on the East River Bridges and added surcharges to Taxis and For-Hire-Vehicles, especially a trawling charge on unoccupied For-Hire-Vehicles, subject to reserving all of the monies being collected going into a ‘locked-box’ dedicated to MTA NYC Transit upgrades and repairs.
    Concerned citizens have taken it upon themselves to start a new Initiative to monitor the impact of the changes already felt within the neighborhood, and have launched The site is capturing issues and incidents, photos and videos to highlight the negative and perhaps dangerous changes to streets.
    It is not Zero Hour; there is still time to adjust; it ain’t over til it’s over, folks!

Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, is an architectural consultant in private practice.

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