When JWA first learned of this competition, we were both intrigued and excited by the prospect. With so many of our own designers living in Brooklyn, all of us understood the significance of the L-train shutdown on a personal level. And as green building enthusiasts and fans of the Transportation Alternatives mission, we were inspired by the opportunity to dream of a greener, cleaner and safer 14th Street.
Our proposal was influenced by the Regional Plan Association and Riders Alliance Community Consensus proposal to create a car-free transitway along 14th Street and the concept of the "Superblock" which was implemented in Barcelona. With the addition of advanced technological services for commuters along major city streets, we submitted a proposal reflecting the best of these concepts (see our proposal in full below).
We were delighted to learn that our submission was awarded third place! A huge congratulations to our designers, and many thanks to Transportation Alternatives, Gothamist and the members of the jury for this honor. We hope more designers and members of the New York community will be inspired to rethink the way we can shape our city.
When life gives you lemons...
The proposal to close the L train for 18 months was met with immediate horror and concern. With the rise of commuters from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the L train has provided a crucial method of transportation for residents crossing the East River with 14th Street serving as the connection hub to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. Despite this extreme and unavoidable action, these measures can be seen as a catalyst for designers, urban planners, community boards and local and state government to reconsider and reimagine how New York City’s streets operate and what purpose they can serve.
The L train closure provides the perfect opportunity to put innovative ideas of metropolitan transportation to the test. This all begins with 14th Street and transforming it into a more efficient and environmentally friendly zone. Per the Community Consensus Proposal from the Regional Plan Association and Riders Alliance, we must prioritize the movement of transit and people crosstown with a 14th Street Transitway that is closed to private vehicles. By prioritizing the modes of transportation proven most efficient – buses, bikes and walking – we can begin to redefine streets as community spaces.
RPA and the Riders Alliance recently released their proposal, “Fixing the L Train and Managing the Shutdown”. Their suggestions for transit improvements along 14th Street target closing significant portions of 14th Street to private automobiles. Taking this into consideration, we were also inspired by Barcelona’s radical implementation of the “Superblock” which would remove car traffic completely within specific blocks throughout the city, thereby redirecting car traffic around pockets of pedestrian only areas. We propose adapting this idea to specific blocks along 14th Street to help meet the priorities of RPA and the Riders Alliance plans.
The Manhattan Version of the Superblock would incorporate all key elements of the proposed 14th Street Transitway while also mitigating the consequential traffic congestion of neighboring streets. Rather than closing off the street in its entirety, we can use the Barcelona model to create blocks of private automobile free zones. As depicted in our site plan, 13th, 14th and 15th Streets would be closed to private vehicles with access limited to pedestrians, cyclists, buses and residents’ cars with permits. However, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 10th Avenues would remain open to all transit.
Currently, buses on 14th Street travel at a speed of 4mph. By eliminating cars, we can not only increase their speed but the volume of higher capacity buses and the number of trips within the existing bus system to accommodate the influx of commuters above ground. 14th Street itself would consist of 2 reduced-width bus lanes, as well as 2 bike lanes and well maintained sidewalks on either side.
THE STREET OF THE FUTURE
The MTA and the NYC DOT have the means and the methods to bring forth the changes proposed by the RPA and Riders Alliance. However, what more can we do to take advantage of a golden opportunity to redefine our city streets? JWA sees 14th Street as the possible Street of the Future, a model by which we can demonstrate a renewed focus on pedestrian safety, technological advancement, and environmental consciousness. When visitors and residents alike step onto 14th Street, they should be in awe, presented with a vision of what a modern, 21st Century street could and should be.
One of the city’s primary concerns is reestablishing the street’s hierarchy – the pedestrian is queen. In collaboration with the city’s efforts through Vision Zero, we can maximize pedestrian safety by reducing the number of cars on the streets, starting with 14th Street and possibly expanding a network of superblock zones throughout the city along its main boulevards.
After establishing the safety of our pedestrians, we should also provide state of the art amenities, such as seating, trash and recycling bins, bike racks, street lights, etc. LinkNYC has also already set up numerous kiosks along 14th Street, thus setting the pace for providing technologically advanced services. By introducing new and innovative technologies, we can also begin to promote urban courtesy, encouraging pedestrians to respect our streets with basic rules meant to keep the streets clean and safe.
14th Street also intersects with the southern end of the High Line, from which we can continue a similar expansion of greenery and public art. By promoting the planting of more trees, the use of environmentally friendly modes of transportation (bicycles, walking, electric buses), and the reduction of vehicular air and noise pollution, we can work to increase our national and global standing as one of the greenest metropolises.
The original goal for the closure of the L train was to repair the serious damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Displacing the vast number of people who use public transportation from below ground to above highlights the necessity of prioritizing safe spaces and transportation efficiency. The transformation of 14th Street to a public transitway is the first step towards evolving the city’s streets. Concurrently, adapting the Barcelona “superblock” idea in Manhattan would begin to establish a new network of pedestrian- and environmentally-friendly spaces while redirecting and improving the general flow of traffic within the city.