For many of this morning’s seventy-odd demonstrators clumped outside of Dorian Cafe in Long Island City, the MTA’s latest onslaught of subway service disruptions is a life-altering blow. The 7 Train, which connects the Queens neighborhood to Manhattan, is slated for 22 full weekends of closure in 2014. Protesters say this leaves their community stranded, and that the MTA has ignored their concerns.
“Yes, I am pissed off,” Jimmy Van Bremer, a City Council member representing Long Island City, told the crowd. “The MTA did not come to me, it did not come to our community, and it did not come to our business owners to ask, ‘How can we do this with you in mind?’ They just posted a closure notice and said, ‘Deal with it!’”
Scheduled track work on the 7 line is set to last until 2017, and is related to upgrades on the Flushing line. Announced service outages begin February 28 and go through June, with no word yet on later in the year. Some weekends, no 7 trains will run between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza. Other times, no trains will run west of 74th Street-Broadway. All 22 weekends of closure will apply to the Vernon-Jackson, Hunter’s Point and Court Square stops, which serve Long Island City.For small business owners, this is no small inconvenience. “The MTA makes our job harder,” said Long Island City resident Rebecca Trent, addressing the crowd. Trent is founder and president of LIC Eats, the Long Island City restaurant association. She also owns The Creek and the Cave, a combination bar, restaurant, and comedy venue. (I became acquainted with her while performing there as a stand-up comedian.)
“I cannot run a successful comedy club without consistent train service,” Trent said. “The artists I work with are disheartened enough, and so am I.” The Creek’s proximity to Manhattan has been one of the major selling points for her venue, which depends on patrons living outside of Queens.
The impact on business could be felt well beyond the weekends of closure, said borough president Melinda Katz. “It’s a self fulfilling prophecy,” Katz said. “Word gets out that it’s impossible to get to Queens, so no one comes here to partake in our businesses, and then everything goes to pot.”
According to Van Bremer, his community understands the necessity of the MTA’s updates. “If there’s work to be done, there are lots of things the MTA can do to help these neighborhoods get through this period.” One proposed method – bus service from Long Island City straight into Manhattan via the Midtown tunnel – was rejected by the MTA, which has a widely reported budget surplus of $1.9 billion over the next four years.
MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz denied that ground service through the midtown tunnel would be quicker than rerouting commutes, and cited increased service on the N and Q trains. “At the end of the day, is it inconvenient? Yes. Will it add extra time? Yes. But customers will still be able to get in and out of Manhattan.” Ortiz added that the planned track work cannot be done overnight in eight-hour cycles.
But for businesses that thrive on weekends, inconvenience is expensive. “We cannot endure this closure,” Trent said. “I do not know how I’m going to survive this. And neither do many of my neighbors.”