Home L Train Shutdown Reduced L train mitigation plan, without a busway, comes into view as station metering concerns linger

Reduced L train mitigation plan, without a busway, comes into view as station metering concerns linger

by Benjamin Kabak

The comprehensive L train mitigation plans shown here were shelved when Gov. Cuomo canceled the shutdown. (Click to enlarge)

Since the MTA officially canceled the L train shutdown and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrapped up his MTA powerplay last month, all has been quiet on the Canarsie front. Various advocacy groups have been jockeying for the city to commit to maintaining robust people-first travel options and a true dedicated busway along 14th St., but with politicians wavering and silence from the Mayor’s Office, we’ve seen more rallies but little concrete action.

The silence buckled a bit last week when MTA officials briefed reporters and local politicians on their mitigation plans for the L train’s upcoming not-quite-a-shutdown shutdown. Though the 14th St. busway remains a decision under NYC DOT’s purview, the MTA will still roll out Select Bus Service along the busy and painfully slow M14 corridor, but the rest of the mitigation plan involves beefing up nearby subway service and hoping for the best. The agency clearly believes that most L train riders who do not opt for taxis of various shades and apps will complete their trips via subway, and if the proposed mitigation isn’t sufficient, well, the L train shutdown plans are only just mothballed.

If not a full-blown, car-restrictive mitigation plan, what then is the MTA going to implement? So glad you asked.

We’ll start with the L train service plan. On weeknights from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and throughout the weekend during the work, L trains will run between Brooklyn and Manhattan every 20 minutes. This does not, however, mean full L train service the rest of the day as the MTA has to “ramp down” L trains beginning at 8 p.m. on weeknights. The ramp down, as I understand it, is to allow work trains to move into position to maximize the seven-hour construction window. But even occasion service delays at that hour will be impactful. As regular L train riders know, the L train is far from empty at 10 p.m., let alone 8 p.m., and this service slowdown will inevitably disrupt nightlife along the L train, a big part of the NYC economy whether hipster-hating New Yorkers want to admit it or not.

On the Brooklyn side of the tunnel, L trains will run from Lorimer St. to Canarsie every 10 minutes until 1:30 a.m. until reverting to the current 20-minute overnight headways. Essentially, the MTA will run every other Lorimer-bound L train past Lorimer St. into Manhattan, and the other half will turn around at Lorimer and head east again.

To provide pick up the load, the agency plans to run five additional G trains on weeknights between 8:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. in both directions. G trains though will not be lengthened as initially promised under the original mitigation plan. Rather, Transit officials believe shorter trains with more frequent headways can better move more people. On weekends, the G will run every eight minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays instead of every ten.

Similarly, M trains will run into Manhattan, terminating at 96th St. and 2nd Ave. (instead of Queens Boulevard) from 10 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., and M trains will operate with eight-minute headways running to the Upper East Side on weekends as well. Transit officials insist that this M train rerouting will not reduce service on the Queens Boulevard line, but it’s not quite clear to me how that’s the case.

Some other perks include five additional 7 trains between 8:30 p.m. and midnight and more frequent 7 train service on the weekends. The MTA will also institute free out-of-system transfers between the 3 and L at Junius/Livonia and between the G and J/M in the Broadway/Hewes/Lorimer area. Additionally, the MTA will institute bus loops on the Brooklyn side, providing weeknight service every three minutes from Bedford to Metropolitan to Broadway and from Hewes to Marcy to Metropolitan. Weekend frequency for these bus loops remain under review.

On the Manhattan side, things get a bit dicier as the MTA plans to run M14 buses every three minutes up and down 14th St. Without a commitment by the city to the busway though, it’s very easy to see how this plan falls apart instantly as significant bus traffic fights for limited street space with the private automobiles that already choke 14th St. in congestion. Without enforced, dedicated lanes, this bus plan will fail, and anyone who is able to will find walking across Manhattan faster.

Finally, the wild card in all of this planning is station metering — or the practice of limiting access to station platforms during periods of extreme crowding. Metering first became part of the public discussion when early drafts of this mitigation plan leaked to Streetsblog and Gothamist in late January. Although the MTA denied that these plans were ripe for public review, what the agency presented last week essentially mirrors those earlier leaks, and crowd control was a big concern.

