(Photo: InSapphoWeTrust via WikiCommons)

With a slowdown of the L line beginning April 26, Manhattan residents are protesting the MTA’s plan to cut around 17 stops from the bus line that runs across 14th Street and through Alphabet City.

The proposed plan would turn the M14 A/D bus, which crosses 14th and runs up and down Avenues A and D, into a Select Bus Service (SBS) line. Certain local stops will be gone as soon as June or July, with every other stop in the Lower East Side being eliminated.  

The MTA claims that between bus stops and traffic, M14 buses are stationary during 60 percent of their travel time. The agency believes it can increase efficiency by eliminating stops and installing kiosks that will allow passengers to board through three bus doors instead of just one.

Critics of the plan say that cutting stops won’t make a significant difference, and will be a setback for the disabled, elderly, and other local residents.

“The buses run slowly because of traffic, not because of the number of stops,” says Caroline Louise Laskow, the district leader of the Grand Street Democrats, a community organization focused on improving transportation and development in the Lower East Side. “If you don’t address congestion, nothing significant will change. Making the M14 an only-SBS bus is not the solution.”

The MTA held four informational sessions in March and April to discuss the partial closure of the L train and alternative transit measures. After the Manhattan session earlier this month, the Grand Street Democrats wrote that “this wasn’t outreach. This was a disgrace.”

Laskow said that MTA officials haven’t engaged in “meaningful consultations” and showed no desire to do so during the session. “One person had a business card. One. They kept saying, ‘Here’s the data,’ but never once actually addressed the needs of the residents who will be affected by this.”

MTA staff assured meeting attendees that the installation of camera monitors would reduce congestion by detecting whether cars were in bus routes.

Susan Bowen, an East Village resident, was among the local residents who wore “NO SBS” shirts at the meeting. “You know, I’m a senior but I’m fairly mobile,” she said. “I can walk a couple extra blocks if the 1st Ave stop is no longer around. But a lot of other people can’t do that. And with lack of accessibility on the subway, for some people the bus is our best way to get around the city.”

City Council member Carlina Rivera, of District 2 in Manhattan, has called the possible elimination of stops “very, very disturbing and concerning.” In June, when it was believed the L train would shut down completely for 15 months, she sent a letter to NYC Transit Authority president Andy Byford recommending alternatives such as double decker buses, better ADA-compliant transportation, and improved bike lanes.

In July, Byford said in an MTA press release that SBS service on 14th Street was a critical step needed for transit alternatives. “By implementing the M14 SBS months before we start the train tunnel repairs, we hope that customers will take the opportunity to try our buses and see how the 14th Street busway can factor into their commutes once we start work fixing the train tunnel.”

Barbara Hertel, who commutes on the L train every day, believes there needs to be a priority bus lane. “You need bus lanes. You have cars parking in bus routes. That’s what makes them slow, Not the number of stops.”

For Judy Pesin, a spokesperson for the 14th Street Coalition— a group of community members fighting for better transportation alternatives– thinks an SBS route is a viable option. But the coalition has certain recommendations for the MTA, which they hope the transit officials take seriously. The coalition believes the restrictive bus lanes should be implemented only during peak hours. “They want a vehicle ban from 5am to 10pm, which just isn’t needed. It then just places the traffic on parallel streets which can’t support the flow. 14th street is the only designated street between Houston and 23rd Street which can support trucks.”

Construction on the L train will begin April 26; on weeknights from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., and weekends, train service will be reduced to every 20 minutes between Bedford Avenue and 8th Avenue in Manhattan. The repairs are expected take 15 to 18 months.