rethinking 14th street

| 04 Apr 2017 | 05:32

Can you imagine 14th Street without cars? Transportation Alternatives, a group advocating for more cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly streets, along with news website Gothamist, asked New Yorkers to do just that by participating in a contest to redesign the street for heavy traffic in the wake of the L train’s impending closure. When that time comes, thousands of commuters will be forced to come up with an alternative route. Or rather, an “L-ternative.”

TransAlt’s “L-ternative Visions: Reimagining 14th Street and Beyond” contest solicited innovative ways to adapt 14th Street to the reality of life without the L train by showcasing “what a 21st Century street can be, with strong priority for more efficient modes,” according to TransAlt’s website. “The ... crisis that we’re all about to face is unique in many ways, but it’s also, as you know, emblematic of the deterioration that we’re seeing throughout our transit system,” Paul Steely White, TransAlt’s executive director, said at the event announcing the finalists March 29. “The ideas that you pioneered throughout this competition are going to be relevant not just for this competition but for, I think, any other streets ... as we try to find more efficiency and more capacity with our service network.”

Urban planning and architecture firms participated in the competition, but the members of the nameless group that took first place were identified in amNY as Christopher Robbins, Cricket Day, Becca Groban and Kellen Parker, who described themselves as “four friends who argue about this stuff all the time.”

Their vision is called “14th St.OPS,” and it proposes to close 14th Street to vehicular traffic, except for a shuttle bus that would “run on dedicated bus lanes in a continuous crosstown loop every four minutes during rush hour, along with a revamped M14 SBS.” Emergency vehicles would have access to the lanes, with bus stops doubling as delivery zones at night so local businesses wouldn’t suffer. Five pedestrian malls would host flea markets and playgrounds, as well as guide pedestrian traffic.

Designs by Practice Architecture and Urbanism and the firm James Wagman Architect took second and third places, respectively. During the award ceremony, a teacher at Landmark High School, which is on West 18th Street, spoke up for students who use 14th Street regularly. “Some kids ride back-and-forth to school, and they all know that 14th Street is kind of a terrible place to ride a bike, so they’re excited about the possibility of having a nice, stress-free commute,” he said.

The MTA’s board met on Monday morning and voted to at last to close the line for 15 months starting in April 2019. The agency has been open to the idea of banning cars from 14th Street, but no details of their official plan have been revealed.

In its proposal, the winning team urged the city to take any risks necessary to make up for the loss of the L. “Ambition is what the [Department of Transportation], the MTA, NYC Parks Department and the Business Improvement Districts along 14th Street must aspire to on 14th Street,” the group wrote. “8.5 million people are counting on it.”

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at