For the MTA, it’s hard to find much good in the outcome from Superstorm Sandy. The saltwater that flooded the city’s subway tunnels significantly sped up an already-looming aging process, and the agency has had to spend federal dollars and manpower on restoration rather than, say, expansion. R and G train riders suffered through a lengthy service shutdown, and A and C train riders are in for a year of weekend service changes as the MTA rebuilds systems taken out by Sandy. But out of a crisis comes opportunity, and the L train is set to be the beneficiary of a bad situation.
As I mentioned over the weekend, the L train is finally — finally! — getting an upgrade New Yorkers have asked about for years. The 1st Avenue station will get an entrance at Ave. A. It’s not quite as good as a new stop at, say, Avenue C, but as I understand it, the slope and depth of the tunnel make that a near impossibility. Rather, the MTA will improve access for both Alphabet City residents and disabled riders as the new entrance will be handicapped accessible.
The work is part of a $300 million request to the FTA for Core Capacity funding. As L train ridership has nearly doubled since 1998 — the MTA cites a 98% increase over 16 years — the MTA is desperately seeking ways to handle the crowds. As part of the grant proposal, the MTA will add two trains per hour for an increase in service of around 10 percent, and the agency plans to add elevators at Bedford Ave. and a new street entrance as well. That stop has seen growth of 250% since the late 1990s and may see more yet. That’s an impressive figure for a line that could have been cut entirely in the late 1970s.
“More than 49,000 customers use the 1 Av and Bedford Av stations on an average weekday, and the stations experience overcrowding during peak periods. The area around the Bedford Av station has been rezoned to allow for almost 10,000 new residential units, and ridership is expected to continue to rise,” said New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco. “We have to increase capacity on the Canarsie Line and improve customer flow at stations to meet this increasing demand, and securing federal funding for a project of this magnitude will go a long way toward achieving that goal.”
So what does all this have to do with Hurricane Sandy? As the MTA noted in its press release regarding the funding request, the work at the 1st Ave. station will start first, and it will “be coordinated with planned repairs to the Canarsie Tube, which was flooded during Superstorm Sandy.” In other words, as a few people with knowledge of the situation have said to me, without the looming Sandy shutdowns for the L train, the new station at Ave. A wouldn’t really be feasible. The GOs for the L will enable the MTA to perform the focused work needed to build out a new entrance around a tight two-track line.
There are still some questions surrounding this work. It’s not clear how much the station improvements at 1st and Bedford Avenues will cost or how much of the money is going toward the capacity upgrades. We don’t yet know the timing either, and considering the damage to the city, it’s hard to praise Sandy for positive results. But the MTA is seemingly making the most out of a bad situation, and for that, East Village residents can now look forward to transit upgrades.