Home Superstorm Sandy De Blasio seems to dig in for unnecessary L train fight

De Blasio seems to dig in for unnecessary L train fight

by Benjamin Kabak
The MTA's mitigation plan involves city cooperation, but will the mayor collaborate ahead of the L train shutdown? (Click to enlarge)

The MTA’s map of potential service during the L train closure highlights how increased subway service, buses and ferries will help mitigate the effects of the 18-month shutdown. (Click to enlarge)

For better or worse, the L train shutdown is going to dominate the news coverage for the next few years as it has been for the past seven or eight months. Last week, after months of outreach and public meetings, announced the inevitable and said that a full 18-month shutdown was the choice as “the least risky way” to perform the work. And Mayor Bill de Blasio decided this was a good way to dig in on his fight with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the expense of a prime opportunity to lead.

After both deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris and de Blasio issued statements regarding the 18-month shutdown — “we are deeply concerned that it would announce an 18-month shutdown of this critical service without a clear plan or a commitment of resources for mitigating the impact of this closure,” Shorris said — de Blasio decided to double down on criticism. In comments on The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, the mayor questioned the need for a full 18-month shutdown and immediately cast doubt upon the idea of a 14th Street Peopleway. He is taking a crisis and doing the most to lose on all issues.

Dana Rubinstein summed up the mayor’s views:

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday he’s still dubious that the MTA actually needs to shut down the L train tunnel for a year and a half to repair the damage wrought by seven million gallons of Hurricane Sandy-induced flooding. “It’s a long time,” said the mayor, during his weekly appearance on the WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show.” “And we’re certainly going to push hard to see, does it it really have to be so long? Is there any other way to go about this?”

…Some worry the communication disconnect between de Blasio and the MTA, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo effectively controls, is evidence that the apparently never-ending de Blasio-Cuomo feud might interfere with L train mitigation efforts.Jon Orcutt, the advocacy director at TransitCenter is, for one, convinced of the need for the prolonged shutdown. “Yeah, I mean, the work has to happen,” Orcutt said. “It’s not optional.”

De Blasio seems somewhat less certain, even as he acknowledged that he’s “sure” the decision “has a practical, underlying rationale.” “Most important point here is that we have to push the MTA to confirm, do they really need to do it that way, are there better alternatives, and what are they going to do to maximize the alternatives that they can provide…for those riders,” he said…

One of the mitigation proposals advanced by advocates is a closure of 14th Street to personal cars.
De Blasio’s not yet convinced of the need for that either. “It’s not one that, on first blush, sounds to me easy, given how important 14th Street is. But we’ll look at everything and anything we can do,” he said. He also noted that his citywide ferry service will have launched by the time the closure goes into effect in 2019, though he has also said, in the past, “we’re going to need a lot more than that, obviously.”

Promoting the ferry network — his idea and a necessary one but also one that helps only those in Williamsburg close to the water — while throwing cold water on other people’s proposal to turn a crosstown street over to transit and buses is a very Bill de Blasio move. de Blasio, a car guy who gets driven 13 miles to his gym every morning, thinks 14th St. is important because it’s a popular motorist route. He doesn’t seem to understand the 14th Street is “important” because so many people use it as a transit corridor (and he doesn’t seem to understand how turning one single crosstown street into a so-called peopleway could be a new front in his half-hearted Vision Zero initiative).

In subsequent comments on the Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio dug in: “Most important point here is that we have to push the MTA to confirm — do they really need to do it that way? Are there better alternatives? And what are they going to do to maximize the alternatives that they can provide — buses and other things they can provide — for those riders?” As Streetsblog noted, it’s a disingenuous argument as the MTA has been talking about a shutdown for eight months, and de Blasio’s own DOT Commission is on the MTA Board and has recognized the need for city-state cooperation.

The mayor, meanwhile, isn’t winning any friends at the agency with which he will have to collaborate. Take a look at this statement, via Tweet, from MTA spokesperson Beth de Falco.

The mayor has a few options here. He can dig in against the MTA and fight an inevitable and unavoidable shutdown that has been particularly well planned and well presented to the public. He can avoid collaborating and ensure that DOT resources — a necessary part of any shutdown as DOT controls the streets any bustitution plan will require — aren’t used to help mitigate the L train shutdown. Or he could put this element of his dispute with Cuomo to one side and help plan a real solution to the L train shutdown. He could be a leader on street space and safe streets while working to help New Yorkers avoid, as much as possible, 18 months of transit pain. Can he rise above the bickering with Cuomo or will L train riders, already stranded by damage from Sandy come 2019, be left out in the cold by their mayor as well?

