When I got off the L train at Bedford Avenue a little after 9 am this morning, the platform was surprisingly empty. This may foreshadow what’s in store for North Brooklyn when the 15-month shutdown of the L train between Bedford and 8th Avenue begins on April 27, just five months from now. Less people means less money-spending; a 2017 survey estimated 40% of small businesses expected to lose up to half their business. To prepare, the L Train Coalition held the first of what will be monthly informational meetings aimed at business owners along the L line.
This morning’s meeting was at Wythe Avenue venue National Sawdust, where general manager Alex Johnston admitted they’re having meetings “constantly about how to survive” during the shutdown. Some suggested multi-business block parties or advertisements for certain areas of North Brooklyn to boost local traffic.
For much of the meeting, a slide was projected with estimated statistics for the shutdown, including that “71% of riders will have no more than 10 minutes additional travel time” at rush hour. This prediction was almost unanimously deemed too optimistic—Samara Karasyk, executive vice president and chief of staff at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said it’ll surely be “more painful,” but “we’re New Yorkers, we’ll figure it out.”
In addition to increased service on other train lines like the G, J, M, and E (Broadway Junction and Court Square are expected to become even more crowded), there will be 1,250 new Citi Bikes and 1,000 pedal-assist Citi Bikes, plus additional bike lanes.
A predicted 80 express buses per hour will travel over the Williamsburg Bridge, starting from the Grand Street and Bedford Avenue L and going to either 1st Avenue and 15th Street or Soho. From 5 am to 10 pm, the bridge will be open to only buses, trucks, and vehicles with three passengers or more.
Additionally, a ferry separate from the NYC ferry (but still operated by the MTA and accessible by MetroCard) will take passengers from Williamsburg and to Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan from 6 am until midnight on weekdays and 2 am on weekends, though the Coalition said they’re advocating for an earlier weekday start time and the ability to bring bikes onboard. The capacity for these was recently increased from 149 to 240 passengers.
People using more than one of these alternatives need only pay one $2.75 fare, something the L Train Coalition said they worked for. However, they said the MTA is currently “not willing” to offer transit assistance from the train to the ferry shuttle, which is past Kent Avenue on North 6th Street, over three avenues from the Bedford stop.
Chariot, the carpool van startup once deemed a “bro bus,” is still very much in the picture, and has reportedly had meetings with the MTA and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s office about their role in the shutdown, which may include providing low-cost transportation from the train to the ferry.
Natalie Mendell, program director for the Grand Street Business Improvement District, explained the north side of Brooklyn’s Grand Street will be for buses and local thru traffic only during the shutdown. Deliveries will only be able to be made one block at a time, which means drivers must “enter from a side street, turn right, and then right again.” The south side will be open to full traffic, with less parking; the north side will be open for loading and parking.
However, many industrial and commercial businesses are dependent upon roads like Grand Street to accomplish tasks like loading and delivery via truck, something the shutdown could throw a wrench in.
“We are very supportive of the buses need[ing] to get through, but we can’t be put out of business by the fact that we can’t load and unload in front of our business,” one business owner said.
Leah Archibald and Karen Nieves from Evergreen, an organization that “champions” industrial businesses in North Brooklyn, said they were “blindsided” by the full extent of road restrictions despite attending multiple presentations regarding the shutdown. They worry this will “compound congestion” on Metropolitan Avenue and that trucks will have difficulty safely using side streets.
“We were not aware this was going to heavily impact the industrial businesses, otherwise we would have been hollering,” noted Nieves, who said workers who receive tickets for violations pre-shutdown should contact their office.
One woman noted many of her 400 workers come from other areas of Brooklyn, which often requires going into Manhattan then back into Brooklyn on the L. Because the shutdown will disrupt so many of her employee’s commutes, she wondered if any incentives like tax credits will be offered. A rep from Evergreen says they have been advocating for this, but is not optimistic it’ll actually happen.
Sarah Evers from Small Business Services and Rob Piechota from the Brooklyn Small Business Development Center said they’re planning on engaging with individual businesses both face-to-face and through webinars. Piechota said that even if businesses are doing well now, they should still brace for losses and prepare for the possibility of needing a loan.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had unity like this when we faced challenging government decisions and problems” in the neighborhood, said Felice Kirby, of the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and former owner of Williamsburg’s oldest bar Teddy’s.
As much this may be true, Paul Samulski, a Coalition member who is also president of the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, sidestepped any optimism. “It’s not going to be really pleasant,” he said. “This is going to be something that we’re all gonna look back and hope that we never have to go through again.”