When it comes to crosstown subways, New York City isn’t particularly well-served by the current set-up. The E and M cut across 53rd St., and the Shuttle and 7 provide service across a portion of 42nd St. But no train provides nearly full-island coverage as the L train does. With five stops from 8th Ave. to 1st Ave. that provide connections to 14 subway routes (and every other Manhattan trunk line), the L is a lifeline for 14th St. and one that could disappear entirely if the MTA implements a full L train shutdown for Sandy repairs.
So far, in all the discussions over the L train shutdown, the focus has been on Brooklyn and rightly so. But the L train’s five stops in Manhattan are popular in their own right, and although riders have alternate routes that aren’t too far away, the end-to-end nature of the 14t St. stops means riders in Manhattan will run into problems too. Now, as the MTA inches closer to determining some sort of solution for the L train, we have a better sense of what a shutdown means for Manhattan as well.
The problem, ultimately, is one of access to yards. If the Canarsie Tubes are shut down completely, the MTA could consider 14th St. shuttle service in Manhattan, but with a major caveat: Trains would not be able to reach a yard. There are no access points from the L to any yards in Manhattan, and any problems in Manhattan would leave the line dead to rights. In The Wall Street Journal today, Andrew Tangel explores this problem. He writes:
A future shutdown of the L train’s East River tunnel for repairs has had Brooklyn residents and businesses on edge, but Manhattan could get its own transit headache. A full closure of the tunnel—and both of its tracks potentially for more than a year—could lead to a shutdown of the L train stops in Manhattan in addition to halting subway service under the East River, cutting off a key crosstown route…
The L doesn’t merge with other lines in Manhattan, meaning a full tunnel closure could prevent subway cars from getting to a yard in the East New York area of Brooklyn where they undergo maintenance, repairs if they break down, or routine inspections. “Those trains could then be trapped,” this person said. “It all depends on the construction schedule and the plan.”
…Business leaders worry that a tunnel shutdown could prevent customers from getting to popular nightlife and dining spots in places such as the Williamsburg area in north Brooklyn. “A full shutdown will cripple that entire part of Brooklyn,” said Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. While closing down one direction of the tunnel at a time would let the MTA keep L trains running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, such a plan could sharply reduce service, transit experts said. The heavily used line’s capacity would drop by 75%, said Rich Barone, vice president for transportation at the Plan Association, a civic group focused on urban planning.
Although the MTA has not yet settled on a plan, their internal efforts seem to be focused around one of two solutions — successive single-tube shutdowns or a full line shutdown. The idea of seven years of inefficient repairs only on nights and weekends doesn’t have many proponents within the agency. As part of these efforts the agency will have to serve Manhattan riders as well as Brooklyn customers, and while I suggested a seven-layer solution to Brooklyn’s problems, we can add another layer for Manhattan. The 14th St. corridor should devote significant space to 24/7 bus lanes to serve those riders stranded by an L train shutdown.
As Tangel reports, the RPA is set to propose a dedicated right of way for buses along 14th St., and the opportunity that may arise due to the Sandy shutdown could give the city cover to see how a crosstown busway works. As you may recall, the previously proposed crosstown transitway 20 blocks to the north died a sad death at the hands of NIMBYs five years ago, and a 14th St. corridor could showcase how this idea should and can work in New York City. It is of course a silver lining to a disruptive cloud, but that L train storm is coming one way or another. Every option for a better solution during (and after) the shutdown should be on the table.