(Bloomberg) — Cars will be banned from lower Manhattan’s 14th Street, a major east-west thoroughfare, starting Thursday as part of an 18-month experiment to speed crawling crosstown travel.
A 1.1 mile stretch from 3rd Avenue to 9th Avenue, bordering Greenwich Village and Chelsea, will turn into a “busway” restricting car and truck traffic, creating a corridor of express buses, wide bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly walkways. The crosstown M14 bus, which carries about 27,000 riders a day, now takes more than 10 minutes to travel those six blocks during weekday rush hour.
“New Yorkers who ride the M14 are about to see their bus line transformed from one of the city’s slowest, into one of the fastest, practically overnight,” said Thomas DeVito, director of advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, a group pushing for policies to limit car-use and encourage mass transit and bikes in the city. “This should bring an end to the legal shenanigans that have been holding up these improvements for months on end.”
Aside from local businesses and residents, only buses, trucks and emergency vehicles will be able to use 14th Street as a through route. Local cars will be limited to pickups and drop-offs along the corridor and to access garages, and they will be required to turn off the street as soon as possible. Restrictions will be in effect seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The path to starting the pilot program was cleared Friday by a five-judge state appellate court panel that ruled 3-to-2 to end a temporary restraining order that has blocked it for months. They allowed the experiment while a lawsuit brought by a group of neighboring residents moves forward. Two dissenting judges said they would have waited until the policy received a full court hearing. Critics say it will divert traffic to nearby streets.
The change comes amid a growing push to ease congestion on Manhattan’s traffic-clogged streets. Earlier this year the state approved a plan to charge fees to motorists in Manhattan south of 60th Street.
“Thanks to this latest court ruling, the new 14th Street busway has gotten the green light,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has pushed for the plan. “This is a smart project that speeds up buses and leaves room for the drop-offs and deliveries the neighborhood needs. These are the changes we have to make as a city to fight congestion and give people transit options they can rely on.”
The extensive modifications were first contemplated ahead of a planned shutdown of an East River subway tunnel linking Brooklyn and Manhattan, which would have affected a train line running along 14th Street. Governor Andrew Cuomo scrapped that repair plan earlier this year when engineers from Columbia and Cornell Universities suggested a cheaper, easier fix, though it also entails reduced subway service and occasional disruptions.