14th Street, Manhattan: A Congested Thoroughfare Transformed

The 14th Street busway has turned one of the city’s busiest streets into an open boulevard, and most of those who live nearby are enthusiastic.

Living On … 14th Street

14th Street, Manhattan: A Congested Thoroughfare Transformed

Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

When Phillip Hersh and his wife, Alexandra, moved into a brand-new apartment on the western end of 14th Street in 2013, they didn’t do it for the neighborhood. They liked the modern look and layout of the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium they bought for about $2.5 million, and the convenience of the street’s many subway stops.

“If you had asked me seven years ago, I would have said there is no neighborhood,” said Mr. Hersh, 37, who works in online advertising.

Now his area, the meatpacking district, has become a dynamic, growing community — and he is able to take advantage of a recent change that connects it more easily to the thoroughfare: the new 14th Street busway, a pilot program that began in early October and limits automobile access to the street for most of the day, transforming a formerly congested artery into a largely empty boulevard, save for the speedy buses that ferry people along it.

14th Street, Manhattan: A Congested Thoroughfare Transformed

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These days, instead of using Uber to take his 2-year-old son to preschool on the eastern end of the corridor, he hops on a bus. “It’s one-hundredth the cost, and pretty nice,” he said. “The trip used to take about 30 minutes; the longest it is now is 15 minutes.” His son enjoys it, too.

He and Ms. Hersh, 35, had feared, as others did, that with the new traffic rules they would have trouble finding a taxi or bringing their car around from their garage. But a short walk to a nearby avenue solves the taxi problem, he said, and the rules allow pickups and deliveries if a vehicle takes the next legal right turn. And with fewer cars, he added, “my wife and I feel safer.”

No one thinks that 14th Street, which traverses several neighborhoods from river to river, will ever be homogeneous. But because of the busway, its blocks — even those east of Third Avenue and west of Ninth that aren’t officially part of the busway, but are still affected by it — have more in common, observers say.

14th Street, Manhattan: A Congested Thoroughfare Transformed

A recently completed plaza at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 14th Street is lined with cobblestones and scattered with tables and chairs. Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

“I think the majority of residents like that the street is not as congested,” said Tamir Shemesh, an agent with Douglas Elliman Real Estate who is on the board of a 14th Street condominium. “It makes for a better quality of living. It’s a good thing.”

Uri Hanoch, an agent with Compass who has lived on the street for 20 years, said the busway also “changes the profile of the neighborhood from a real estate perspective. It increases the value of apartments and makes the street more appealing to more people.”

While crossing the street is easier, said Michael Normile, 67, who has lived near Union Square for more than 25 years, you still “have to watch out for bicyclists and skateboarders. I’ve been nearly killed a couple of times.”

And the sidewalks are as crowded as ever. But that’s part of what he likes about the area.

“It’s unique because it’s downtown, it’s a great transportation hub, and it’s vibrant, with all the young university students from Cardozo Law, the New School for Social Research, Parsons School of Design, New York University and maybe more,” he said. “It’s like living in the center of the universe. Everything is so convenient, all the train lines are here, everything is right here.”

Mr. Normile, a corporate and legal information specialist who retired recently, said he liked his building so much that he sold his studio apartment for $550,000 in 2016 and upgraded to a one-bedroom on the floor above, paying $960,000.

Pauline and Thomas Nakios moved to West 14th Street in 2002, soon after relocating to Manhattan from Atlanta, where Ms. Nakios had started a women’s clothing line called Lilla P. They were looking for a loft where they could live and work, and she didn’t want to be in the garment district.

“I wanted to break the mold, to do something fresh and different,” said Ms. Nakios, 47. But when her husband suggested a building that had recently been used to store meat, “I thought he was crazy.

“He was able to see the trend coming in the meatpacking district,” she said, at a time when high-end clothing boutiques were beginning to line the street. The landlord offered them a work area, an apartment on another floor and, in 2011, retail space at reasonable rates, said Mr. Nakios, 48, who is also a real estate developer.

“We were definitely happy,” Ms. Nakios said. “We were there when the neighborhood really hit its peak. As a resident, I felt we were on the cusp of something really big.”

It was especially convenient to live and work in the same building after their sons, now 10 and 13, arrived. Then residential living became illegal on their block, so they moved to an apartment around the corner but continue to work on 14th Street. Both enjoy the quieter street now that cars are mostly gone, but Mr. Nakios worries that it may result in fewer pedestrians coming to the area, which is still recovering from several years of construction work that kept some people away.

Ms. Nakios is more optimistic about the lack of congestion: “It has been great. I hope we’ll have more foot traffic in the spring.”

Fourteenth Street changes radically from river to river. New condos and high-end conversions of older buildings, mostly on its western side, mix with low-rise buildings that house apartments above stores. On the eastern end, rentals predominate.

345 WEST 14TH STREET, NO. 4A | A two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Chelsea with views of Gansevoort Square and the meatpacking district, in an 11-story 1960 building with a full-time doorman, a bike room, a roof deck and a gym, listed for $2.85 million. 212-319-2390Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

On the far west, a small park overlooks the Hudson River, and two more recreational areas are being developed. Pier 57 is being transformed into a mixed-use development with a food marketplace, offices and public open space. To its south, a 2.7-acre man-made island for arts and recreation, to be called Little Island, is scheduled to open in spring 2021; the $250 million public park is funded by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg.

There is access to the High Line via stairs or elevator near 10th Avenue, where a parade of stores, including high-end retailers like La Perla and Dior, begins. The nonprofit Meatpacking Business Improvement District is installing new trees and planters between 10th Avenue and Ninth Avenue, where a cobblestone plaza has just been completed and has already caught on as a place to hang out.

