Aug
25

Rudin Center report urges comprehensive solution – and perhaps gondolas – for L train shutdown

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A new report from NYU's Rudin Center highlights a comprehensive mitigation plan for the L train shutdown.

A new report from NYU’s Rudin Center highlights a comprehensive mitigation plan for the L train shutdown.

What if gondolas actually are part of the answer? What if, to solve the L train’s looming transit crisis that will arise out of the 2019 shutdown, we need to think so far outside of the box that ideas that seem laughably overwrought and particularly overpromised are part of the answer? That is one recommendation in the latest report on the L train shutdown from NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

As everyone jockeys for a say in how best to address this incoming transit crisis, the Rudin Center unveiled its own mitigation report last night. Penned by Mitchell Moss, Sarah Kaufman, Jorge Hernandez and Sam Levy, the report gives a nod to “entirely new forms of transportation,” including the so-called East River Skyway and Scooter-share, a motorized bike share system popular in San Francisco. Picking up on the Skyway’s promise of 5000 peak-hour passengers, the Rudin Center report notes that “this is the right time to consider a New York city gondola between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg to vastly reduce the city’s reliance on climate-vulnerable tunnels.” (Of course, the time to start building a gondola so it is ready for early 2019 is approximately now, but that’s the least of it.)

The report, of course, doesn’t dwell only on alternatives. It is, in fact, one of the more common-sense efforts to propose a solution to the L train woes, and more importantly, it urges all involved to pay attention to more than just Williamsburg and Bushwick. “The concentration of higher-level formal education degrees affects a potentially disproportionate influence by these neighborhoods on the political process,” the report notes. “The initial news that the MTA was planning to shut down the Canarsie Tube led to an uproar by residents and business owners in Williamsburg. While service disruptions will affect the L’s various users differently, the concerns of residents in less influential neighborhoods, such as Brownsville and East New York, should be considered equally.”

And yet, those areas closest to Manhattan have seemingly more to lose. Although the L train overall seems to ferry upwards of 65,000 people to and from their primary places of employment each day, these neighborhoods along the L train’s western Brooklyn leg have shorter commutes and more restaurants, bars and overall economic activity. That doesn’t give them a right to have a louder voice, but it means that mitigation needs to be attuned to the areas with fewer options. After all, a L rider in Canarsie can take the 3 train and anyone east of Broadway Junction can transfer to the A, C, J or Z.

Still, over 225,000 daily riders have to get to where the L train takes them, and to that end, the Rudin Center offers up a seven-prong approach similar to mine. In addition to those gondolas and scooters, the Rudin Centers call for more service along all connecting subway lines, high speed bus service with a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge, partnerships with ride-sharing companies, increased East River ferry service, bike and car shares services (though I’m less convinced the latter is part of the solution rather than a potential problem), and cooperation with local businesses. “The long-term closure,” the report says, “will give the MTA and city agencies an opportunity to work together and increase city’s transportation options in the long run.” Notably, the report is silent on the proposed 14th St. Peopleway, a key element of the mitigation efforts with L service completely shuttered on the Manhattan side of the river.

Ultimately, as the Rudin Center noted, the L train shutdown provides a great crisis that the city and MTA shouldn’t let go to waste. The challenges of moving hundreds of thousands of people every day should permit us to be flexible with street space and transit prioritization while understanding just how people move around the city and how important the subways are. Both the MTA and DOT have been rather silent lately on plans, but the lull of summer is hardly a peak time for transit planning. As advocates put more pressure on these agencies for a response, hopefully mitigation pictures will emerge soon, and if they happen to include gondolas, well, there’s a first time for everything.



Categories : L Train Shutdown

55 Responses to “Rudin Center report urges comprehensive solution – and perhaps gondolas – for L train shutdown”

  1. Larry Littlefield says:

    How about parking placards for those close in who don’t have other subway options?

    Another 20,000 people driving and parking for 18 months would do a great deal to convince “real New Yorkers” who always drive how much they owe to subway riders for ceding their share of the street.

  2. JJJ says:

    What we really need are gondoals to governors island. That ferry is slow and expensive.

