Plans for L-train shutdown face resistance from 14th Street residents



M14 crosstown bus on 14th Street. Photo: Emily Paulin.

In April 2019, New York’s busy L-train will stop its regular journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan for an extensive renovation job that will not only impact commuters, but also residents who live near the planned detour on West 14th Street.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a late August press conference in Williamsburg, described the looming closure as “one of the biggest disruptions of existing transit service we’ve ever been through.” The shutdown, which will close all subways stops on the L-line from Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn to Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, allows for a 15-month reconstruction project on the damaged Canarsie Tunnel, which experienced flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Approximately 275,000 daily commuters will be directly affected, according to data from the Metropolitan Transport Authority and the New York City Department of Transportation, with thousands more New Yorkers feeling the shutdown’s repercussions.

One group that will feel the strain is the community on and around West 14th Street. Come April, they’ll inhabit the busiest bus corridor per mile in the entire United States, according to the MTA and DOT’s current mitigation plan. The plan transforms eastbound and westbound traffic along 14th Street into a heaving path of shuttle buses carrying an expected 84,000 displaced L-train commuters daily.

To pull this off, a new fleet of local and express buses will be the only vehicles other than emergency services authorized to use 14th Street as a thruway. The buses will run every one to two minutes in each direction from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. All other motorists needing access to 14th Street will be permitted to turn onto 14th Street from the avenue closest to their destination, and will then be required to exit 14th Street at the next legal turn.

The new plan also includes expanded sidewalks to accommodate a predicted increase in pedestrian traffic, which means car lanes on 14th Street will be reduced.

As for cyclists, they’ll be removed from 14th Street entirely and relocated to new one-way bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets. All of the changes are aimed at keeping commuters moving. But some locals think the plan has major problems.

“We are concerned about the quality of life in our very, very happy little neighborhoods,” said David Marcus, a resident on 13th Street who has lived in the area for 48 years. “We don’t want somebody trashing it.”

Marcus, with his wife Julianne Bond, founded the 14th Street Coalition in January, just weeks after the MTA and DOT unveiled their initial L-train mitigation proposal. The coalition wants to make changes to the current plan to strike a more even balance between the needs of displaced commuters and those of the 14th Street community, said Marcus.

“As people that are affected 24/7 by this, we need a seat at the table to at least get some sort of a compromise with the folks that are only commuting in the morning and the evening to and from work,” he said.

There are eight recommendations in the coalition’s most recent proposal, which was presented to City Council this past June. The first and main request calls for the 14th Street’s current vehicular lanes and sidewalk widths to remain untouched, in order to keep vehicles on 14th Street and off nearby residential streets.

“Where are all those cars and trucks going to go when they’re faced with a bottleneck on 14th Street?” said Marcus. “We’re going to feel the brunt of it.”

Christine Berthet, the co-chair of Community Board 4’s Transportation Committee, is similarly concerned.

“The major impact is going to be the traffic pushed away from 14th Street, which is going to try and use 15, 16, 17 and 18th Streets as an alternative,” said Berthet. “Those streets are very residential and we’re concerned that too much traffic there is going to be really disruptive.”

But not all community members are calling for changes to the proposal.

“Aside from it being majorly inconvenient, I see no problem with the plan,” says Martin Lugo, manager of 14th Street pet store Beasty Feast. “Unfortunately construction needs to be done. It’s a big city and we’ve all just got to grin and bear it and get through it.”

Edward Kent, owner of Economy Best Vision & Hearing, also located on West 14th Street, agreed.

“As long as the city makes sure that people can go to the different stores and locations they have to go to, they shouldn’t be stopped.”

Certain communities may actually benefit from the plan. There’s “tremendous opportunity” for the local cycling community, according to Dan Suraci, a consultant for the New York Bicycling Coalition.

“I see so much potential here to capture some of those trips that are currently on the L train and really drive ridership,” he said. “I think bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets are very prudent,” he added.

But an increase in cyclists brings its own issues, explains Suraci. With ridership expected to double at a minimum under the mitigation plan, the question of parking arises.

“Today, there’s not enough bike parking as is,” he said. “You don’t want to have bikes on trees, or on scaffolding, or blocking pedestrian access.”

The MTA or DOT did not respond to requests for comment.

The 14th Street Coalition has filed a federal lawsuit against the MTA and DOT about the environmental impact of the proposed mitigation plan.

 “We’re just going to keep going at it and hope we can come to something that everyone can live with,” said Marcus. “In my business we used to say, if you negotiate a deal and everybody goes away a little bit unhappy, that’s a good deal.”