What if gondolas actually are part of the answer? What if, to solve the L train’s looming transit crisis that will arise out of the 2019 shutdown, we need to think so far outside of the box that ideas that seem laughably overwrought and particularly overpromised are part of the answer? That is one recommendation in the latest report on the L train shutdown from NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.
As everyone jockeys for a say in how best to address this incoming transit crisis, the Rudin Center unveiled its own mitigation report last night. Penned by Mitchell Moss, Sarah Kaufman, Jorge Hernandez and Sam Levy, the report gives a nod to “entirely new forms of transportation,” including the so-called East River Skyway and Scooter-share, a motorized bike share system popular in San Francisco. Picking up on the Skyway’s promise of 5000 peak-hour passengers, the Rudin Center report notes that “this is the right time to consider a New York city gondola between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg to vastly reduce the city’s reliance on climate-vulnerable tunnels.” (Of course, the time to start building a gondola so it is ready for early 2019 is approximately now, but that’s the least of it.)
The report, of course, doesn’t dwell only on alternatives. It is, in fact, one of the more common-sense efforts to propose a solution to the L train woes, and more importantly, it urges all involved to pay attention to more than just Williamsburg and Bushwick. “The concentration of higher-level formal education degrees affects a potentially disproportionate influence by these neighborhoods on the political process,” the report notes. “The initial news that the MTA was planning to shut down the Canarsie Tube led to an uproar by residents and business owners in Williamsburg. While service disruptions will affect the L’s various users differently, the concerns of residents in less influential neighborhoods, such as Brownsville and East New York, should be considered equally.”
And yet, those areas closest to Manhattan have seemingly more to lose. Although the L train overall seems to ferry upwards of 65,000 people to and from their primary places of employment each day, these neighborhoods along the L train’s western Brooklyn leg have shorter commutes and more restaurants, bars and overall economic activity. That doesn’t give them a right to have a louder voice, but it means that mitigation needs to be attuned to the areas with fewer options. After all, a L rider in Canarsie can take the 3 train and anyone east of Broadway Junction can transfer to the A, C, J or Z.
Still, over 225,000 daily riders have to get to where the L train takes them, and to that end, the Rudin Center offers up a seven-prong approach similar to mine. In addition to those gondolas and scooters, the Rudin Centers call for more service along all connecting subway lines, high speed bus service with a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge, partnerships with ride-sharing companies, increased East River ferry service, bike and car shares services (though I’m less convinced the latter is part of the solution rather than a potential problem), and cooperation with local businesses. “The long-term closure,” the report says, “will give the MTA and city agencies an opportunity to work together and increase city’s transportation options in the long run.” Notably, the report is silent on the proposed 14th St. Peopleway, a key element of the mitigation efforts with L service completely shuttered on the Manhattan side of the river.
Ultimately, as the Rudin Center noted, the L train shutdown provides a great crisis that the city and MTA shouldn’t let go to waste. The challenges of moving hundreds of thousands of people every day should permit us to be flexible with street space and transit prioritization while understanding just how people move around the city and how important the subways are. Both the MTA and DOT have been rather silent lately on plans, but the lull of summer is hardly a peak time for transit planning. As advocates put more pressure on these agencies for a response, hopefully mitigation pictures will emerge soon, and if they happen to include gondolas, well, there’s a first time for everything.