For better or worse, the L train shutdown is going to dominate the news coverage for the next few years as it has been for the past seven or eight months. Last week, after months of outreach and public meetings, announced the inevitable and said that a full 18-month shutdown was the choice as “the least risky way” to perform the work. And Mayor Bill de Blasio decided this was a good way to dig in on his fight with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the expense of a prime opportunity to lead.
After both deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris and de Blasio issued statements regarding the 18-month shutdown — “we are deeply concerned that it would announce an 18-month shutdown of this critical service without a clear plan or a commitment of resources for mitigating the impact of this closure,” Shorris said — de Blasio decided to double down on criticism. In comments on The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, the mayor questioned the need for a full 18-month shutdown and immediately cast doubt upon the idea of a 14th Street Peopleway. He is taking a crisis and doing the most to lose on all issues.
Dana Rubinstein summed up the mayor’s views:
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday he’s still dubious that the MTA actually needs to shut down the L train tunnel for a year and a half to repair the damage wrought by seven million gallons of Hurricane Sandy-induced flooding. “It’s a long time,” said the mayor, during his weekly appearance on the WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show.” “And we’re certainly going to push hard to see, does it it really have to be so long? Is there any other way to go about this?”
…Some worry the communication disconnect between de Blasio and the MTA, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo effectively controls, is evidence that the apparently never-ending de Blasio-Cuomo feud might interfere with L train mitigation efforts.Jon Orcutt, the advocacy director at TransitCenter is, for one, convinced of the need for the prolonged shutdown. “Yeah, I mean, the work has to happen,” Orcutt said. “It’s not optional.”
De Blasio seems somewhat less certain, even as he acknowledged that he’s “sure” the decision “has a practical, underlying rationale.” “Most important point here is that we have to push the MTA to confirm, do they really need to do it that way, are there better alternatives, and what are they going to do to maximize the alternatives that they can provide…for those riders,” he said…
One of the mitigation proposals advanced by advocates is a closure of 14th Street to personal cars.
De Blasio’s not yet convinced of the need for that either. “It’s not one that, on first blush, sounds to me easy, given how important 14th Street is. But we’ll look at everything and anything we can do,” he said. He also noted that his citywide ferry service will have launched by the time the closure goes into effect in 2019, though he has also said, in the past, “we’re going to need a lot more than that, obviously.”
Promoting the ferry network — his idea and a necessary one but also one that helps only those in Williamsburg close to the water — while throwing cold water on other people’s proposal to turn a crosstown street over to transit and buses is a very Bill de Blasio move. de Blasio, a car guy who gets driven 13 miles to his gym every morning, thinks 14th St. is important because it’s a popular motorist route. He doesn’t seem to understand the 14th Street is “important” because so many people use it as a transit corridor (and he doesn’t seem to understand how turning one single crosstown street into a so-called peopleway could be a new front in his half-hearted Vision Zero initiative).
In subsequent comments on the Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio dug in: “Most important point here is that we have to push the MTA to confirm — do they really need to do it that way? Are there better alternatives? And what are they going to do to maximize the alternatives that they can provide — buses and other things they can provide — for those riders?” As Streetsblog noted, it’s a disingenuous argument as the MTA has been talking about a shutdown for eight months, and de Blasio’s own DOT Commission is on the MTA Board and has recognized the need for city-state cooperation.
The mayor, meanwhile, isn’t winning any friends at the agency with which he will have to collaborate. Take a look at this statement, via Tweet, from MTA spokesperson Beth de Falco.
— Beth DeFalco (@BethDeFalco) July 29, 2016
The mayor has a few options here. He can dig in against the MTA and fight an inevitable and unavoidable shutdown that has been particularly well planned and well presented to the public. He can avoid collaborating and ensure that DOT resources — a necessary part of any shutdown as DOT controls the streets any bustitution plan will require — aren’t used to help mitigate the L train shutdown. Or he could put this element of his dispute with Cuomo to one side and help plan a real solution to the L train shutdown. He could be a leader on street space and safe streets while working to help New Yorkers avoid, as much as possible, 18 months of transit pain. Can he rise above the bickering with Cuomo or will L train riders, already stranded by damage from Sandy come 2019, be left out in the cold by their mayor as well?