(Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Patrick Cashin)
How can Brooklyn survive a 15-month subway shutdown?
The MTA released a five-page mitigation plan last month, proposing the addition of new bus routes, bike parking, a “busway,” HOV restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge and a number of other fixes which, to many observers, raised more questions than it answered, chief among them: Is this really it?
The MTA has proposed hardly any of the more vocally demanded solutions, like a dedicated Williamsburg Bridge bus lane and a Grand Street PeopleWay.
Local electeds made no attempts to stifle deep frustration with the MTA’s current shutdown strategy. While Borough President Eric Adams lauded some of the free MetroCard transfers implemented as part of the plan in a statement, he also ragged on it for not taking into account southeastern Brooklynites in Canarsie and Cypress Hills, who have even fewer transportation alternatives than their Williamsburg counterparts.
City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who represents Bushwick, among other impacted nabes, urged the MTA to purchase electric busses for the shutdown instead of buying 200 diesel-powered ones, as the MTA currently plans to do. He did call the MTA’s plan, “a good starting point overall,” but made clear that, “more needs to be done in all areas.”
“I think there’s been a lot of frustration since the very beginning,” former North Brooklyn DNAinfo reporter Gwynne Hogan told Technical.ly. “I think that the community wants a whole listed plan of how the city is going to deal with this, and what we’ve gotten so far is this very piecemeal drib of what some commuters might do.”
The microeconomics of each affected subway stop will be impacted, she went on, with many locals expecting a downturn in their neighborhoods.
Importantly, Hogan pointed out the L train has a higher ridership than other train lines, meaning its impact will be felt even more intensely when it’s gone.
How did we get here?
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York had numerous subway problems to worry about. The Canarsie Tube, which carries the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan, looked like something out of an apocalyptic thriller. Some 3,400 feet of 15-foot deep water had to be drained from the tunnel, a feat well documented on the MTA’s Flickr page, with images of employees looking on from narrow ledges and boat-like pumps doing their thing in a river of murky water. The subways were shut down in anticipation of Sandy’s arrival and much of the system remained down for days after. Those days seemed like an eternity, which does not bode well as New York faces 15 scheduled months of it.
Even more significant than the time difference for how long the L train will be out and how long it was out then is the mentality surrounding the MTA’s part in it. The MTA’s ability to revive the subways so quickly following such a brutal beating was referred to as “on the edge of magic,” and being, “nothing short of a miracle.” StreetsBlog wondered if the days of scapegoating the MTA had come to an end. When the R train’s Montague Tube was repaired in 2014, it was done a month early and $58 million under budget, again to much praise.
We can confirm that there has been water infiltration into the New York City Subway tunnels under the East River. We cannot confirm a depth.
— MTA (@MTA) October 30, 2012
In April 2013, a pump discharge line ruptured under normal loads in the L tunnel, the New York Times reported, noting it was “residual evidence of the storm’s excessive stress on the system.” Then, in January 2016, Gothamist broke the news that the L train “may” be shut down for years. By July, it was confirmed: the L train would be shut down for 18 months beginning in January 2019.
“2019 is the year Williamsburg dies,” the Post announced. Then, this past April, some relatively good news came when the MTA shortened the shutdown to 15 months. In mid-December, the MTA and DOT jointly released the long-awaited L train mitigation plan. And here we are.
A cycling surge, the collapse of sky-high real estate values and Brooklynites becoming more borough-centric are all among predictions for what will happen during the shutdown. While these are educated guesses, the critiques of how the MTA is handling this situation are far more real.
The shutdown now looms one year away. The time remains for the MTA to take advantage of it as an opportunity for improvements, but as it presently stands, the shutdown will likely be period of deep frustration for the L’s hundreds of thousands of daily riders with minimal help from the city. It’s a bleak forecast.-30-
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