F Express Plan
As we’ve heard for some time now, due to work on the Culver Viaduct, the F Express train won’t be a feasible alternative until 2012 or thereabouts. While the MTA has noted that, should delays befall the rehabiliation, F express service could happen next year, that reality is slowly slipping away. As Michael Rundle reported in Metro this morning, the MTA has now said that the F express train won’t be on the table until mid-2012 at the earliest.
Rundle delivers the bad news:
In a presentation to an MTA committee yesterday, [Connie] Crawford, senior vice president of capital program management at NYC Transit, laid out all the hurdles…
“The deck has essentially failed,” said Crawford, who expects work to start late next year. “Water is streaming through the deck and destroying the steel underneath.”
Crawford said the project will not only include a full deck slab replacement — “pretty intense work” — but station rehabs on the F line, tunnel lighting and the installation of new tracks, switches and signals. One area will be set aside to test different vendors of automated Communications-Based Train Control equipment.
In addition to the poor state of the viaduct, the tracks, sitting unused since the 1970s, are in bad shape as well. “It’s never been upgraded in the elevated section,” she said. “You can barely run trains over that section. Very slowly can they go through, because the track is so old.” Anyone who’s ridden on some of the re-routed trains on the express tracks this fall can attest to that fact.
So what is the MTA to do? Right now, all they can do is sit back and study the problem. The population along the F train is booming, and with the development of Coney Island on tap, the train will continue to suffer from overcrowding.
If the MTA isn’t willing to – or simply cannot yet – run some combination of V local/F express service past Second Ave. and into Brooklyn, they should do the next best thing and increase capacity along the F and G trains. It’s far from ideal, but it sounds like those of us supporting this F Express plan should think in the short term. Even if we have to wait for the express service, the area along the Culver line needs more train service. That is a very realistic goal.
I always thought everyone supported the F Express Plan. Who wouldn’t want more train service and express train options for underserved and overcrowded parts of Brooklyn? It seemed like a no-brainer to me. Boy, was I naïve in this thinking.
Last week, Gersh Kuntzman’s Brooklyn weekly The Brooklyn Paper ran a scathing (and, in my opinion, very short-sighted) editorial entitled “Who needs an F express?” As you may have guessed from the non-too-subtle title, Kuntzman, supposedly a champion of Brooklyn, isn’t in favor of this added train service on tracks that have existed since these subway lines opened in the 1930s.
In response to this outrageous editorial, I wrote a letter to the editor. The letter, co-signed by the other two major proponents of the F Express Plan, Gary Reilly, the driving force behind the F Express and author of Brooklyn Streets, Carroll Gardens, and Jen from Kensington (Brooklyn), disputes every contention made by The Brooklyn Paper in its editorial. While we hope the letter will appear in an upcoming issue of the paper, here it is in its entirety:
We were dismayed, surprised and saddened by your Sept. 15 editorial entitled “Who needs an F express?” Chock-full of misconceptions, gross oversimplifications and simply wrong information, the editorial provides a disservice to residents of not just Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill but to all Brooklynites who stand to benefit from express service along the F line and an overall increase of service along the Culver Line.
First among your charges is that due to a supposed bottleneck at York St., “there may not be enough capacity to add trains.” This is an unfounded claim. Elsewhere in the system – the 7 line comes to mind – where express and local tracks feed into one, express service and increased train capacity have led to a lessening of crowded trains. If our greatest concern is one focusing on a scheduling issue past Jay St./Borough Hall, the real location of the bottleneck, then we have nearly won the battle for express service.
Next up is your claim of “simple populism” levied against our local politicians. These politicians are signing on to the research we have conducted that shows our proposal is more than just “simple populism.” As we have stressed over and over again, we don’t need to build new subway tracks to increase service along the Culver Line. The express tracks – the only unused express tracks in the City – were built with the subway line in the 1920s. We don’t need the hard work, vision or money to build new subways; we just need an MTA willing to utilizing underused tracks.