    • The ferry costs $2 for a round trip. I don’t think fares on a privately funded gondola system would be that low, even if you could get federal approval for a structure of that size to be built spanning the harbor. And with the container terminal and cruise terminal in Red Hook, you wouldn’t have the clearance necessary to build one across Buttermilk Channel from the Brooklyn side.

      • JJJ says:

        Expensive, I mean in regards to operations. I have no thoughts on access from the Brooklyn side. I Manhattan gondola would allow year-round park operation.

    • Al says:

      The solution exists: Aerobus

      Gondolas don’t have the capacity, Aerobus do. Proof of concept and operational deployment happened in the 70’s and 80’s.

  3. Ethan Rauch says:

    Has anyone done capacity calculations for a gondola versus a subway? I think a combination of free subway transfers, added subway service and buses would come our way ahead in cost-effectiveness. Are the J and M lines anywhere near capacity? The W’burg Bridge isn’t all that far from 14th Stree.

    • I sort of did a few months ago. At peak capacity (i.e. every gondola car is 100% full), the East River Skyway could carry the equivalent of around 3 crush-load L trains — which is around 8-10 minutes of subway service. I’m not sure, though, how much excess capacity there is on the J/M. It certainly can’t take on all of the L train ridership currently crossing under the East River.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        It depends on how degraded service capacity is.

        There were 26 trains over the Willie B in 1954, compared with 15 today, so at the least they could add 11 more. There are 20 L trains per hour running now.

        Of course there will be capacity issues on the other end, in Manhattan, as people try to transfer to get to Midtown and have fewer options.

        • mister says:

          During peak hours, the J/Z alone operates 12 trains per hour across the bridge, so without even looking at what frequency the M operates at, I can say current frequency is a lot higher than 15 trains per hour.

        • bigbellymon4 says:

          they operate nearly 20, max 22, TPH across the Willie B depending on the time of day.

  4. Kevin Walsh says:

    Why not build landings big enough to accommodate Staten Island Ferry capacity ferries, and have bus-only lanes on 14th Street and two streets in Wburg (like N 6 and N7th) with bus-only lanes to connect with the ferries?

    • John says:

      You also have to build a 3-story terminal at each landing.

      • John-2 says:

        Not really. Back in the 1960s and even into the early 70s — when the Kennedy class boats already were in operation — the Ferry would occasionally dock at the adjacent Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan or at the skeletal Slip 1 on the Staten Island side (closest to the S.I. Yanks’ ballpark), and only let passengers off on the lower level. They could set up something similar and use the ferry’s smaller night boats to cross the East River without having to build multi-story structures.

        • Michael549 says:

          One does not have to “go back to the 1960’s or 1970’s” but to simply look at September 1991.

          Then due to a fire that destroyed the Whitehall Ferry Terminal – Staten Island ferries docked at the Battery Maritime Building – where there were tents in early fall for riders to wait for the boats.

          The area “under the terminal building was prepared for usage, and ferry riders used the lower level boarding ramps as the “not so” Temporary Ferry Terminal was built above out of the remains of the older building. For months ferry riders used the lower level roadway boarding area, and simply walked to and from the upper decks of the boat to board and disembark from the lower level.

          It was an interesting time to be riding the ferries, then.

          Mike

  5. Keith Williams says:

    If you put an Italian tenor on a ferry, does it become a gondola?

    Would the loading system used on ski mountains be practical, as opposed to what’s used on the Roosevelt Island tram? At either terminus, the cars slow to a crawl, allowing people to climb in fairly easily. There might be an issue with accessibility, but the system can be stopped to give a little extra time for anyone who needs it.

    Here’s a video from Aspen, including a turnstile you need to pass through to get in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1jzz16V1vM

  6. TimK says:

    the report gives a nod to “entirely new forms of transportation,” including the so-called East River Skyway and Scooter-share, a motorized bike share system popular in San Francisco.

    Motorized scooters are not legal in New York State. (link)

  7. John Buckholz says:

    If Dan Levy wants to find private money to finance a novelty transport system whose ridership projections are overblown and whose practical utility is overstated…why not let him? Is the concern that the taxpayers might inherit a white elephant if the gondolas don’t live up to his weird expectations? Can’t we figure out some way of insulating ourselves from that outcome?