Could the MTA, then, implement exit-only restrictions at certain Manhattan L train stations or station metering in which platforms are closed and passengers have to queue up in station mezzanines or at street level? In a statement on crowd control and station metering, Maxwell Young, the MTA’s new chief external affairs officer, downplayed this outcome. “We’re still evaluating the best options to deal with crowding, which we anticipate to be especially high only on only a couple of hours during the weekends,” he said. “We will be working with our partners at the NYPD and the DOT to put in place a plan to make sure everyone stays safe. Making stations exit only is not our preferred solution.”

There’s an element of “hold your breath and hope for the best” in this plan, and the pain points are quite clear. The uncertain fate of the 14th St. looms large, and the cancellation of HOV3+ restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge could lead to an Uber-pocalypse during weekends as Brooklyn-bound riders get fed up with roundabout alternate routes, long waits and extremely crowded trains. But as I said, the city and MTA both have the plans for more expansive mitigation plans at the ready should traffic and transit service grind to a halt when the L train work begins in earnest.

The key here is what we’ve lost. Where once we had certainty, the MTA doesn’t yet know how long this new approach to the Canarsie Tunnel work will take or how many weekends the city will be stuck with 20-minute L train headways. Furthermore, we’re losing an opportunity to watch a new approach to work unfold before our eyes. The L train was to be a model for Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan, a way to shut down train lines, provide alternate service options and blitz the line with modernization work. But when push came to shove (or when a mystery many grabbed him by the lapels), Cuomo turned away from this new model. Maintaining service should be the goal of any transit operator, but in this case, maintaining — and, more importantly, improving — service might have required a temporary outage. Instead, we get a Band-Aid and a leaky one, at that.

Editor’s Note: Second Ave. Sagas is starting its second year of being fully reader-supported. To ensure ads do not interfere with the site and to expand my content offerings, I started a Patreon for Second Ave. Sagas. If you like what you read and want more of it (including the return of my podcast), please consider a monthly donation. I’ll be back later this week with an analysis of a key Scott Stringer report on subway delay reporting. Thank you, as always, for your support.

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26 comments

Michael549 February 19, 2019 - 5:41 am

I think that a few points have to be made concerning the upcoming transit plan for the 14th Street L-train line.

There were three groups of people affected by the “L-train Shut-Down” – the “Brooklyn only” segment of L-train riders, the “Brooklyn-Manhattan” segment of L-train riders, and the “Manhattan Only” segment of L-train riders.

During the “L-train Shut-Down” (which is a mis-nomer) plan that Gov. Cuomo put a stop to – the Brooklyn L-train was supposed to run 24-7-365 from Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn to Canarsie, in Brooklyn – now it is from Lorimer Street/Metropolitan Avenue to Canarsie. (I believe one of the MTA’s early plans had Lorimer Street as the final terminal – but that was a while ago.) In any case this scheme relied on the fact that plenty of L-train riders transfer to and from the G-train (Lorimer Street/Metropolitan Avenue), the M-train (Myrtle/Wycoff Avenues), and the A, C and J trains at the Broadway Junction transit complex. Those transfer options remain in effect during the weekend and week-night reductions in service to/from Manhattan. The L-train service was supposed to be a train every 10 minutes (until the midnight hours) – which seems to be with the new plan. The majority of the Brooklyn segment retains the same basic train service proposed under the “L-train Shut Down” plan.

As stated within the prior plan G-train, M-train and #7 train service would be enhanced, as well as bus loop service connecting certain stations. The issue of an “out of system” transfer between the L-train and the #3 seems back on the table. In any case the MTA could always heavily promote the transfer options of the L-train to the (A-C-J-M), as a way to reduce the numbers of folks waiting at the 14th Street local stations.

The majority of the Brooklyn segment retains the same basic train service proposed under the “L-train Shut Down” plan – except for the Bedford Avenue, L-train stop. Originally proposed as the final stop/first stop in Brooklyn, the Bedford Avenue will see a reduction in train service, basically a train every 20 minutes, but those trains will also travel both to and from Manhattan, unlike the prior plan. In addition the “L-train Shut Down plan” had shuttle bus service connecting the Bedford Avenue station with the J & M Marcy Avenue station – which was in the prior plan.