With our plan encompassing V service into Brooklyn past its current Second Ave. terminus and F express service into Kensington and beyond, we fail to see how Brownstone Brooklynites won’t enjoy any benefits. The V will, in our plan, service the current F stops, and the F will service the express stations. Both trains will run frequently, and both will be less crowded.
Overall, it is true that Brooklyn – much like New York City on the whole – needs a bold vision to bring about the next generation of transit enhancements. But we can’t afford to ignore or dismiss the solution right under our noses. Brooklyn needs a restored F express and extended V local, and everyone will benefit from that service.
We like to hope that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Even if Kuntzman is against the F Express Plan for reasons unknown — or at least, just plain wrong — to us, he’s keeping the issue on the forefront of public discourse in the fair borough of Brooklyn. But I can’t stress enough the F Express Plan as we propose it — with added V service past Second Ave. and the utilization of existing, unused express tracks — would be a boon for an undertaxed neighborhood. The MTA is willing to make it happen when they can; the rest of Brooklyn should cheer this news.
The Culver train, shown here at Bergen St., ran express in 1972. (Photo by Steve Zabel. Courtesy of Joe Testagrose/NYCSubway.org.)
When last we checked in on the F Express Plan at the end of August, we had assumed things were at a standstill. The MTA had finally explained the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation project in a way that highlighted exactly why Brooklyn wouldn’t be able to enjoy express service along the Culver line until 2012 at the earliest.
But yesterday, The Gowanus Lounge broke the news that now the MTA has changed its stance on this express service. According to Andrew Inglesby, assistant director of government and community relations at the MTA, who spoke on Monday the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association meeting, the MTA could grant express service to the F line next year if the rehabilitation project falls behind schedule. If the plan is on time, F express service is off the table until 2012 or early 2013.
The Gowanus Lounge has more:
Mr. Inglesby reiterated that work on the Culver Viaduct, which runs above-ground between the Carroll Street Station and the Fourth Avenue Station, is a critical capital project and that work must be completed before an F Express can be put in place… “F Express service just can’t happen until the end of that period.” He said the work will result in “an automatic elimination of any F Express.”
The transit official did offer possibility that if work on the viaduct project is “significantly delayed” by a year or more, then the Transit Authority “will go ahead and examine the possibility of putting in an F Express.” Express service would depend on the availability of cars and funding. So, an F Express could make an appearance for a year or 18 months, if there is a delay in the big repair project.
Wouldn’t that be a tantalizing tease from the Transportation Authority? Knowing their track record on major construction projects — Times Square BMT corridor or that Cortlandt St. project, anyone? — we have every reason to believe that they could fall behind. So for a few months, Brooklyn could end up with our coveted express service. But only for a short time before it has to be shut down again.
Inglesby also verified information about the express plans we had already assumed. The F trains running express would probably stop at Jay Street, 7th Avenue and Church Avenue. These trains would bypass the Bergen St. station (destroyed express tracks notwithstanding), Carroll St., Smith-9th Sts., 4th Ave.-9th St., 15th St., and Fort Hamilton Parkway.
At The Gowanus Lounge, one of the commenters was dismayed at the lack of express service in the Windsor Terrace and Carroll Gardens areas. Simply put, the express trains can stop only where there are express platforms, and those stops listed by Inglesby are the ones on the Culver Line with that option.
For those of us pushing the F Express Plan, this news comes as a pleasant surprise. While I doubt the MTA would fall an entire year behind on the F train, at least they are dangling this carrot. They know we want express service on the Culver Line; they want to give it to us. As soon as that service can become a reality, we’ll have express service on the F line. If that’s not a resounding victory, I don’t know what is.
Update (10:54 a.m.): Metro chimes in this morning with an article on the F express meetings. Of note are two statements from city officials. Councilman Bill de Blasio noted that the MTA wouldn’t acknowledge these plans if they didn’t have the resources to devote to express service on the F line.
But more vital is a quote from MTA spokesperson Jeremy Soffin: “You can’t operate express service while work on the F express is ongoing. But should that be delayed, on an interim basis, we would look at the express. This project was brought forward and supported at the grassroots level and we’ve responded.”