“We’re so excited about our 20,000 square feet of public plaza,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, the Business Improvement District’s executive director.

300 WEST 14TH STREET, NO. 301 | A three-bedroom, one-bathroom duplex loft condo in the West Village with an open kitchen, a washer-dryer and a terrace, in a landmarked former bank building with a full-time doorman, listed for $2,199,988. 917-686-9656Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

Moving closer to Seventh Avenue and farther east, the stores (and some of the apartment prices) get more down-to-earth — EZ Pawn Corp, a Salvation Army community center with a soup kitchen, a bubble tea store, and a bookstore.

At Union Square, where the holiday market is an annual draw, stores include Forever 21, Whole Foods and Nordstrom Rack. A Trader Joe’s with a wine shop is near Third Avenue.

The southern edge of Stuyvesant Town, a middle-class rental complex with numerous amenities, stretches from First Avenue to Avenue C. Fourteenth Street, or at least public access to it, ends abruptly at Avenue C, where a Con Edison power plant blocks the way. A narrow piece of the East River Greenway connects to East River Park at the base of 14th Street, but getting there requires a detour.

7 EAST 14TH STREET, NO. 916 | A one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op near Union Square Park, with wide-plank flooring and a separate kitchen in a building with a full-time doorman, a bike room, a laundry room and valet and dry-cleaning service, listed for $799,000. 347-439-8523Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

In late October, 29 apartments with 14th Street addresses were listed for sale, said Constantine Valhouli, director of research for NeighborhoodX, a real estate data and analytics company. The average asking price was $1.825 million; for co-ops, the average was $1.122 million, and for condos, $2.532 million. About half of the offerings were one-bedrooms, with an average asking price of $815,000 for co-ops and $1.461 million for condos; the two-bedrooms averaged $2.283 million.

Prices along 14th Street are generally in line with those in surrounding areas, Mr. Valhouli said, which include “some of the city’s most desirable and expensive neighborhoods.” In the past, traffic congestion made a 14th Street address “one of the least desirable addresses in those desirable neighborhoods,” he continued, but if the busway is extended beyond its 18-month pilot program, it is likely to “add value” and “be reflected in real estate prices over time.”

322 EAST 14TH STREET, NO. 2F  | A one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op in the East Village with an open kitchen, in a 1920 building, listed for $640,000. 917-207-1997Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

In mid-November, rents listed along 14th Street in Stuyvesant Town ranged from $3,645 for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment to $5,487 for a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a condominium building was offered for $11,000 a month, while a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in a co-op building was asking $3,950.

Fourteenth Street is the outer edge of several neighborhoods, including the East and West Village, Greenwich Village and Chelsea, and picks up a little of the flavor of each. It has a wide range of stores, but not so many restaurants, which tend to be on surrounding streets.

Thanks to the busway — part of a larger transit improvement effort — the street is a mellower place than it was earlier this year. But it still has bustling sidewalks crowded with shoppers and, in areas like the meatpacking district and Union Square, hordes of tourists.

The program has “worked from Day 1,” said Eric Beaton, a New York City Department of Transportation deputy commissioner. “People are in awe. Bus riders are actually happy.”

Over the summer, the M14A and the M14D were designated select buses, which streamlined the boarding process by requiring payment before riders get on the bus.

That alone led to speedier service, with ridership increasing as much as 37 percent, according to the M.T.A. Craig Cipriano, the head of the M.T.A.’s bus service, reported at a Nov. 12 M.T.A. meeting that bus speeds had increased by 29 to 56 percent and travel time was reduced by 22 to 38 percent.

Raised platforms and wider sidewalks at bus stops are also being added. “We take this seriously as a pilot,” Mr. Beaton said. “We want it to be better, with no negative spillover on the neighborhood. We’re very focused on making this a success.”

Among the schools students may be zoned for is P.S. 41 Greenwich Village, on West 11th Street, with 669 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. In the 2017-18 School Quality Snapshot, 86 percent of students met state standards in English, versus 46 percent citywide; 87 percent met state standards in math, compared to 47 percent citywide.

P. S. 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, on West 17th Street, has 404 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade (since it opened in 2015, it has gradually added grades). Its School Quality Snapshot is based on state tests given in third grade: 74 percent of students met standards in English language arts, compared with 51 percent citywide, and 80 percent met the math standards, compared with 52 percent citywide.

Harvest Collegiate High School, a nontraditional public school, is at 34 West 14th Street. It opened with its first class of ninth graders in 2012 and now has 443 students in ninth through 12th grade. According to the New York City Department of Education, 70 percent of its 2018 graduates enrolled in a college or other postsecondary program within six months of graduation, compared to 59 percent citywide.

The L train runs under 14th Street, making five stops, from Eighth to First Avenues, before heading to Brooklyn. Other lines with stops on the street are the A, C and E on Eighth Avenue; the F, M, 1, 2 and 3 at Seventh Avenue; and the N, Q, R, W, 4, 5 and 6 at Union Square. Besides the M14 buses that smoothly navigate the busway, several other buses cross 14th Street on the avenues.

In the mid-19th century, well-to-do residents lived in rowhouses on 14th Street. After many began moving north to new neighborhoods, their homes became boardinghouses or commercial buildings, often with stores on the first floor. By the early 20th century, a few imposing banks stood on the street, according to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

One was the grandly columned New York Savings Bank, now a historic landmark, at a corner of Eighth Avenue. Later used as a carpet store and then a Balducci’s market, it presently houses a CVS.

Across the street stands another former bank building, even more ornate. In September 2018, it became the Museum of Illusions, home to more than 70 exhibits, including one that features visitors’ heads on a platter.

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