14th Street busway experiment could help get NYC moving

The 14th Street Busway. (Photo by Todd Maisel)
The MTA's plan for the 14th Street busway will launch on Thursday.
The MTA’s plan for the 14th Street busway will launch on Thursday. Photo Credit: Brick + Wood

 Will Thursday morning bring a carless 14th Street?  

It might not happen that quickly or easily, but ultimately, that’s the worthy goal of the ambitious new "busway" pilot that begins Thursday.

 If successful, the 14th Street busway could dramatically transform a key Manhattan thoroughfare and serve as a model  to be replicated at other bottlenecks across the city, loosening congestion, speeding up buses and changing driver behavior.  

The busway will mostly limit 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues to buses and trucks every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Cars will be able to use the busy crosstown thoroughfare for pickups or drop-offs, and then will have to make a right at the next intersection. 

This is a big victory for those who want better bus service and some cars off the streets. If the communication and coordination work, this will be a significant step for NYC and MTA officials, who are working together on the 18-month pilot.

Enforcement is critical, and will occur mostly through a combination of stationary cameras to catch vehicles   on 14th Street that illegally travel through intersections, and cameras on buses that capture vehicles illegally parked in the bus lane.. Education is key, too, as drivers have a 60-day grace period before the fines, ranging from $50 to $250 depending on the number of offenses, kick in. 

The busway starts this week after an appeals court gave a go-ahead, but the city remains in a legal battle with local residents concerned about traffic on nearby side streets. City officials have to evaluate the project and adjust as necessary. Making data on community feedback, traffic and bus travel times publicly available will help. 

Like pedestrian plazas, congestion pricing and other big changes, the busway will generate legitimate concerns and silly grumbles. But if residents follow the rules, and if the city and MTA can drive a successful project forward, this could become a pivotal part of getting people out of cars and moving them more quickly and safely by foot, bike or bus.

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