I have to praise Soffin. He’s been very responsive in dealing with and addressing those of us heading up this grassroots movement. It’s good to see the MTA listens when its riders raise their concerns. It gives us hope that the MTA will respond to issues in the rider report cards as well.
For some time now, I’ve been pushing hard for the F Express Plan. Taking a cue from Gary who originated the idea, the F Express plan has gone from a pipe dream to a proposal that enjoys the support of a few MTA board members. In fact, it even landed my name in the pages of Metro.
But along the way, we’ve hit a roadblock, and last week, the frustrations boiled over when two members of the City Council announced that they wouldn’t vote for the fare hike without the F Express Plan. They questioned the Gowanus Viaduct Rehabilitation project, the MTA’s repeated excuse that express service along the Culver Line wouldn’t be possible until 2012. None of us — not Gary, not Kensington (Brooklyn), not the councilmembers — had really received an adequate explanation. But I think that’s changed.
I’ve been in touch with Jeremy Soffin, the MTA’s deputy director of media relations, in an effort to get the bottom of the Culver Viaduct Rehabilitation project and its effects on the express tracks. Here’s what Soffin said to me in an e-mail:
The Culver Viaduct Rehabilitation project requires the reconstruction of the viaduct and all four tracks on the viaduct. During the project, two of the four tracks will be taken out of service at any given time for a period of four years, precluding the implementation of any express service on this segment of the F line. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. As part of this project, G service, which currently terminates at Smith-9 Sts, will be extended to Church Av Station.
It’s my understanding that crews will be working not only on the tracks but around and underneath them too. With the recent attention to track worker safety, the MTA isn’t, rightly so, about to start screwing around with train bottlenecks on a large viaduct. With the current F and G trains relying on just two tracks for their routes and turnarounds, the tracks simply cannot support adding more trains.
To me, it sounds like the folks along the Culver Line are in for a rough ride. The project is scheduled to take four years, and it will probably result in delays and trains crawling over the Gowanus Canal.
I’m not too happy to hear that we are probably at a temporary dead end on this plan, but I won’t give up. I have to hope that those who are in a position to be heard by the MTA can give it the old college try. Maybe something can be worked out; maybe it can’t. But now we know why the F probably can’t run express until 2012. But we certainly don’t have to like it.
The construction on the Gowanus Viaduct is quickly becoming an issue in the F Express plan. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Everyone likes the F Express plan. Over 3600 people have signed the petition, and MTA board members have voiced their support. The plan would even give meaning to the neglected V train. But the MTA is throwing up a roadblock.
Over and over again, the MTA keeps saying that construction on the Gowanus Viaduct renders this plan impossible until 2012. Now, those of us who have been most vocal in the push to get this plan approved have never really understood how the work on the viaduct renders express tracks — unused tracks that would cost literally billions of dollars to build today — out of service.
Yesterday, we learned, via the Kensington (Brooklyn) blog, that two city council members agree with us. The MTA just hasn’t adequately explained why the F Express plan must suffer. The two politicians — Simcha Felder of Borough Park and Dominic Recchia of Coney Island — write:
The MTA has said that an express F train cannot be considered until 2012, upon competition of the Gowanus Viaduct restoration. As you know, in addition to the two unused express tracks between Bergen St. and Church Ave., a single unused track exists thereafter up to Kings Highway. Anyone who has ridden the elevated portion of the Culver line has seen the single express track between Church Ave. and Kings Highway used sporadically despite the scheduled Gowanus Viaduct project. We fail to understand what relevance the Viaduct has to the elevated express track between Church Ave. and Kings Highway, or, for that matter, the underground express tracks beyond the Viaduct, from 7th Ave. to Church Av. Additionally, we remain unconvinced that the MTA’s 2012 goal is reasonable timeframe for the completion of work on the Viaduct, and, transitively, full restoration of express service.