    If only 100 people are diverted from subways and find this system useful, who cares? If we truly spend $0 of public monies to build and operate the thing, it’s no worse (and very marginally better) than Dan Levy spending $145 million to buy three penthouse apartments, is it?

  8. Margaret Butler says:

    Biking and walking across bridges is not a solution for everyone. There are many seniors and others in this city who not have the physical capacity for this “solution”. Plans should not be based on the capabilities of the young and “physically fit” even if the is the preferred image of New York and especially the L train adjacent west Brooklyn neighborhoods. There needs to be solution elements incorporating buses, subway alternatives and, yes, private cars. I know that is a dirty word to some of you but you forget there are many reverse commuters in Manhattan who do not have another means of transportation that makes any sense. (Hmmm…two hours of a subway/train/bus/walk trip or 30 minutes by car? Which would you choose).

    I applaud the Rudin Center for remembering areas beyond Bushwick and Williamsburg. Many of those people work extremely low wage jobs and can barely afford $2.75 for the train, let alone a more expensive alternative. Plus many work multiple jobs so adding to their commute time is more than an inconvenience–it can be a threat to their survival.

    Whatever program of L train alternatives is adopted, it needs to recognize that New York is not only a city of hip, young, physically fit, white people with college educations. Many, if not most of these people didn’t even grow up here. We need to also consider the needs of seniors, of low income communities and other populations that many not be as “pretty” or “influential” but are still the backbone of New York.

    • No one is telling people the only solution is biking and walking across. A holistic solution is indeed going to involve some improvements that 100% of the people won’t use, and under no circumstances should 1-2 person-occupancy private automobile traffic be prioritized during the shutdown.

    • Spiderpig says:

      What does white have to do with it?

      • mister says:

        It has to do with perception.

        For reference, when the Williamsburg bridge needed to be shut down, it too suffered from a lack of readily available alternate service. Granted, ridership on both the Williamsburg bridge and the Canarsie tube was much lower back then, but there was no major outcry or a declaration of disaster at the time. For many people, the difference between now and then boils down to one thing…

    • tacony says:

      Who is proposing a “more expensive alternative” to the train?

      Who are these people who can “barely afford $2.75 for the train” yet can afford the astronomical cost of car ownership in NYC? I don’t understand this. The insurance alone is many times more than the cost of the subway.

  9. John-2 says:

    Right now there’s capacity for five more M trains per hour on Sixth Avenue, which they could probably bump up to 6-7 if they swapped out 1-2 F trains for Es along the Queens Blvd. route (those Es could still go to 179s, though Culver riders would see a dip in service. If the extra M trains were short-turned at Queens Plaza (and possibly also on the centr track at B’way Myrtle), if would be the equivalent of 12 extra trains crossing the river relatively empty to serve current L train riders, who could either walk or take the G south to Broadway, or taking the G north to Court Square).

    That’s a lot more replacement capacity than a gondola system could provide, and a 24/7 M between Metropolitan Avenue and Queens Plaza in off-hours could potentially come close to equaling the current number of off-hour L trains crossing the East River (even if you’d still be well short of replacing the TPH of the L train during rush hours).

    • Nick says:

      Your right the only issue is where will the fleet come from? With the L sets going the J/G as well as a few to the M, there isn’t enough cars to keep the M 24/7 as well as having extra sets for service issues. Unless they find a way to accelerate this R179 order and the issues they are having there isn’t enought cars to support more service

      • mister says:

        The R179 order is behind schedule. By 2019, a sizeable portion of the fleet should be in service, and the R32s/R42s on the property will be kept around even longer to make this extra service.

        • Al says:

          Retain R32 and R42 beyond 2020.

          • bigbellymon4 says:

            Not possible. Too old. they are wayyyyy past retirement age.

            • mister says:

              Prepare to be amazed then.

              The museum fleet is, largely, older than the R32 and R42 fleets.

              That’s a specialty you say?

              Argentina operated original wooden cars from 1913 until they were retired in 2013. Check them out just before retirement here.

              Will they cost more to maintain than other cars? Yes. Will they be able to provide adequate service for a few more years? Absolutely.

