Try as we might, we just cannot ignore the looming effect the MTA’s post-Sandy Fix & Fortify work is going to have on the L train. Nearly one year to the day since we learned that repairs to the Canarsie Tube will cause years of pain for L train riders, Gothamist’s Christopher Robbins dropped a bombshell. According to his sources, repairs on the Canarise Tube could take up to three years, and the MTA is considering a full shutdown of the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan for at least part of that timeframe.
There’s no real way to sugarcoat this news. Even though Sandy hit over three years ago and even though this work won’t begin until the latter part of 2017, the MTA has to rebuild an East River crossing that sees upwards of 230,000 pass through it each day (with passenger numbers spiking near to 300,000 during its busiest days). The tunnel, you say, also saw 7 million gallons of water enter during the storm and was flooded for 11 days. The damage, MTA officials have told me, is “extensive” and full repair work “incredibly vital.’
But the bad news may be tempered slightly. According to MTA sources I spoke with after the Gothamist report was published, a full shutdown of service wouldn’t last three years. That’s the long-term timeline for all work if the MTA repairs only one tube at a time or otherwise splits up service shutdowns. The MTA feels a full shutdown would last longer than one year — and perhaps up just under two — but the agency is now trying to figure out how best to get in, get out and gone it done. It is, after all, the new mantra driving rehabilitation work.
As Gothamist also reported, the MTA is considering a single-track option through the tunnel. The service could be stacked to allow for at least some capacity, but MTA sources aren’t sure how this would play out. “If one tunnel is down, how bad will the L train be in the mornings just going one way?” Robbins’ source said. “It’ll be packed beyond belief. It’ll be a fight. Is that the smartest way to do it if it’s going to be the difference of a year? I don’t know.”
So far, the worst of the Sandy work that New Yorkers have suffered through has involved subway lines with nearby redundancies. The R train’s Montague St. Tunnel served only 65,000 riders per day; the A and C can run through the F train’s Rutgers St. tunnel on weekends while their own Cranberry Tunnel is repaired. The L train though serves the second-most riders of the East River crossing into Brooklyn and for a large bulk of those passengers — the ones who live in Williamsburg and Bushwick — options are very limited.
“Unfortunately we all knew this day would eventually come on the Canarsie line, because this is, once again, the legacy of Sandy,” the Regional Plan Association’s Richard Barone said to Gothamist. The pain, he noted, “depends on how quickly it takes the MTA to get the job done versus the severity of the shutdown. So if they can get it done in a year, but they have to shut both tunnels down, it’s one thing. If it takes them three or four years to do it, and they have to alternate shutting down the tunnels, you have to question, which is better? Is it better to get it done faster but with massive disruption? Is it even possible to do that? Is there an another alternative that these folks can take to get to Manhattan for work?”
No matter whether the MTA opts for a full 24/7 shutdown or some other option, the agency will have to boost some service on nearby lines. The MTA has acknowledged the need to increase M service, lengthen G trains and institute shuttle buses. This should be a part of a bigger package that will, inevitably, tax nearby lines, but here’s my solution:
- Riders who can access other lines should and will. Anyone south of Broadway Junction can take the A or C or J or Z. Anyone near Marcy Ave. can take the M train. Those who lose out most are the ones boarding at stations that have seen more growth in ridership than any other set of stations in the city, and that’s a large portion of those 230,000+ daily crossings.
- To deal with them, the MTA should commit to 24/7 M service to Manhattan and…
- …the MTA should promise to lengthen G trains to absorb some of the crowds and…
- …the MTA is going to have address what promises to be crush crowding at Court Sq. as Northern Brooklyn residents head to Queens’ subways to reach Manhattan.
- Citi Bike should be up and running in Bushwick, and DOT should ensure the Pulaski Bridge bike lane is open.
- The city should consider making the Williamsburg Bridge bus only or at least reserving a lane in each direction for a constant stream of shuttle buses.
- And the city should do what it can to ensure that residents in Williamsburg who would otherwise take the L can access ferry service. Although I’m generally a ferry skeptic, this is a clear time and place where ferry service can help.
Already, Williamsburg residents are worrying about the plans. NY1’s Pat Kiernan put together his proposal for a one-track shuttle — though turning Canarsie-bound trains becomes a potential problem in his scheme. Others are fretting about the end of Williamsburg and a collapse in the Northern Brooklyn scene. Others know this hurts less affluent areas as well. There is simply put no good option.
I have no answers right now. This story will unfold over the next 18 months. But one thing the MTA should do is get out in front of it. The agency plans to work with the communities affected by this shutdown “soon,” per the press office, to discuss proposals and present the pluses and negatives of each plan. This planning process should be very public. After all, the MTA is dealing with a situation where they have to get a few hundred thousand people into Manhattan via alternate routes that aren’t exactly teeming with capacity. But they’re thinking about it. I don’t envy the person who has to tell everyone what they ultimately decide.
It’s a small consolation prize too, but hopefully, when the L reopens, it’ll include more entrances at Bedford and a staircase at Ave. A. All of that work requires significant service shutdowns which, thanks to Sandy, are coming. Senator Schumer is trying to get federal funding, and he’ll have to work to ensure the dollars materializes in time. If there’s a window, no matter the circumstances, the MTA should capitalize on it.