L train shutdown contest searches for best way to reimagine 14th Street

The key to commuting around the L train shutdown is likely hiding in plain sight: buses.

Some 250,000 daily commuters will be without L train service to and through Manhattan in 2019, when the MTA plans on shuttering service for a necessary rehabilitation of the line’s Canarsie Tunnel, which was badly damaged by floodwaters from superstorm Sandy. 

Planners have proposed everything from floating pedestrian tubes to gondolas across the East River, but one design competition took a decidedly more practical approach at solving the looming L train shutdown.

The nonprofit Transportation Alternatives and the news blog Gothamist on Wednesday unveiled the winners of their “L-ternatives” competition to transform Manhattan’s 14th Street into a car-free corridor. The idea was to find the best way to prioritize shuttle buses on the congested street to serve the hundreds of thousands of daily commuters who rely on the L train each day.

“This really gives us an opportunity to reimagine 14th Street and find the best way to absorb all the people looking to get around the L train during the shutdown,” said Thomas DeVito, director of organizing at Transportation Alternatives, which presented the contest winners at a shared workspace near Union Square.

The architecture and planning groups PAU and James Wagman Associates placed second and third, respectively in the competition. But a team of “four friends who argue about this stuff all the time,” as one member put it, presented the winning proposal.

Their idea, called “14th St.OPS,” would close 14th Street to cars to create a shuttle bus service on dedicated bus lanes (like Select Bus Service) across town with bike lanes placed in the middle of the street. It would create five pedestrian malls to ease foot traffic while also allowing the option for playgrounds, “dumpster gardens” and flea markets.

To help Brooklyn commuters, a second shuttle bus route, with a dedicated lane, would branch off from 14th Street and Union Square. Lafayette Street would be closed to vehicular traffic to serve buses carrying passengers over the Williamsburg Bridge via Manhattan’s Fourth Avenue, Lafayette and Delancey streets. 

The concept is “radical while also being practical,” according to Cricket Day team members Christopher Robbins, 31, a city editor at the Village Voice, and Cricket Day, 30, who works in landscape architecture. Their two other team members, Becca Groban and Kellen Parker, were unable to make the event.

The city’s Department of Transportation and the MTA are expected to unveil their own plans to move commuters during the shutdown in the coming weeks. The DOT has been receptive to closing 14th Street to cars and has been looking into ways of doing so. 

“This will be on [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo, this will be on [Mayor Bill] de Blasio and elected officials to actually do something meaningful,” said Robbins. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the winners as a group called Cricket Day. The four do not in fact go by a moniker.