The MTA has also cited insufficient demand as an argument against restoration of express service on the F line. Based on the community’s loud voicing of their concern over this matter, including an online petition with more than 3,500 signatures, we believe the demand will be particularly evident when service is improved, and the MTA is offering its riders a more reasonable commute. At a time when the city’s leadership is attempting to convince more New Yorkers to step out of their cars and into mass transit, a fare hike without tangible improvements would severely undermine this effort.
While, as the Gotham Gazette notes, it’s not politically risky for anyone to oppose a fare hike, Felder and Simcha are using their platform to make a good point. We want more information on the Gowanus Viaduct. Will it really take until 2012? Is there no way to accommodate express service on the rest of the BMT Culver line in Brooklyn?
This line would have a positive impact on many people’s lives in Brooklyn. It should happen, and we shouldn’t have to sit through anymore vague answers as the MTA stalls on another construction project.
Keeping momentum. That’s always the key to a successful public awareness campaign, and right now, that’s what Gary Reilly and the rest of us pushing for F express service are trying to do.
After delivering the petition to the MTA and receiving a favorable response from the Authority’s board, Reilly has tirelessly worked to keep this plan in the news. We have to keep applying pressure to the MTA to see this wish become a reality. This week, Reilly’s efforts ended up in a neighborhood spotlight on Carroll Gardens in The City section of the Sunday Times. Jake Mooney profiled Reilly:
Mr. Reilly said his petition comes at the perfect time, with the population of several neighborhoods swelling along the F line and the city seeking improvements in mass transit to accompany the mayor’s “congestion pricing” proposal to reduce traffic. The unused tracks, Mr. Reilly said, represent an untapped resource. “It would cost billions of dollars to build those express tracks today,” he said, “and they’re sitting there doing nothing.”
But there are good reasons for that inactivity, said Deirdre Parker, a spokeswoman for the transportation authority. Restoration of F service is being held up for at least four years by work to repair facilities near the Bergen Street subway station that were damaged in a 1999 fire, and by work on the Culver Viaduct, the railroad bridge over the Gowanus Canal.
Mr. de Blasio, however, would like to see the authority restore express service while those projects are going on, or at least set a clear timeline for restoration. “Is there no other way but to wait for everything to be done?” he said. “If it was more of a priority, could they find a way to work around it?”
Therein lies the part we must stress. As Gary has repeatedly pointed out, those express would cost billions of dollars to build, and yet they sit empty and unused. The MTA has, at its disposal, express tracks it could use to ferry thousands of straphangers to and from Brooklyn. But they remain empty.
While I understand the argument about the fire and the Culver Viaduct work, I have seen F trains run express this spring as crews work on the local tracks. There doesn’t seem to be much wrong with the signals at Bergen St.
The petition now has nearly 3000 signatures. If you haven’t signed on to it yet, do so now. And let’s keep pressuring the MTA to bring this plan to fruition. We want express and local service along the Culver Line in Brooklyn. It’s time.
For the last few weeks, Brooklyn residents have been pushing hard for express service on the F tracks in the city’s most populous borough. Thanks to the efforts of Gary Reilly, the MTA board has expressed support for the plan, and last week’s press conference was a resounding success.
Part of the plan calls for redeeming the V line. For now, the V train, running for just 17 hours Monday-Friday, is a lonely train. Running local from Forest Hills, the train terminates at the Second Ave. station as the F travels onward to Coney Island. As an added benefit to V train riders, since this train doesn’t go anywhere in Queens or Manhattan that other trains don’t, it allows for either a neglected ride or a spacious ride, depending upon your viewpoint.
Earlier this week, the Daily News noted that, in an age in which NYC pols are decrying over-crowded trains, the empty V trains provide welcome relief to straphangers looking for some space. In a 300-word article that three reporters wrote (!), the News noted:
It’s the V train, an unloved but uncrowded route launched in 2001 that is only half full even at rush hour – making it the least crowded of the subway’s 22 lines, NYC Transit statistics show…”You’re not like a sardine,” said Tom Nguyen, 34, who noted he almost always gets to sit back and relax on the V. “Of all the Queens lines, I think the V is the best.”
