Busway Transforms 14th Street

It's smooth sailing on the once jam-packed thoroughfare as the ban on most cars takes effect

13 Oct 2019 | 08:03

The buses have been liberated — at least on 14th Street.

Long, blue buses cruised easily down this typically congested artery in Manhattan last Wednesday morning, taking passengers to their respective destinations faster than ever before. It’s all thanks to the long-awaited busway pilot program, which has banned most private vehicles along the busy corridor in order to prioritize bus riders.

It’s made Fatima Cruz’s ride to and from work as a teacher at a school on Eighth Avenue a lot quicker, and getting to the bus a lot safer.

“Whenever I come from school I take this M14, and I see now that I can get across the street so easily,” Cruz said, motioning to the mostly empty block of 14th St. between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. “For me as a commuter, I like it.”

No "Hellscape" Yet

After months of a legal back-and-forth between the city’s Department of Transportation and neighborhood groups that opposed the car ban, a panel of judges gave the 18-month pilot program the green light at the end of September. It officially went into effect on Oct. 3, a little more than three months after it was originally scheduled to debut.

For the experiment, curbside parking has been eliminated between Ninth and Third Avenues and replaced with loading zones. From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., private vehicles are not permitted to drive along 14th Street, unless they are parking in a garage or making a pick-up or drop-off. The cars must then turn right off the street within a block or two.

As New Yorkers get used to the new rules of the road, police officers will be positioned at the intersections to direct traffic. Surveillance cameras will also be keeping watch.

Depending on the success of the pilot program, the ban on cars could not only be permanent — but could be replicated on other thoroughfares where buses crawl along their routes.

As reported by StreetsBlog NYC on Friday, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg hopes to use 14th Street as a model for projects not only in Manhattan, but in other boroughs as well.

“Where might we go next? Stay tuned. We’re thinking about that next,” Trottenberg said during a Q&A with New York Times reporter Winnie Hu. “The traffic on the side streets hasn’t turned into the apocalyptic hellscape that critics predicted.”

Not Everyone is Happy

Queens resident Domaris Molina, who comes into Manhattan and takes the M14 to see her doctor, said she was in favor of adding more bus-only corridors across the city and into the outer boroughs.

“Whatever helps you get to your destination faster, I’m all for,” Molina said. “At the end of the day, we’re the ones paying the taxes.”

Molina said it was nice to see fewer cars clogging up 14th Street, as well. “I was crossing the street, and I thought, ‘Huh, no traffic,’” Molina said.

But not everyone taking the bus last week was in total support of the new busway.

Nelly Elson, a Brooklyn resident who comes into Manhattan frequently, said she isn’t so sure that the bus won’t cause major traffic jams on the side streets. “I think getting across town is hard enough,” Elson said, adding that she thought there were other solutions besides banning private vehicles.

“Do what they do in Brooklyn,” she said. “Have one lane for buses and one lane for cars.”

Todd Henkles, a Manhattan resident who prefers the L train over the bus, said he thought the entire operation was frivolous. “It’s kind of silly,” Henkles said, adding that he saw a lot of empty buses because of how quickly they’re able to travel the route. “There’s no traffic. Two buses have departed just in the time I was getting my ticket,” he said. “I just don’t think they know what they’re doing.”

He also saw the use of officers to direct traffic as unnecessary. “It’s a ridiculous expense,” said Henkles. “They have traffic officers on every corner.”

As commuter Fatima Cruz noted, the busway won’t be able to make everyone happy, and it’s uncertain for how long it will last. But for now, the M14 select bus service might just be the hottest ticket in town.