I believe that there remains a question about just how many L-train riders on the weekends and over-nights coming in from Brooklyn will remain on the L-trains until the Lorimer Station – possibly crowding that station – versus transferring to other subway lines (A-C-G-J-M), shuttle buses to other lines (J&M) or simply wait for the next Manhattan bound L-train. In the prior plan – the “L-train Shut Down plan” – EVERYBODY coming into Manhattan from Brooklyn had to transfer to something else.

I believe that there remains questions about how many L-train riders leaving Manhattan will either tend to use their usual 14th Street local stations, or simply transfer from the (A-C-G-J-M) trains as they usually do on the weekends and late nights. I believe a small number of folks simply use the L-line as a way to transfer among different subway lines in Manhattan only. I believe that the fear comes from the idea that it would be the 14th Street local stations that might become crowded.

There is the issue of the Third Avenue and First Avenue subway stations of the L-train line in Manhattan. All trains will have to be single-tracked through those two stations. There is some concern that those station may become “exit only” if over-crowded due to the possible number of folks on the platforms traveling between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The problem is measuring the “Manhattan Only” segment of L-train riders on the weekends and late nights – in light of the increased use of the 14th Street cross-town buses. Would many of these riders prefer to wait 20 minutes for a “Manhattan Only” subway ride or a frequent all-hours bus trip? On the other hand the MTA for the past several weekends has shut down the L-train line in Manhattan and instituted 14th Street local bus service. When this new plan begins these 14th Street buses will not have to carry a healthy weekday portion of the whole L-train line ridership as compared to the previous “L-train Shut Down plan.”

One problem that I have with the complaint in other media is the idea that the MTA is reducing train service on the weekends from a train every 4-minutes to a train every 20-minutes in Manhattan! Under the “L-train Shut Down plan” which they and others approved of – there was going to be “NO TRAIN SERVICE WHAT SO EVERY WHILE THE TUNNELS WERE REPAIRED! (On other transit forums there were folks who pulled out their slide-rules and their stop watches to calculate single track train schedules for the L-train with a lot os strum & debate. Plenty concluded that simply shutting down the Manhattan and just getting thw work done was better in the long run. I know that will be folks who will pull out the weekend and late night ridership statistics on the L-train very soon!)

In the article it is stated that the “M trains will run into Manhattan, terminating at 96th St. and 2nd Ave. (instead of Queens Boulevard) from 10 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., and M trains will operate with eight-minute headways running to the Upper East Side on weekends as well. Transit officials insist that this M train rerouting will not reduce service on the Queens Boulevard line, but it’s not quite clear to me how that’s the case.” The statement by the MTA concerning Queens Blvd train service to me (at least) makes total sense. It makes sense for one very simple reason, the M-train on the weekends simply did not run along Queens Blvd making local stops as it does on the weekdays. Over the past few months when-ever the L-train due to track work or some other issue did not travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the M-train was activated to run between 96th Street-Second Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue in Queens via its usual Brooklyn pathway. The M-train NOT running along Queens Blvd on the weekends or late nights is its “normal” operation.

Over the past several months over many weekends the MTA has shut down the L-train line in Manhattan and instituted 14th Street Manhattan only local bus service, requiring L-train riders between Manhattan and Brooklyn to seek other means. Among other the things the pressure of having to transport 225,000 riders during the AM-rush hours means that the pressure for items like a High-Occupancy bus line across the Williamsburg Bridge has been eliminated. The history of the past few months and with many weekends of closed down L-train service should serve as a guide to further transit planning work and ideas.

Yes, I agree, there is an element of “hold your breath and hope for the best” in this new plan, but in a way that was the case with the old “L-train Shut Down plan” – plenty of folks were getting frightened that that plan would not work out for the best.

Mike

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VLM February 19, 2019 - 7:11 am

Brevity, my man. Learn it. No one is going to read anything this long in the comments section.

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SEAN February 19, 2019 - 9:59 am

FYI I just did & he made several good points in his screed.

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ChrisC February 19, 2019 - 4:19 pm

TL DR

Time for Ben to add a word count limit on posts!

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John A. Noble February 19, 2019 - 4:36 pm

I just read through the whole thing. My feeling is that if you don’t like the comments, read past them. I’d far rather read informative comments where I learn something than the endless “Generation Greed” diatribes and complaints about subway musicians.

