Just a day after I explored reasons why a Brooklyn-based F express service won’t work without added East River capacity, the MTA dropped a bombshell on the Borough of Kings. After sitting on a feasibility report for months, if not years, New York City Transit finally unveiled the agency’s official position on F express service, and the agency concluded, with many obstacles still to overcome, that it could implement some form of F express service in the fall of 2017. Agency sources have said that, despite premature word from certain Brooklyn politicians, the restoration of F express service is not a done deal, but already, the controversial proposal that sees local stations lose as much as 50 percent of their current F train service has pit neighbors and politicians against each other as a transit-based Civil War has erupted in Brooklyn.
The idea itself is born out of history. The original pieces of the BMT and IND that make up the Culver Line included provisioning for express service. The IND segments offer full four-track express service between Jay St. and Church Ave. with a stop at 7th Ave. (and a former stop at Bergen St. that was closed following a fire in the late 1990s). South of Church Ave., there is a third track that could support some express service, but until certain interlockings near Kings Highway are modernized, this option is off the table.
The MTA’s proposal — presented here on the agency’s website and further explored in this pdf report — is something of a modified F express service with two-way express service between Church Ave. and Jay St. F trains running express would skip six stations in Kensington/Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Red Hook/Gowanus and Cobble Hill, many of which happen to be the most popular stations along the F line in Brooklyn. The MTA’s report has determined that the time savings for express riders would outweigh the time lost by local riders, but waits at popular local stations would be long — perhaps even as long as 15 minutes during the end of peak hours. (Analysis by Alastair Coote last year determined that F express service to Ave X would be a net loss for all F train riders, but the MTA’s modified plan seems to cut slightly in favor of express service.)
But there are some problems. It’s hard to overstate how unhappy local riders are over the reduced service, and that’s the big problem. Because of limitations further down the line, including merges with other trains and an East River chokepoint, the MTA cannot run F express service while maintaining local service. The G train doesn’t cut it due to a lack of access to Manhattan and the need for multiple transfers, and the G also cannot access IND Culver express tracks until the switch just west of 4th Ave. The MTA would need another Manhattan trunk link (Coney Island to, say, Second Ave. perhaps) to support current local service and additional F express. This service also reduces frequencies to 4th Ave./9th St., a major transfer point between the BMT and IND and results in less subway service for Smith/9th Sts. station that skirts and serves Red Hook.
The MTA has already had to clarify that this is a proposal only and not one that’s definite. The agency plans to bring it to community groups over the coming months and wouldn’t implement it until late 2017. Still, the F train civil war has come, pitting City Council representative David Greenfield against City Council representative Brad Lander. Following a Tweetstorm well worth reading on Tuesday, Lander released a strong statement against the F train. Noting that the MTA’s report “shows that the total number of riders who will suffer under this proposal is actually greater than the number of riders who will benefit” and F express service “comes at the expense” of many riders, Lander and his co-signers stated they are “furious” with the MTA:
“We are extremely dismayed by the utter lack of process on the part of the MTA regarding proposed new F-Express service between Church Avenue and Jay St-MetroTech stops in Brooklyn. The proposed service change harms more people than it helps, ignores our request for increased service, and pits Brooklyn residents against each other, creating ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ without sufficient information or dialogue.
We made clear from the start that we could only support an F-Express if overall service was increased on the F line and riders at local stops were not harmed. The MTA promised to share information with the community before making a decision – including information about what service increase would be needed to avoid harming riders at local stations.
Instead of providing a fair process, the MTA blindsided our communities, announcing the proposal in a newspaper, before providing any information to community stakeholders or the elected officials representing these areas.”
Meanwhile, Greenfield — who’s also taken to Twitter — at first seemed to think F express service would start this year, but then started patting himself on the back for securing this win for his constituents. “I’m very happy that the MTA has finally released this report, and I’m thrilled that after a decades-long absence, the F express will finally be returning to Brooklyn,” he said in a statement. “This is a long overdue move that will drastically cut commute times for riders in southern Brooklyn and restore transit equity to neighborhoods that have languished in transit deserts for decades.”
I don’t agree that areas of the city with steady F train service are transit deserts, and Greenfield’s claims that this gives service to those who had “none” don’t bear up to scrutiny. It indeed pits neighbors against neighbors and politicians against politicians.
It’s hard to say where this goes from here. The MTA is facing severe criticism from a lot of people who have chosen to live in areas along the F train on the basis of constant service. These people could see a 50 percent reduction in service with more crowded trains, longer exit times and generally worse transit all so that people further down the line could save a few minutes. It’s a bad situation, and if this is the only way to implement the F express service, the MTA should think long and hard about doing so even if it means upsetting some representatives in Brooklyn. Until the MTA can maintain local frequencies while adding express service, the status quo may just be the right answer here.