Transit Groups Urge 24-Hour Restrictions on Williamsburg Bridge During L-Train Shutdown

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Transportation advocacy groups yesterday urged the city to take more steps to deal with the looming shutdown of the L Train.

Rider’s Alliance and Transportation Alternatives are demanding a 24-hour busway on 14th Street, as well as passenger vehicle restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge at all hours of the day and night. They pointed to a new analysis which predicts a “nightmare scenario” in Lower Manhattan if the MTA and Department of Transportation stick with their current plan.

Back in December, officials unveiled their preliminary scheme to cope wit the 15-month shutdown, which is set to begin at about this time next year. The plan calls for restricting the Williamsburg Bridge to high occupancy vehicles during rush hour, sending 70 shuttle buses an hour over the bridge, creating bus-only lanes on 14th Street and adding ferry service to and from Brooklyn.

Transportation Alternatives commissioned a study to evaluate the mitigation proposal. In one section, the study authors state:

Given that the Williamsburg Bridge is already heavily congested, not only in the morning but pretty much all day, even a very small increase in car traffic on the bridge can have dire consequences. If all the displaced L Train passengers tried to take an Uber or Lyft into Manhattan, there would need to be between 12 and 19 additional bridge and tunnel lanes, and since there is zero additional bridge and road capacity, the result would be miles of gridlock lasting much of the day.

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City and MTA officials believe that most commuters will take other subway lines (J, M, Z, G). But the bridge will obviously be overburdened with only a small percentage of L-Train riders taking buses on private cars. According to the current plan, the outer deck will be for bus, truck and high occupancy vehicles turning right onto Clinton Street. Other HOV traffic will likely be restricted to the inner lanes.

The groups are raising the possibility of banning right-hand turns from Delancey Street as a way of alleviating congestion leading to the bridge:

The Manhattan side exit of the Williamsburg Bridge backs up for much of the day, not primarily because of the capacity of the bridge, but because of the capacity of Delancey and Kenmare Streets. At every intersection, a lane is lost for every turning movement allowed. Vehicles turning right are generally stuck behind crossing pedestrians, and right turns are allowed with a busway in the right lane, the busway will be blocked by the turning movements in the same manner the current M15 SBS is blocked at many intersections. One way to minimize the risk that the Williamsburg Bridge will congest is to disallow right turning movements along Delancey Street, at least as far as Allen Street. Similarly, turning movements should be disallowed on Allen and Kenmare Streets.

No matter what the city and MTA do, there’s sure to be a huge impact on the streets surrounding the Williamsburg Bridge. This is one reasons local activists and elected officials have been urging the city to finally unveil a plan to deal with a related transportation problem: gridlock on Grand and Clinton streets. As we have been reporting, the DOT has repeatedly delayed making recommendations to deal with that congestion issue.

Officials are expected to finalize the L Train mitigation plan during the summer.