Not everyone agrees. Critics predicted no one would ride the local V when it was created in December 2001 to relieve overcrowding on the express E and F trains along Queens Blvd. Transit officials tried hard to popularize the route; it didn’t work. “I think it’s worthless,” commuter Victoria Carlucci said. “The stops are not helpful stops.”
So for every rider like Nguyen, there are others who cannot stand the V line. It, for some unknown reason, symbolizes the problems with the MTA: It’s a rush hour-only line that charts familiar territory. Who needs another one of those, right? In fact, over on the subway message board Subchat, invective against the V train exploded when this article hit the Internet on Monday.
And that is where our F train petition comes into play. With the F train petition, the F would run express during the times the V runs from Jay St./Borough Hall out to Church Ave. (or possibly Kings Highway). The V would no longer be a lonely train; instead, it would ferry thousands of commuters through Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Kensington and Borough Park. While those riding in Queens would probably still enjoy their empty and spacious train cars, people riding in Brooklyn would finally have more room than they do on the F with its cattle-car-like conditions.
So once again, we all can see how our F express plan would help make use of an under-utilized subway line in New York City. It’s time to make this plan reality.
After a few weeks of campaigning and a last-minute push in support of the petition, Gary Reilly’s F Express petition has reached the MTA. Based on Gary’s reports, it sounds like the tide is in our favor; we may yet get our wish for express service on the Culver Line into Brooklyn.
On Wednesday, Reilly took his petition to the MTA’s board meeting, where he was greeted practically with open arms by the board members. Reilly, on his site, wrote about the meeting:
The best moment of the meeting occurred about halfway through. Board Member Andrew B. Albert, whom I’ve never met, took a moment to express support the F&V petition.
Albert: I’d like to second what Mr. Reilly said about restoring the F express train in Brooklyn.
Kalikow: Was this something that was always intended when the express was shut for repairs originally?
Albert: Yes it was, but after the horrible fire we had at the Bergen Street station, it was put on the shelf.
Eliot Sander: We’re looking into it …
After the meeting, I had chance to speak briefly with Board Member Norman Seabrook. The bottom line: Our pleas are not falling on deaf ears.
This is, of course, great news, and it was followed this afternoon by a most welcome announcement via e-mail and covered on Kensington (Brooklyn). Three city council members and a group of community activists will meet on Thursday afternoon at Church Ave., a potential express stop on the F line, to discuss our plan. The event details are as follows:
Brooklyn Expresses: F-Train Frustration
WHO: Council Members Bill de Blasio, Simcha Felder, and Domenic Recchia; Community Activists
WHAT: Rally to Support Petition to Restore Express Service on Brooklyn’s F line
WHEN: 2 pm, Thursday, June 28, 2007
WHERE: Church Avenue Station; Church Avenue and McDonald Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
So let’s do this. All public transportation advocates who want to see improved subway service who don’t have prior commitments this afternoon should support this plan. We can make it happen sooner. These are exciting times for Brooklyn subway riders angling for better service.
After the jump, the full text of the press release.
We’re coming down to the wire on the F Express/V local petition. Gary Reilly of Brooklyn Streets created the petition a few weeks back. I analyzed his plan two weeks ago and reiterated my support yesterday.
Well, now we’re coming down the wire. Gary, as he writes here, is delivering the petition to the MTA board in person tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. during their meeting, and we want you to sign it before then. Gary writes:
The desire for change is palpable; I put a petition for better service on the F&V online, and nearly 2500 people signed on in under two weeks! People want better transit options. We need dedicated streams of funding for transit, and a re-imagining of the system that looks at the historical inefficiencies left behind by the disjointed history of subway construction and brings the system to a level of service better than any city in the world.
Demand it! I’ll be delivering the petition to the MTA Board tomorrow morning at 9:30 sharp. The meeting is open to public comment, but you must arrive by 9:00 to sign up.
So go forth, subway riders, and demand better service. The petition, currently at 2453 signatures now that I’ve added my name to it, can be found here. Let’s crack 2500 before Gary brings it to the MTA tomorrow.