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John-2 August 3, 2016 - 12:33 am

Demagoguing an issue is a time-honored tradition among politicians, especially those possibly facing a tough primary re-election fight a year from now.

De Blasio knows Williamsburg and Bushwick residents and businesses are mad about the shutdown coming in 2019 … but he also knows it’s not happening until 2019. So throwing out some red meat and false promises to area residents in 2016-17 and getting in a few extra shots at Andrew Cuomo is a no-lose proposition in the mayor’s mind, because by the time the shutdown arrives, he hopes to be almost 1 1/2 years into his second term (which also would be 2 1/2 years before the 2021 election, by which time de Blasio will hope the voters in Williamsburg and Bushwick will have forgotten he lied to them about being able to do anything about the 18-month construction timetable).

JJ McMahon August 14, 2016 - 4:32 pm Reply
Manuel August 3, 2016 - 12:58 am

I take the L everyday from 8th Abe to 1st Ave I am just praying I find another job by 2019 because this shut down is going to be a hude disaster I don’t care what anybody tells me this line is busy ALL DAY and as I said plenty of times Williamsburg is exploding with growth they need to build another tunnel or invest in that south 4th station because it’s only gonna get worse as more people move to north Brooklyn there are already 400k people using this line what more does the city and state have to see ?

LLQBTT August 4, 2016 - 9:23 am

Large housing developments continue to go up along the L. There’s another huge one by the Lorimer stop, next to Kellogg’s, another by Graham where the White Castle used to be, another by Grand where the Liberty department store used to be, and a few more by Morgan where factories/warehouses used to be. And this is just a sampling. These buildings have a huge footprint and are 8 or 9 stories tall. Each 1 on its own is probably 1 full L train, so that’s many more full L trains coming on line in a year or so.

Tower18 August 4, 2016 - 11:21 am

Let’s not exaggerate. The building on Metropolitan next to Kellogg’s is, I think, supposed to be a hotel and residential building. Links I can find say 188 hotel rooms and 59 apartments.

Even if you assume all hotel rooms and all residents will use the L train simultaneously, it doesn’t even come close to filling 2-3 *cars* of a single L train.

Steve August 7, 2016 - 12:20 pm

A “huge disaster”? Really? I live at 14th and First, so this is a trip I make often. By train, if the L comes immediately it’s about 5 minutes at rush hour. By bus, at the same time, it’s about 15 minutes. (Yes, I have timed it at rush hour.) Is allowing yourself an extra 10 minutes really a disaster? If 14th Street is converted to a Transitway during the shutdown, it will take an extra maybe 5 minutes. Is an added 5 to 10 minutes on your commute really enough to find a new job?

Larry Littlefield August 3, 2016 - 7:58 am

Generally treated as serfs and cash cows, young workers such as those who ride the L train are now being treated as pawns. By those who don’t have to care.

They may have started to vote with their feet.


If this is something other than a data blip, one of the places it might show up earliest is a leveling off and then decrease in subway ridership.

Bolwerk August 3, 2016 - 8:57 am

How would our ancestors see us? If it were 1917 and we knew such a critical crossing had to be shut down in 1920, we perhaps would have just built parallel tubes. OK, maybe not that fast, but in any case we probably have known since 2012 this would be coming, and that would have been plenty of time to get a parallel tube done by 2019.

Larry Littlefield August 3, 2016 - 9:13 am

As people who could tie things up for years unless and until they get paid?

Actually, things were entirely this bad in NY for much of its history. Just read the book about what it took to build the Brooklyn Bridge, which was finished years late and vastly over budget. Or Tammany Hall blocking subways for years until arrangements could be made for them to get paid.

Then you had the REAL progressive era, when progressive Democrats sought to make government more fair and efficient so it could do more, and progressive Republicans sought to make government more fair and efficient so it would cost less while doing what it had to do.

That ended decades ago.

Bolwerk August 3, 2016 - 10:23 am

I know with some rail projects it’s estimated they cost 2x or more what was necessary to construct them (that includes the IND, at least according to Robert Caro). But…they got done, and we still reap the rewards today.

Have you noticed how, in an emergency, New York becomes super-efficient? Even tracks are placed quickly and cheaply. RBB reactivation would probably be in the low nine figures if it were done as efficiently as the IND Rockaway line south of Fulton was refurbished after Sandy. Now these hucksters are trying to sell us a nine figure bus service on Woodhaven.

John-2 August 3, 2016 - 11:26 am

That’s the way it is everywhere when a crisis hits and pols suddenly are afraid their jobs are on the line if they don’t perform. Caltrans in the Los Angeles area was telling people in the far northern suburbs it would take a decade to get commuter rail to their areas, but when the Northridge quake hit and knocked out the main highway interchange on I-5 in the area, they had temporary wooden stations built in one week for the new commuter rail line.

