One of my main themes at Second Ave. Sagas over the past four years has involved New Yorkers’ relationship with transit news. I’ve looked at how the millions of people who rely on the MTA for travel don’t pay attention to the news, how the news doesn’t do an adequate job explaining certain transit stories and how the MTA’s own approach to customer service oftentimes compounds the problem. Nowhere is that more evident than in today’s developing outrage over the upcoming shutdown of stations along the F line in Brooklyn as part of the Culver Viaduct rehab project.
The basis for this tale is a simple one: After three years of planning and the start of Phase 1 of the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation plan, the MTA announced this week that, beginning January 10, Phase 2 shutdowns will begin. In other words, from January 10 through May, as part of a $275.5 million rehab on a structure that’s falling apart, the following changes will be in effect:
- No Manhattan-bound F or Queens-bound G service at 15th Street Prospect Park and Ft. Hamilton Parkway Stations.
- No Manhattan-bound F service at Smith-9th Sts Station. Queens-bound G service stops at a temporary platform.
- All Manhattan and Queens-bound trains stop on the express track at Church Avenue and 7th Avenue stations.
- Manhattan-bound F and Queens-bound G trains stop at a temporary platform accessed via the Coney Island-bound platform at 4th Avenue-9th Street station.
Somehow, despite years of warning, the locals are outraged. Popular neighborhood blog Fucked in Park Slope is too beside itself for snark while Gothamist is fielding some priceless emails. “We’re new to Windsor Terrace (2 months) and fairly new to New York (6 months),” one Brooklyn resident said. “I’m absolutely livid that this is happening with a week’s notice, especially in the winter. This is the first we’re hearing of this and is part of a chain of the F train messing with us. I’ve lived in cities for the past 10 years and I can tell you this level of fuckery wouldn’t fly in LA or Boston.”
So where to begin? Where to begin? Should we point out that subways in Los Angeles and Boston, you know, shut down over night so that people can’t get home via public transit after midnight? It certainly would be worse living in Windsor Terrace if the last F train departed from midtown at 11:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday.
But instead, let’s look at some history. In late 2007, New York City Transit unveiled their plans for the Culver Viaduct, and while the timeline has been pushed back and the project slightly scaled down in the intervening years, the same service changes apply. In fact, in a presentation to Community Board 6 in 2007, Transit presented the exact same service patterns going into effect next week. Take a look:
That 2007 presentation wasn’t the only one Transit has delivered to Brooklyn. Take a look at a similar one from 2008. It’s just another in a long line of slideshows Transit’s community relations officials have given to Community Boards. In fact, as recently as this past fall, I sat in on a meeting at which officials discussed these exact service changes.
Furthermore, the MTA has released its own video on the project; and crews have been working on the viaduct for nearly ten months. In other words, since 2007, then, Brooklynites knew or should have known that their service was going to be cut for a few months, and if people moving to the area or already living their failed to do adequate research, that’s on them.
Of course, oblivious locals who don’t seek out transit news aren’t the only ones to blame. In fact, I don’t expect people to attend Community Board meetings and few non-members do. But New York’s various news outlets pay people to attend and report on those meetings, and over that last few years, that’s just what they’ve done. Newspapers ranging from The Daily News to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle have covered the work.
My site is but a small fish in the giant sea of New York media, but unfortunately, Brooklyn news outlets haven’t done a thorough job of explaining the impact of the Culver Viaduct rehab. Take a glance through the Brooklyn Paper search results of stories relating to this work. The paper mentions that service to and from Smith-9th Sts. will be impacted, but it doesn’t explore how the need to run F and G trains on the express tracks will lead to trains bypassing 15th St. and Fort Hamilton Parkway. That’s a failure of media.
Finally, the MTA isn’t absolved of all blame either, and in fact, the authority hasn’t upheld its end of the deal. At a Community Board 6 Transportation Committee meeting earlier this fall, committee members specifically asked the MTA to warn the neighborhoods well ahead of time. Instead, the MTA started hanging up signs portending a four-month service outage just seven days ahead of time. Even though the MTA had warned community groups and received a far amount of press coverage, Transit should be papering stations well ahead of the service outages. The authority can’t force news down people’s throats, but it can do a better job of getting the word out ahead of time. One week is not enough lead time for a warning of this magnitude.
This day of outrage in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace highlights how people simply take the transit system for granted. They’d rather every station but theirs get rehabbed and are content to let infrastructure age if it means they aren’t inconvenienced. The millions of New Yorkers who ride the subway every day are also content to ignore the news that impacts their lifeline to the economic hubs of the city, and the media that covers these areas is content to do a half-hearted job of it. The MTA too doesn’t make it any easier. This is outrage that has been in the works since November 2007, and with a little more effort from everyone, it should have been completely avoidable.