            • Brooklynite says:

              Spoiler alert: the 32s are going nowhere at least until Canarsie reopens, and probably well into the 2020s. The car shortage isn’t going to fix itself, even with the 179s.

  10. mister says:

    Ugh.

    The L shutdown continues to be treated as if it is some kind of catastrophe and as a result, seemingly every think-tank, advocacy group and armchair transit planner is coming up with these insane ideas on how to temporarily improve mobility to a place that:

    1. Already has subway service
    2. Has alternate subway service nearby
    3. Has alternate forms of transportation in the area.

    The gondola is a terrible idea. As drawn on the map above, this gondola will not connect with the L train. So it’s pretty much being suggested only for people who live along the waterfront, a small portion of ridership of the Canarsie line. The gondola will also have limited purpose after the L reopens, since it will effectively be a one stop shuttle, kind of the same way the Roosevelt Island aerial tramway is really only useful to a small portion of the population of the island, but the F carries the main load. And building an aerial structure through two densely built up areas is hardly an endeavor that will be easy, quick or cheap… nevermind that it will need to be built across a river.

    I get that this is an issue, and creative solutions are needed. But these solutions need to be based off some kind of reality. It seems like the L shutdown is turning into more of a case of a really vocal group making their situation seem far worse than it is so that they can get as many concessions from public officials as possible, regardless of whether or not any of those concessions make sense.

    • Brooklynite says:

      The main issue here is that Williamsburg riders are presented with a choice of the Williamsburg Bridge, which has nowhere near enough capacity, or the Crosstown line, which takes people to already crowded river crossings. There are simply too many people for the standard “take nearby lines” approach to deal with.

      • mister says:

        There are simply too many people for the standard “take nearby lines” approach to deal with.

        Hub bound travel data will help us determine if this is really the case.

        Table 5 in the linked document above shows us that the Canarsie tube had 234,538 people entering and leaving everyday, while the Williamsburg bridge tracks had 138,808. Combined that’s 373,346 people. Is it possible for a single crossing to accommodate that many people? According to the same table, the Lex Express accommodated 372,522. So, almost.

        Of course this is over an entire day, we really need to be concerned with peak trips. Table 14A covers inbound 8-9am ridership. Canarsie saw ridership of 21,853 during this period. Williamsburg Bridge? 13,489. Combined, that’s 35,342, which is well above the most crowded single crossing during this same period (Lexington again, with 27,244).

        How about if we get other lines into the mix?

        If only half of the Canarsie Tube’s ridership ends up on the Williamsburg Bridge trains, that puts the Williamsburg bridge ridership at 24,416 people, which would make it only the fifth busiest crossing into Manhattan. Where would the remaining 11,000 people end up going? Presumably, many would end up on the Steinway Tube, which “only” sees 20,458 riders during the peak period. Keep in mind, it’s trains have more space than Lexington trains. since they have an extra car. Likely, many G riders who currently switch to the L will instead opt for that. Some L riders who work along 42nd street, or just north of that will likely opt for the same. Another option will be 53rd street. 53rd is the most congested entry point into the CBD with 27,582 passengers entering between 8 and 9. How many more passengers can it handle? It’s hard to say. Additional M trains will likely be operating through this tunnel. But just to provide some perspective, the 2000 Hub bound travel report indicates that, in that year, 47,388 people passed through 53rd street during the peak hour. So it can handle a substantial additional load before we need to hit the panic button. Beyond this, we can figure that some percentage of riders further out along the line who currently ride in to Manhattan will switch at Livonia to the 3 or to the A/C at Broadway Junction.

        What if that’s still not enough? Bus service across the Williamsburg bridge could probably serve another few thousand people during this peak hour. During the 8-9am period, the Queens Midtown tunnel carries 3,355 express bus passengers already, it could take on an additional 2,000 and still carry fewer bus passengers than the Hugh Carey tunnel.

        Once you break everything down, you realize that it IS possible. Going back to that 53rd street passenger total in the year 2000, the line carried over 47,000 passengers on 300 sixty foot long cars per hour, coming out to roughly 158 passengers per car. If we assume the Williamsburg bridge could operate 26 trains per hour, that’s 208 cars per hour. So if they encountered the same level of crowding that Queens people used to endure every day for many years, Williamsburg could handle nearly 33,000 passengers, or 93% of current combined ridership. Will that be pleasant? No. But we can see from the 53rd street example, it’s not a disaster either. Certainly not one we need to solve by building an expensive temporary new mode of transport to fill a perceived gap for 18 months.