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Walt Gekko February 20, 2019 - 7:01 pm

One solution to the 1st and 3rd Avenue problems would be to late nights and weekends supplement the (L) trains going through the one tunnel operating with a shuttle between 1st and 8th Avenue that can be used by those at those stations on the opposite side of trains going through the tunnel by running a short period behind the trains coming from Brooklyn, timing it so such stop a Union Square before the trains going back to Brooklyn come into there so patrons “backing up” to Union Square before going forward can make the trains going to Brooklyn. Such also doubles as supplemental service in Manhattan between 1st and 8th Avenues.

That solves the Manhattan issues.

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Walt Gekko February 20, 2019 - 7:03 pm

Adding:

I would at all times the (M) is NOT operating on Queens Boulevard run the (M) to 96th/2nd.

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Will February 23, 2019 - 12:23 am

That’s what I was saying. One track should be a Manhattan shuttle and the other should be Brooklyn Union SQ. Time it perfectly for connections and after union square the shuttle can two track back to 8 Ave

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sonicboy678 February 23, 2019 - 2:54 am

That’s assuming the track is even clear…

Gabe February 19, 2019 - 10:40 am

Transit officials believe shorter trains with more frequent headways can better move more people.

lol

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SEAN February 19, 2019 - 3:07 pm

I know this sounds ridiculous, however a similar idea was promoted for the LIRR & MNR on this very site by I believe Larry Littlefield. He was drawing comparisons to the S Bond in Germany & how a similar operation would work here. So I wouldn’t be to quick to mock.

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sonicboy678 February 19, 2019 - 7:26 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the issues with the R179 order (I know, different matter, but it has an impact on car availability) had some role in this decision.

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Brian February 19, 2019 - 3:09 pm

You ask, “Transit officials insist that this M train rerouting will not reduce service on the Queens Boulevard line, but it’s not quite clear to me how that’s the case.”

Easy: Transit has for many, many months stopped running the M at 8:30pm nightly. (They’ve done the same on the B line.) Why? The reason given in the Service Change announcement seems to change from week to week. One week its “track maintenance” and the next its “signal modernization!”

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Michael549 February 19, 2019 - 7:23 pm

I concede that you do have a point concerning WEEKDAY nights, where there has been reductions of M-train service along Queens Blvd. Yes, there have been several instances of service on some subway lines being stopped earlier in the evening than usual.

However, the M-train does not run along the Queens Blvd. Line during the WEEKENDS – which has been the case for a very long time. It is also true that when the L-train has been interrupted, the M-train has been extended to 96th Street-Second Avenue.

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AMH March 5, 2019 - 2:14 pm

Exactly what I was thinking–it’s not a reduction compared with actual service (as opposed to “normal” service).

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ChrisC February 19, 2019 - 4:22 pm

Now the main impetus – Amazon not locating in NYC – to not shutting the L down isn’t happening perhaps time to revisit the ridiculous decision to reject the original plan which would have lasted longer and saved money in the long run.

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Walt Gekko February 20, 2019 - 6:56 pm

I don’t remember there being any specific mention of Amazon coming to NYC (before pulling out) that was the main reason behind this change in the (L) shutdown. Maybe that was assumed to be the case, but to my knowledge that was not the reason Cuomo did what he did (I believe Cuomo did what he did because of donors very concerned about people having delayed commutes as well as massive traffic jams far north and south of 14th, especially near the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels from those who drive in from New Jersey who for whatever reason refuse to take public transit).

In any event, I don’t see any change, especially if Cuomo is still exploring running for President in 2020 even if he has said he won’t.

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BruceNY February 20, 2019 - 3:03 pm

I’m wondering if it’s worth having overnight and weekend service with 20 minute headways. The public was braced for a total shutdown, wouldn’t it be better to just shut down altogether during these periods in order to complete the work that much faster? The vast majority of riders, weekday travelers, wouldn’t have to suffer any disruption. Couldn’t buses along 14th St. and over the Williamsburg Bridge handle overnight and weekend ridership? Not ideal for those riders, but again, a much smaller number of people would be affected, and wouldn’t be quite the logistical challenge of buses attempting to cover regular weekday ridership.

