It’s now just six months until one of the largest transit diversion in New York City history, as the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday that the 15-month L train shutdown will begin on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Until the end of July 2020, no L trains will run between Brooklyn and Manhattan, as the MTA finally performs the rebuild of the Canarsie Tunnel, damaged in the flooding from Superstorm Sandy back in 2012. The shutdown, under attack by West Village NIMBYs who cannot stomach some street space in Manhattan given over to buses and bicyclists, promises to be disruptive throughout parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan even with careful mitigation plans, and now the countdown is on.
“We’re continuing unprecedented efforts at public outreach, responding to local communities and giving as much notice as possible on key dates in this project,” NYC Transit President Andy Byford said in a statement. “With the L running as a Brooklyn-only service for 15 months starting after the weekend of April 27, we’ve been hard at work with our partners at NYCDOT and other City agencies to make sure that the alternate train, bus, ferry and bicycle networks work together to get people around successfully.”
Just how successful initial mitigation plans will be remains to be seen. Transit advocates are generally skeptical that a part-time busway on 14th Street and HOV3+ restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge without corresponding requirements on nearby East River crossings along with no plan to address lower-capacity ride-sharing services along these routes will lead to crushing congestion, and the plans to increase subway service, while substantive, do not leave much room for error. If anything goes wrong, the cascading delays will lead to unmanageable crowding along lines that are expected to pick up the slack for the L train, but the real test will be how the city and MTA adapt the plan to demand during the first few days of the shutdown next spring. If they’re agile and quick, those HOV3+ restrictions can morph into bus-only hours, thus alleviating some expected congestion.
Lately, after years of community meetings, presentations and patiently fielding public inquiries, the MTA has settled on the details of the increased service. The MTA will run its own ferry service from Williamsburg beginning on April 21, 2019, and five new bus routes, including Select Bus Service for the M14, will commence that day as well. Just last week the MTA approved 198 new weekday roundtrips on other lines to carry the slack with G train riders enjoying 66 more roundtrips per day and the M 62. (The detailed breakdown begins on page 193 of this pdf.)
In approving these service increase, Andy Byford stressed their volumes. “We will be adding more than a thousand roundtrips each week and pushing our resources to capacity, which is also why you’re seeing so much preventative maintenance and repair work on all these lines already,” he said. “We are making these lines as reliable as possible for these new service levels starting in 2019.”
Meanwhile, in addition to the plans I have detailed before, the MTA and DOT announced air monitoring throughout the shutdown. This in response to neighborhood complaints that the plan to use diesel buses for mitigation will lead to unacceptably high levels or particulates. Experts, including Charles Komanoff, contend rightly that diesel buses are far cleaner than they were when they developed the reputation for pollution, but it’s clear that DOT and the MTA are particularly concerned with giving community groups ammunition that could torpedo any portions of the delicately balanced mitigation plan.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by a self-proclaimed progressive who can’t stomach transit riders continues apace. Although the federal claims I detailed in April were dismissed following the August released of the Environmental Assessment, Arthur Schwartz refiled numerous claims objecting to the L train shutdown in state court a few weeks ago. The filing is available here as a PDF. I expect this complaint to be handled or dismissed for reasons similar to those I detailed in April, and the MTA and DOT have until the end of November to produce a state environmental review or move to dismiss the claim. It’s a last-gasp effort by West Village residents upset that they cannot have unfettered access to city streets for their private automobiles during an event disruptive to 200,000 subway riders per day. Make of that what you will, but with six months remaining until L train service shutdown, the clock is ticking.