Setting up wooden platforms on an existing line’s easier than building a new subway line from scratch, obviously. But the same thing was seen in New York initially after Sandy, when all the alleged barriers to reopening the old South Ferry station (no spare parts to fix the moving platforms, not ADA compliant, five car platform length…) came down in about 2 1/2 months because enough people were mad and were going to remember the people in office if it didn’t happen.

Larry Littlefield August 3, 2016 - 12:37 pm

The most telling example of this was the design and construction of a mile of subway after 9/11 — the lower section of the #1 line — in one year, under budget.

The pulled the plans from the original subway in 1904 and used them as the base (as opposed to completely redoing the plans from 1968 for the Second Avenue Subway), and there was no environmental review, no litigation, no demands for logrolling, no excess consulting fees, no labor featherbedding, no mafia payoffs, no nothing.

Now granted the hole the subway runs in was, for the most part, already there. But at the actual World Trade Center site that hole was collapsed under tons of rubble when the design began, and had to be redesigned for the future development above it.

Say what you will about the new Tappan Zee, but Cuomo was able to ram that one through and get it done too.

AMH August 3, 2016 - 12:35 pm

Exactly–I’d like to see a study of how things get done in a crisis and how to make that SOP.

Spendmor Wastemor August 4, 2016 - 1:34 pm

Once again, Mr Littlefield removes spin and reveal’s the ball’s trajectory.
Minions, put this man an a watch list, he’s dangerous!

ChrisInEngland August 4, 2016 - 8:14 am

Do you really think that after building parallel tunnels so the service could continue that they would then still work on the original?

I could easily see them saying “well we now have this spiffy new pair of tunnels why waste $$$ on the old ones”??

Rick August 3, 2016 - 2:39 pm

If the 11th St. Connector is used to bring the G train into Manhattan, the crisis will be solved. This permanent improvement can be accomplished in several ways. The Queens Blvd R can the routed through the 63rd St tunnel. A switch track north of Queens Plaza would allow the southbound M trains to enter Queens Plaza on the express track. The northbound G can then be brought into Queens Plaza on the Manhattan bound local track, then sent through the 11th Street connector and into the BMT 60th St tunnel, sharing the track with the N and the new W.

If a smnall amount of construction can be contemplated, the same result can be accomplished without crossing G trains north of Court Square by building an underpass crossover. We could even build a direct connection from the G Court Sq station into the 11th St Connector. We have three years to accomplish this tiny construction project. The entire original IRT was built in four years.

If it is important that the N run on the express track in Manhattan and the R on the local track, the N can be made the Queens Blvd local and the R the Astoria train.

The Mayor is right to regard the L closure as a real crisis for hundreds of thousands of people. Buses would add a half hour a day each way minimum. That lost hour of living for 18 months is a personal disaster for people with families. Foe people with lives. This calls for drastic action, though it is sad that a tiny bit of subway construction has become, in our times, something drastic.

Lance August 3, 2016 - 3:22 pm

I really do wish people would stop equating construction of the first subway to how things are built today. Not only were there less labor rules and regulations in place at the turn of the 20th century when the city built the IRT subway, but the great bureaucracy that slows every project to a grinding halt these days did not exist or wasn’t as powerful back then. Look at the current subway/rail projects that have been completed or still in progress. It took a decade from conception to completion to get the 7-line extended from Times Square to the Hudson Yards. The Second Avenue line in its present incarnation was conceived in the late ’90s and we’re still waiting for the first phase to open some 20 years later. What seems like a simple project, any plan to reroute the G-line to Manhattan via 60th Street will have to undergo various feasibility and environmental studies among others before work can even start to move forward.

None of the above includes the task of digging around the existing infrastructure in the area. Since the Crosstown line currently leads directly to the Queens Blvd local tracks, any new Manhattan/Crosstown connection would have to dip below the existing Queens Blvd tracks and make a hard left to hit the 11th Street cut. Either that or the MTA would have to acquire nearby property to facilitate a softer curve. Then, there’s the matter of where one would send the G-line under such a proposal. With the return of the W service this fall, there would already be four lines on the Broadway mainline. Adding the G-line would not help matter at all, but rather exacerbate the problems already plaguing the Broadway line.

Lance August 3, 2016 - 3:26 pm

All in all, there are few options to alleviate the pain of this upcoming tunnel closure and unfortunately, rerouting the G-line to Manhattan is not one of them.

