Since Governor Cuomo announced last week that the MTA would scrap its total L-train shutdown in favor of a new plan involving the closure of just one tunnel at a time on nights and weekends, the mood has been a little bit celebratory and little bit WTF. Among other things, New Yorkers who had been ready to see their commutes descend into stygian chaos are now wondering what will happen to all those promised ferries, buses, and bike lines. Some still want ’em, others most definitely don’t.
In a letter released today, City Council member Antonio Reynoso, who represents parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick, called the timing of Cuomo’s decision, just three months before repairs were set to begin, “an insult to the residents, elected officials, and MTA officials who have spent countless hours, resources, and taxpayer dollars on extensive planning to produce a comprehensive mitigation plan.” He said the governor had “not made any effort to reassure New Yorkers that this is the best course of action and not just a temporary solution.”
Reynoso said he would continue to push for shutdown mitigation steps that “still warrant implementation,” including “increased service on neighboring subway lines, improvement of area bus service, the installation of new bike and bus lanes along the L train corridor, and increased ferry service.”
As has been noted, some of those coping mechanisms have already been put into place, such as new entrances for the Bedford Avenue subway station, a two-way bike lane along Delancey Street, and new bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets. Last month, Citi Bike announced that it would add five stations in Bushwick, a number deemed inadequate by some.
Still, it’s uncertain what will become of other planned stopgaps, such as increased service on the G, J, M, and E lines; an estimated 80 express buses per hour running from the Grand Street and Bedford Avenue L stops to Soho and the East Village; and a new ferry from Williamsburg to Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan. In announcing its change of plans, the MTA said merely that it “still plans to implement additional subway service where needed, including on the G, M and 7 Trains.” It also said it would forge ahead with “station improvements, such as providing ADA accessibility and other capacity upgrades at the Bedford Avenue Station in Brooklyn and the 1st and 6th Avenue Stations in Manhattan.”
Not everyone wants to see certain “improvements” go forward. The 14th Street Coalition, a community group formed to oppose planned traffic-pattern changes in Manhattan, is calling on the MTA and DOT to abandon some of the changes they’ve already implemented. In a press release, the group, which sued the agencies last year, calls on them to “return the neighborhood to pre-project conditions,” which means ditching those new bike lanes on 13th and 12th Streets. Some are unhappy that the lanes replaced parking spots when they were installed in October.
In addition, the 14th Street Coalition wants the MTA to call off the conversion of 14th Street into a “busway.” The DOT had already started repainting the road in anticipation of the busway’s launch in April. It planned to take 14th Street from four lanes to three (one lane for bus stops and two for bus and delivery travel), ban cars from 5am to 10pm, expand sidewalks, and install bus boarders and commercial loading spots. The Coalition is calling on the DOT to keep four-lane traffic and cancel the pedestrian expansion along 14th Street.
The group is worried that even without the shutdown, the DOT will use 14th Street as “a ‘testing ground’ for radical alternatives that have been pushed by various groups for years,” it said in a press release. “With the closure hopefully in the past, we will not allow our neighborhoods to be guinea pigs with extremely disruptive changes to our safety.”
Transportation advocates Max Sholl and Thomas DeVito, of Transportation Alternatives, are of a decidedly different mind:
Protected #BikeNYC lanes on Grand St have been demanded by various North Brooklyn community members for years; six people have been killed on Grand St since 2009.#LtrainShutdown or not, we need safe & equitable streets that serve the most vulnerable. @CMReynoso34 @JuliaCarmel__ https://t.co/spEWGO6o6P
— Maximillian (@MaxSholl) January 7, 2019
.@TransAlt‘s @PedestrianTom: “nyc is in the middle of a transportation crisis. the solutions to the crisis… are more bus lanes, more protected bike lanes… these mitigation efforts need to stay… not just in reponse to the L train, but more widely in the system.” pic.twitter.com/Wrr0bMkNJ3
— zainab iqbal (@planetzainab) January 7, 2019
As of now, not much is certain. After the MTA’s announcement last week, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said the agency had agreed to “answer a battery of questions from [her and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams] over the next two weeks, and to conduct four public hearings in Manhattan and Brooklyn on the new plan.”
This much is certain: Plans for an L-shutdown-themed board game, dubbed “Escape From HelL,” are going forward now that a Kickstarter has raised about $4,000 more than it set out for. The board game’s creators write, “While the plans for the shutdown continue to change, rest assured supporters, it’s still going to be hell during the 15-20 month L-Train renovation project.” The game will now include playing cards such as “Cuomo changed his mind again and the shutdown starts two minutes ago. Move back 3 spaces.”