  11. Dan says:

    Like many others have said, a privately funded gondola seems like an interesting idea as long as it doesn’t become a sort of panacea solution.

    Obviously, most L riders will in some way switch to the JMZ trains, so I would propose this service change for the shutdown:

    – J trains run to Jamaica, Z trains get diverted to Canarsie, replacing the L (and taking some rolling stock)
    – JMZ runs alone up 6th Ave, through the 63rd St. tunnel, and onto the Queens Blvd. express
    – A Nassau shuttle is run from Broad to Essex
    – E trains run alone on 8th Ave express, through the 53rd St. tunnel and onto the QBL local
    – R trains run to Astoria, NQ run to the Second Ave. line
    – C trains stay on the 8th Ave express until 50th St (leaving space for extra E trains)
    – F trains replace the D in Manhattan and the Bronx
    – The D is cut, with W trains replacing it along the West End line in Brooklyn (And I say this as someone who lives along the West End line)
    – A free transfer is provided along the LIRR Atlantic Branch, from Jamaica and East New York, into Atlantic Ave, with extra frequency provided by the MTA
    – The M15 SBS is split at Delancey St, with both the uptown and downtown branches going across the Williamsburg Bridge and stopping at Metropolitan/Lorimer
    – A bus shuttle is run from Bedford (L) to Mary (JMZ)

    This would allow as much frequency as possible through Williamsburg into Midtown. It would disrupt riders a bit throughout the city, but all lines would maintain a high frequency.

    • Dan says:

      Sorry, I said E on 8th express, I meant 8th local

      • bigbellymon4 says:

        Your doing too much.

        Re-route the E to run via 6th Av. Essentially, it runs along the F tracks the 36 St junction in Queens, via 63rd St, and then via 6th Av. Use West 4th Street switches to run the trains to WTC. Some service via the current route(53rd st).

        The M gets re-routed to 8th Av. Therefore, the M would stop at Delancey-Essex, Broadway-Lafayette, switch to the 8th Av platform at West 4th, the run along the E route through 53rd st to Queens. Some trains use the Queens plz layup track during rush.

        Increase G train to 8 car trains.

        Frequencies:

        E current route(53rd): 5tph
        proposed route: 10tph

        M proposed route: 12 tph

        Bus shuttle from Delancey-Essex to Marcy, then Bedford Av, then Lorimer

        14st peopleway: M14 SBS, and 14st shut down to private cars, trucks, etc

        Now if the MTA had the rolling stock to provide such service……..

        • Dan says:

          Eh, I think if anything is too much or too complicated, sending some of any subway service to a different line would be it. Yes, rerouting a bunch of services would be complicated, but it would allow 20-30 tph on that jmz connection from Williamsburg to Midtown. The M plus a single (circuitous if it goes from Lorimer to Bedford to Marcy) bus shuttle is not going to come close to serving enough people.

        • mister says:

          Can you explain the thought process behind this change? You’re dramatically lowering service through 53rd, even though it is likely to see an uptick in ridership from the Canarsie shutdown. You’re also introducing another point for merge delays at W4th.

    • mister says:

      A few comments on your proposal:

      -The idea of sending direct trains from the Broadway-Brooklyn elevated down the southern end of Canarsie sounds great. But in principle, since most of the L train’s ridership will be diverting to the Williamsburg bridge, you want to encourage as many people as possible to take an alternate route. The new transfer at Livonia/Junius and the existing transfer at Broadway Junction give people good options that divert them from the Bridge.
      -under your plan, the J/M/Z and F would all need to share tracks between Broadway Lafayette and West 4th St.
      -You proposed shuttle would need to share tracks with Queens bound J/M/Z trains briefly just outside of Essex.
      -C trains cannot switch to the local track at 50th street, and there is no easy place to locate a switch.
      -Do E trains run on the 8th Ave express or local? Your comment says they run express, but then you have the C switching to the express to avoid E trains.
      -Not enough service to Astoria.
      -Queens Boulevard express service will go from 30 tph of 10 car trains, to 30tph of 8 car trains, a 20% reduction in capacity.

