There Goes the Neighborhood: The 14th Street Dilemma

Fourteenth Street is the longest cross street in New York City—river to river—and the southern border of The Grid, our 200-plus-block-long crisscross pattern of streets created “for commerce” in 1811 at the Street Commissioner’s office at the northeast corner of Bleecker and Christopher Streets, second floor. 

So it is Vintage West Village—and our official northern boundary. South of 14th is our south-of-the-border claim to the unique neighborhood we cherish (likewise Houston Street to the south). It is therefore a transformation to our personal sense of home that this long street has become the newly minted “corridor of public transportation” in a secretive Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) plot (see articles by Arthur Schwartz and others in our last few issues) to test the enhanced efficiency of buses by banning cars and diverting traffic in our already overly congested downtown Manhattan.

This is reminiscent of the superhighway that Robert Moses planned through the South Village, which would have demolished SoHo, the not-yet-formed Tribeca, and of course much of the West Village, which was defeated by Jane Jacobs and company. It’s also reminiscent of Moses’s plan to pave Fire Island, which now has no road and is one of the great coastal treasures of America.

The City has finally decided to cap the number of taxis, Ubers, Vias, Lyfts, and gypsy cabs (do they still exist?) at 120,000 by next year. These vehicles, along with the bicycles, pedestrians, trucks, and buses, have caused massive gridlock and strain on the city’s streets over the past five years, turning our neighborhoods into parades of vehicles. 

Now, as you cannot turn onto 14th between Third and Eighth Avenues from 7am to 10pm, all cars and vehicles are being forced north and south to be directed across randomly chosen cross streets, invading The Village and the 12th Street to 20th Street Chelsea neighborhood. 

This traffic plan is yet another elephant (or SUV) in the room. How can we maintain our Village and New York City character—so beloved to tourists and New Yorkers alike—if we make the massive influx of new vehicles and their dominance in our community-based city a never-ending obstacle to our time-honored neighborhood way of life?

My solution: Let’s once and for all drastically reduce the Ubers (read: company with a criminal history throughout the world), Lyfts, and Vias, not cap them at 120,000. They’re choking our streets, hogging our neighborhoods, and turning travel into an urban circus of commerce super-gridlock. 

I know this because 1) I am a driver and observe it in the traffic congestion, and 2) my daughter was for two years the Executive Director of the Committee for Taxi Safety (read: Yellow Taxi Owners). I have observed how palpable the suicides and despair of yellow taxi drivers are—unable to make ends meet—in this David and Goliath struggle. It’s crushing them. (She was the first spokesperson to call out Uber’s creepy and deceitful practices, leading—among other events—to the ouster of the CEO, Travis Kalanick.)

Corey Johnson and others may be right that the benefit to buses and bus riders might outweigh the damage to the West Village character and experience, but ignoring the real elephant in the room—the highly unregulated commercial rider industry (I call it the Uberfication of Urban America) will be at our collective peril… not something we cherish in our beloved West Village. 

I wrote an article years ago entitled “How High Is Up,” bemoaning the shanghaiing of the 57th Street and Manhattan (and now Brooklyn) skyline and the destruction of New York’s character. The same can be said of how congested our choked streets have become. 

Buses have their rightful place, but at what cost?

There goes the neighborhood!

—Bruce Poli

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