No way for 14th St. ‘busway,’ but yes for SBS

BY RICO BURNEY | Fourteenth St. won’t be getting a no-cars “busway” — but apparently will be getting Select Bus Service.

On Wed., Feb. 20, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority presented its preliminary proposal for permanent M14 Select Bus Service a.k.a. SBS on 14th St.

According to people present at the meeting, the M.T.A. pitch was light on specifics, but appears much less dramatic than the plans for the busway, which would have barred most private vehicles from using the street during most hours of the day.

The busway was part of the city’s so-called “alternative service plan” to help mitigate the impact of a full shutdown of the L train for needed repairs to its East River tubes. Following Governor Cuomo’s intervention earlier this year, however, the full-shutdown scheme has been replaced by a less-intensive “slowdown,” under which the L tunnel will be repaired on weeknights and weekends, with one tube always remaining open for service.

A map showing the route of the proposed Select Bus Service for the 14th St. crosstown that was recently put out by the M.T.A. on an e-mail blast. The routes have legs through the East Village and Lower East Side.

Currently, the new planned SBS route calls for fewer stops by the M14, particularly in the East Village and Lower East Side, as well as off-board ticketing. The M.T.A. has not decided yet whether it will eliminate current M14A and M14D service following SBS implementation. But, officials at the meeting said the authority was “open” to that idea.

Many seem to welcome the idea of creating SBS for the 14th St. crosstown route. But residents and transportation advocates remain divided on the street-design question, which went mostly unaddressed due to it being a presentation by the M.T.A., not the Department of Transportation.

Supporters of either a busway or dedicated bus lanes on 14th St. note that the Riders Alliance ranked the M14, which reportedly travels at an average speed of 4 mph, as one of the slowest buses in the city.

“I support a dedicated SBS lane on 14th St., with physical barriers that would exclude other vehicles except emergency vehicles,” state Senator Brad Hoylman told this paper on Fri., Feb. 22. Hoylman argued this is needed because, “between the L train and buses, 80,000 people travel across 14th St. each day. To put that in perspective, that’s more people than the entire population served by mass transit in some major American cities.”

The same day as the M.T.A. meeting, activists with Transportation Alternatives and other advocacy groups held a “race” against the M14: They walked alongside the bus to demonstrate that walking is sometimes quicker than the bus, and show the need for restricting other traffic along 14th St. The activists lost by a mere five seconds in the race from Avenue A to Union Square.

On the other hand, residents like Judy Pesin, of the 14th St. Coalition, which has been the busway’s most vocal opponent, argue that restricting traffic in any way along 14th St. would negatively impact residents throughout the surrounding area.

“As long as the street maintains its original four lanes — which continues to be a priority for us — we support improved service across 14th St. and will welcome the SBS service with its off-board ticketing,” Pesin said of the M.T.A.’s presentation. “Access to transportation for residents and business is critical.”

D.O.T. has yet to say whether it will install a dedicated bus lane for the new service. However, street markings that were already added for the anticipated busway are still out there.

One thing that does appear clear, though, is that the busway proposal has run out of gas.