PeopleWay? No way! Villagers fear traffic-free 14th St. scheme

BY DENNIS LYNCH | Members of the public and of Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee last week discussed solutions to the expected transit nightmare that is the looming L train shutdown, particularly Transportation Alternative’s PeopleWay proposal. That plan would shut the thoroughfare to cars and trucks to make room for protected bike lanes and increased bus service, which proponents say is the only way to handle the volume of travelers that the L train currently moves along 14th St.

Many at the meeting supported parts of the plan, particularly increased bus service akin to the Select Bus Service that would have all-door boarding and sidewalk ticket purchasing to expedite boarding.

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, advocating for his group’s PeopleWay plan for 14th St. during the coming L train shutdown in Manhattan. So far, though, the city has not been very forthcoming in responding to the proposal.
A Transportation Alternatives activist advocating for the group’s PeopleWay plan for 14th St. during the coming L train shutdown in Manhattan. So far, though, the city has not been very forthcoming in responding to the proposal.

The city will completely shut down the L train on 14th St. for at least 18 months at the start of 2019 to repair damage in the Canarsie Tunnel that was caused by Hurricane Sandy. Taking the tunnel offline for repairs will leave 225,000 passengers who take the train on weekdays from Brooklyn to Manhattan, as well as 50,000 passengers who use it exclusively in Manhattan every day for crosstown service, without a subway train, according to figures from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Many still wanted more data on the types of vehicles now on 14th St. so that they could determine which should and should not be banned. Utility vehicles, delivery trucks and emergency vehicles would have to be able to move efficiently across 14th St., “because there’s still gas lines on 14th St. no matter what they do,” as one public member put it.

Officials from the M.T.A. and the Department of Transportation were noticeably absent from the meeting, just as they’ve been at other community meetings regarding TransAlt’s plan. The two agencies are studying the feasibility of shutting down traffic on 14th St. after local politicians, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, urged them to do so.

Some at the meeting said that a decision can’t be made without some more comprehensive information to answer questions about the current motor and pedestrian traffic on 14th St. For example, where are drivers coming from? What do they use 14th St. for? And what causes the most congestion along 14th St.? Some predict that the M.T.A. and D.O.T. study will find the PeopleWay proposal unfeasible — mainly because the agencies weren’t interested in the plan from the start.

“There needs to be more of a response [to the PeopleWay plan] from the city,” said Eric Coler, a member of the C.B. 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee. “The M.T.A. and D.O.T. are probably just going to put a plan together while we discuss this.”

While people at the meeting were generally supportive of a shutdown plan for the major crosstown boulevard in some form, others in the neighborhood already made it clear to elected officials that they are not in support at all. People living on crosstown streets just north and south of 14th St. have been particularly vocal about their concerns that the PeopleWay plan does not take into account the flood of vehicles that they fear will pour onto neighboring streets.

Around 70 people gathered at a W. 12th St. Block Association in November to discuss the PeopleWay plan with elected officials. Many slammed the scheme, including Carol Greitzer, a former city councilmember and current co-chairperson of the block association.

Greitzer said that the streets are busy enough and can’t handle the mass of crosstown traffic that would spill over from 14th St. Stores on 14th St. also would be hurt if deliveries were limited, and elderly 14th St. residents could suffer, too, if they were unable to catch a cab home, she said. And there are other conflicts only residents would know about, she noted. For example, Greitzer called 12th St. an “unofficial” ambulance route. The huge number of trucks that would spill onto the street would effectively end its use by ambulances, she predicted.

“If people had a way to eliminate traffic in all of Manhattan, I would be all for that,” Greitzer said. “But I don’t want them to just take it off 14th St. and dump it onto 12th St. and the other streets. You can’t just ban cars without having some solution to these problems.”