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Clearing the way: 14th Street wide open Thursday as Busway plan becomes reality

14th Street between 3rd and 9th Avenues is free and clear of passenger cars as the busway made its Oct. 3, 2019 debut. (Photo by Mark Hallum)
14th Street between 3rd and 9th Avenues is free and clear of passenger cars as the busway made its Thursday morning debut. (Photo: Mark Hallum/The Villager)

BY MARK HALLUM | Buses reigned through the raindrops on the first morning of the 14th Street Busway Thursday, as cops cleared the way for M14 buses — with few exceptions — to operate along six blocks of the bustling Manhattan thoroughfare.

Police were directing traffic at each corner, diverting cars mistakenly turning left or right onto 14th Street to give priority to buses which one rider said cut 15 minutes off of his commute.

Edward Jackson commutes from the Lower East Side to his studio in the Bronx, and said the longest part of trek is now much less painstaking.

“It’s been better since they rejiggered [the M14] into a Select Bus Service, my wife actually timed it and it cut about 15 minutes off my commute… We’re down on Grand Street and FDR Drive so for bus riders it’s a lot easier to get up to Union Square,” Jackson said.

Prioritizing bus traffic between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily on 14th Street came with opposition from the surrounding community concerned that traffic would only be displaced onto side streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as with many of his traffic improvement projects, was not keen on backing down from the proposal even in the face of a lawsuit that was struck down in court last week by an Appellate Court Judge who ruled against a coalition of local businesses led by advocate Arthur Schwartz.

“The new 14th Street busway is now in effect – and bus riders will finally get moving,” de Blasio said on Thursday morning. “This smart project will speed up buses while allowing for the car drop-offs and deliveries the neighborhood requires. Under our Better Buses plan, we are making changes citywide to fight congestion and to give people faster and more reliable transit.”

The busway sits on the border between Chelsea and the East Village represented by Councilman Keith Powers and Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. Both were optimistic the Busway would serve as a profound improvement on 14th Street.

“After months of delays, the implementation of the Department of Transportation’s busway is warmly welcomed,” Powers said.  “This is a significant step forward for innovative ideas in transportation. Under this plan, the M14 bus will experience much-needed improvements in traffic flow and residents will have more efficient travel options. Many thanks to advocates and my neighbors who have worked in support of this busway pilot program, as well as DOT for their commitment to this initiative.”

It was a no-go for cars headed west after 3rd Avenue. (Photo: Mark Hallum/The Villager)

Although the traffic enforcement cameras placed to issue tickets to drivers violating the restrictions are already in place, the de Blasio administration said they will only issue warnings for the first 60 days of the pilot program.

After that, the first violation will be $50. The fines will increase by $50 for each violation in a 12-month period, up to $250, according to the administration.

Later this year, the buses themselves will play a role in enforcing the Busway, as cameras mounted to M14 SBS will photograph violators who will receive summonses through the mail. The same fine structure will be in place.

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