Battle over 14th Street bus service continues as L train partial shutdown nears

With the L train partial shutdown less than two weeks away, the MTA’s plan to remove 17 bus stops is seen as impractical by some residents.

Lower East Side residents and the MTA are still battling over changes to 14th Street bus service less than two weeks before the L train partial shutdown is set to begin. 

The authority aims to launch Select Bus Service along that route, which runs from the Lower East Side to the West Village, as well as on the M14D route from the Lower East Side to Chelsea Piers before June. But residents addressing an MTA board meeting argued that removing the stops would unfairly penalize regular riders.

“Increasing the speed of the buses would be great but this is an expense that does not make sense for the actual riders of the bus,” said Caroline Laskow, a Lower East Side resident and member of the Grand Street Democrats group. “The population on the Lower East Side is growing and as other people have mentioned this is not simply a crosstown bus — it starts at the FDR, where people are a mile from the nearest subway station.”

Laskow said slow buses were a symptom of the broader issue of poor traffic management that needs to be more adequately addressed. 

The MTA currently plans to remove 17 bus stops in total from both the M14A and M14D as part of their SBS conversion. Since SBS launched in 2008, changes like reduced stops and off-board fare payment have helped make those routes 27% faster than other local or limited-stop bus routes, according to the MTA. 

“They don’t seem to have the understanding [that] moving those stops a block, maybe two…is a hardship for people who are elderly or in some way impaired,” said Frances Sussman, who lives in the neighborhood.

The opposition is a textbook example of the political challenges the MTA faces when taking steps within its control to improve bus speeds. Outside experts and officials at the authority agree that increasing the space between the agency’s unusually close bus stops is an important step in increasing bus speeds. 

The disagreement is also a reminder of the lingering unanswered questions as the MTA plans to begin the L line’s Canarsie tunnel rehabilitation on April 26. The work will significantly reduce L train service to and through Manhattan, with trains on nights and weekends running every 20 minutes between the Eighth Avenue station in Manhattan and Lorimer Street in Brooklyn. 

Originally, under a full L train service shutdown, the MTA and DOT planned a bus-only corridor on 14th Street for the new SBS service. Now, the city appears to be scuttling the busway after MTA executives signaled that it would likely not be necessary for the new reconstruction plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled in a last-minute, surprise announcement in January. And SBS service has taken on lesser importance.

NYC Transit President Andy Byford pledged to take the locals’ concerns to heart as he tried to balance bus speed improvements with neighborhood needs. 

“It’s very much an active debate," he said. "We are talking with our colleagues at DOT. So I want to be completely transparent here; the reason that we are having the debate about stops is because we’re trying to speed up service. We get a lot of complaints about service on the 14th Street corridor, but we do understand that it’s not a classic east-west route; we do understand that there’s a huge community concern on the Lower East Side."

“What I’ve learned in 30 years in transit, though,” Byford added, “is you cannot please everyone.”

Vincent Barone