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sonicboy678 February 21, 2019 - 7:46 pm

Not that buses were ever meant to completely replace trains…

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AMH March 5, 2019 - 2:16 pm

Of course the shutdown would be better, but Andy C knows best.

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get off the pot February 21, 2019 - 9:46 am

Shut this thing down already, and fix it!! The damn storm was over 8 years ago!

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sonicboy678 February 21, 2019 - 10:23 pm

If only it were that easy…

I’d rather wait until we have more buses and R179s ready to go before initiating the shutdown (a full one, at that, but political shenanigans are getting in the way again).

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Larry Penner February 22, 2019 - 6:01 am

It has been six weeks since the recent Emergency Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Meeting called by Governor Andrew Cuomo. It ended up being window dressing for his proposed new NYC Transit East River Canarsie subway L Line tunnel design. At the end of the day, there were more questions than answers. It is not a good example of how the MTA plans on spending several hundred million dollars in discretionary Federal Transit Administration Super Storm Sandy Relief and Resiliency funding. Over six years after Super Storm Sandy, why was this now declared an emergency? MTA HQ, Board members, NYC Transit, NYC Department of Transportation managers and engineers still need more time to review and comment on this “new design” along with budget, environmental, schedule impacts and useful life for tunnel repairs. The same holds true for both the MTA & Federal Transit Administration independent engineering oversight consulting firms.

It made no sense for the MTA to reassign management of this project from NYC Transit to MTA Office of Capital Construction. NYC Transit has already successfully managed several Super Storm Sandy federally funded tunnel projects. For the most part, they were completed on time, within budget, accompanied by few design or change orders. Contrast that with MTA’s Office of Capital Construction’s track record. East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal, if all goes well with the most recent recovery schedule, will be completed ten years late and $8 billion more than the original $3.5 billion budget. Check out the original 2006 MTA/FTA Full Funding grant agreement and see for yourself. Second Avenue Subway Phase One and Hudson Yards #7 subway extension both suffered from delays, budget, scope and change order issues. MTA Capital Construction currently has their hands full trying to complete East Side Access by the most recent recovery schedule of December 2022 and begin Second Avenue Subway Phase 2.

Why should NYC Transit hire yet another engineering consulting firm to perform an independent review of Governor Cuomo’s proposed redesign? This just duplicates the work of the MTA’s existing Capital Program Oversight Committee independent engineering firm. The same holds true for the FTA’s existing independent engineering consultant, who is usually assigned to monitor any MTA or NYC Transit federally funded capital improvement project over $100 million. In these times of multi billion dollar MTA funding shortfalls, paying for another engineering consulting firm is a waste of scarce financial resources.

Several hundred million was previously provided under a Federal Transit Administration Super Storm Sandy Recovery and Resiliency grant in 2016. Based upon the board presentation, questions, answers and discussions, the MTA will probably have to update FTA’s previously approved project Environmental Impact Statement. It is clear that the scope of work, project schedule, completion date, budget and useful life of investments will be different from the original grant commitments. FTA employees have been back at work for several weeks after being furloughed, What has been the progress to date in the MTA informing the FTA of these changes? The MTA is legally required as part the master grant agreement with FTA to provide monthly financial and milestone progress reports. This includes any changes to scope of work and contract change orders over $100,000. This is accomplished under the FTA Transit Award Management System known as TRAMS. MTA and NYCDOT provide these reports on many other active capital projects and programs worth over $12 billion. Has the MTA met with FTA and its own independent engineering oversight consulting firm to provide a presentation on the new “design” changes?

As these developments continue to unfold, I would not be surprised when the MTA and FTA respective Office of Inspector General, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli begin to take an interest. Sooner or later they will initiate their own respective review to see if there is any waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayers dollars. Their respective audits and reports will make interesting reading. As they say in Brooklyn, development of this project is beginning to sound fugazy.

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.)

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Will February 23, 2019 - 12:33 am

MTA OCC is full of corruption and contractors getting in the way. It’s full of kleptocracy

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smotri February 26, 2019 - 10:21 am

Yet another reason to leave NYC!

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Pedro Valdez-Rivera February 23, 2019 - 11:13 am

That’s the norm by #CuomosMTA everyday.

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