Brooklynite August 3, 2016 - 9:31 pm

You do raise fair points, but let’s be honest: aside from bureaucracy (some of it justified, the majority of it not), the only thing that’s made projects more difficult is the increase in underground infrastructure. In exchange, we’re no longer building everything by hand like they did in 1904. Frankly, I think the use of automated tools should more than overcome the extra tunnels and sewers underground.

We haven’t completely lost the ability to do projects quickly when we want to. See the above discussion on emergency projects getting done unreasonably quickly. What we need to do is learn from those projects and apply that to the ones that take decades and cost billions.

aestrivex August 4, 2016 - 9:15 pm

The question of permanent routing aside, residents of Astoria can live with one lines worth of service for 18 months.

A possible permanent routing might go like this:

N to Jamaica center via 63rd
E local to forest hills
R/W to astoria
Q to second avenue
G Broadway local via 60. It could also turn at 9 Av on the west end

There is some frequency problems in this suggestion. To make a real better system would require other construction projects like at 59th St and 4th av

Rick August 20, 2016 - 9:43 pm

Aestrivex has the right vision. Sending the G into Manhattan via the 60th Street tunnel is entirely feasible and certainly can be accomplished in less than three years. Given the urgency, it may even be possible to fastback the bureaucracy. And with the N and Q entering the 57th St station on the express track and the G/R/W coming in on the local track, the delay that comes with shuffling Broadway BMT trains between express and local tracks would be eliminated.

Adirondacker12800 August 20, 2016 - 10:12 pm

If they started on Monday you might, if you pushed reallly reallly hard and no one sued get to the point of finding the funding for the final environmental review in three years.

Rick August 21, 2016 - 1:10 am

The species that landed a man on the moon can do better than this. It might take some special legislation. But it can be done.

JJJ August 3, 2016 - 3:04 pm

Gondolas. Gondolas everywhere. make 14th street an aerial-way.

Blasio will love it because it will get the serfs out of the way of his limo. And Cuomo will agree for the same reason.

At the end of the day, they can disagree on everything – except the absolute need for unhindered limousine travel.

Bolwerk August 3, 2016 - 4:43 pm

I can’t tell whether you’re kidding, but in terms of attractiveness gondolas aren’t much better than ferries.

LLQBTT August 4, 2016 - 9:16 am

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Us L train riders are your constituents, Mr. Mayor.

David Brown August 4, 2016 - 9:24 am

Bill DiBlasio really disappoints me on so many issues.
He is the first ( and so far) only Democrat I ever supported.( I am an Arch Conservative) His “Two New York’s” comment was dead on, as was his support for teachers over Charter Schools. But on issues like transportation ( like the treatment of police) he deserves a Grade of F. I expected leadership on the L Train issue, instead of pandering. It’s sad because when he was elected I saw a great man who although his approach to issues are clearly left wing, could have been the President this Country deserves. Someone who will stand up to special interests.

Tom S August 4, 2016 - 9:34 am

He has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. If Hillary fails to get elected, the NY democrat with the most credibility in 2020 will be Cuomo, not BdB.

If the Republicans are smart they’ll run a moderate black man against him next year.

I wonder what would have happened if Joe Lhota of the MTA had become mayor?

Bolwerk August 4, 2016 - 12:07 pm

Not sure why a New Yorker would be wanted in 2020, and you can probably expect fatigue with them after this year. The story of the year is a flamboyant New York huckster suckering red staters. Luckily for the Republikans in 2020, the Chicagoan will probably win.

Anyway, Hillary, Lhota, Cuomo, de Blasio, and Bloomberg are all much the same kind of neoliberals. Ironically, de Blasio is probably less of an ideologue than the others, so probably is marginally more competent at the governing thing. He doesn’t seem very interested in doing more than preserving the status quo, and doesn’t exactly have imaginative policies. Lhota would probably have preferred the Bloomberg approach of fleecing taxpayers to enrich corporate and ideological comrades.

Panthers1 August 4, 2016 - 1:13 pm

China just had a test run of a bus that is actually more of a people mover. It allows cars to go underneath it. That would be perfect for the 14th Street corridor.

Bolwerk August 4, 2016 - 1:53 pm

We already had something that moves more people in a smaller footprint a century ago. It’s called an el.

Trenton Meche August 20, 2016 - 9:11 pm

In terms of performance improvement, an open system obviates the need to maintain a proprietary fare payment system. While a transit agency can still issue its own fare cards for those who don t have bank cards or don t want to tie a credit or debit card into a transit agency payment system, the option exists, but at a much lower cost to the transit agency as an account-oriented system significantly reduces the per-transaction cost of maintaining a proprietary system.


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