      Crippling delays for everyone!

      • mister says:

        Sorry, just saw your clarification on E service.

      • Dan says:

        To answer your question, the reasoning was to get as many riders from near the L into midtown. But most of your points are well taken, and I didn’t think about the 8 car train issue. Are the platforms on the Jamaica line 10-car? If so, some service could potentially be sent from there to 6th. Also, is there not a way for F trains to go to the express between 2nd ave and Broadway Lafayette? That would remove any choke at w. 4th st.

        If those two assumptions are correct, then a simplified possibility would be to take current service, with Z trains to Nazsau, cut the J train, run the F to Jamaica and the D to the Culver line, and run the W to west end. But yeah, those two assumptions may not be correct.

        • Brooklynite says:

          The platforms on the BMT Eastern Division (Nassau/Jamaica and Canarsie lines) accommodate 480′ trains, or 8-car trains of 60-footers. There are no known plans to extend them. (Worth noting is that most of these platforms could accommodate 9-car trains, since 8-car trains of BMT Standards ran on those lines for many years. That’s a different discussion though.)

          Most of the tracks you postulate do not exist. I recommend checking out the track maps on nycsubway.org – they have a few known inaccuracies but are 99.9% correct.

        • mister says:

          No, unfortunately the express tracks at 2nd Ave were severed from the express tracks at B’way-Lafayette when the connection the Grand St and the Manhattan Bridge were built. Northbound, locals can cross to the express tracks just north of B’way-Lafayette. Southbound, the last point trains can switch between local and express is just north of W4th. This is why Southbound B and D trains rerouted down the 8th Ave line can’t access the Manhattan Bridge.

          The track maps on nycsubway.org are quite helpful in understanding the layout of the infrastructure.

          No platforms on the J/Z or L lines can accommodate 10 cars. This also includes M stations along Myrtle.

          • Dan says:

            Ah, well that is unfortunate. I would say that a switch to 2nd ave could be reestablished, and that 10car trains could run with the first/last cars not utilized in Brooklyn… But neither of those seem like the kind of thing the MTA would do.

            • mister says:

              This is where it’s easy to look at something from a train map and say “MTA won’t make this simple fix”, but the reality is vastly more complicated.

              As originally built, the Sixth avenue line was 4 tracks wide between B’way-Lafayette and Second Ave. When the connection to Grand was built, the actual tunnel itself was totally rebuilt. The tunnel containing the center tracks was physically disconnected from the tracks at Second ave and completely rebuilt at a different grade and path. So there’s no switch to install; there is no longer any physical path connecting these two sets of tracks. If you wanted to recreate this, you’re talking about widening the tunnel to create a new set of tracks, and then finding a path for them that clears all the other tunnels in the area.

              How about the proposal to lock the 10th cars on every train. For starters, not every BMT eastern division station can fit 9 cars. Most critically, it doesn’t look like Marcy can. Beyond this, how does this work? Where does the 10th car get locked at? Who does it? Who makes sure there are no passengers in that car? How long does the process take?

              I also forgot that because of the flat junction at Broadway/Myrtle, it’s doubtful that J/M/Z service can actually operate 30 tph. So this proposal will end up further degrading Queens Boulevard express service.

              These proposals sound simple, but reality is that it’s hard to do these kinds of things. Nevermind the fact that your proposal is essentially kicking people on other lines off of their regular trains so that L riders don’t have to make one transfer.

  12. Brooklynite says:

    The idea of a heavy-duty gondola is an appealing one. If one was built from McCarren Park to Union Square,simply ramping down over local streets like the RI Tram does over 59th, with RI Tram-sized cars running in a loop instead of back-and-forth then a significant number of people would be able to take it, even after the tube reopens.

    • mister says:

      What’s at McCarren Park? No convenient transfers to anything else, which presents the main problem with this proposal: It only serves a very small number of people, while costing a lot of money.

  13. EM Prentiss says:

    the L seems to be a very accessible line, are any of the proposed solutions accessible?

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