Since the MTA officially canceled the L train shutdown and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrapped up his MTA powerplay last month, all has been quiet on the Canarsie front. Various advocacy groups have been jockeying for the city to commit to maintaining robust people-first travel options and a true dedicated busway along 14th St., but with politicians wavering and silence from the Mayor’s Office, we’ve seen more rallies but little concrete action.
The silence buckled a bit last week when MTA officials briefed reporters and local politicians on their mitigation plans for the L train’s upcoming not-quite-a-shutdown shutdown. Though the 14th St. busway remains a decision under NYC DOT’s purview, the MTA will still roll out Select Bus Service along the busy and painfully slow M14 corridor, but the rest of the mitigation plan involves beefing up nearby subway service and hoping for the best. The agency clearly believes that most L train riders who do not opt for taxis of various shades and apps will complete their trips via subway, and if the proposed mitigation isn’t sufficient, well, the L train shutdown plans are only just mothballed.
If not a full-blown, car-restrictive mitigation plan, what then is the MTA going to implement? So glad you asked.
We’ll start with the L train service plan. On weeknights from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and throughout the weekend during the work, L trains will run between Brooklyn and Manhattan every 20 minutes. This does not, however, mean full L train service the rest of the day as the MTA has to “ramp down” L trains beginning at 8 p.m. on weeknights. The ramp down, as I understand it, is to allow work trains to move into position to maximize the seven-hour construction window. But even occasion service delays at that hour will be impactful. As regular L train riders know, the L train is far from empty at 10 p.m., let alone 8 p.m., and this service slowdown will inevitably disrupt nightlife along the L train, a big part of the NYC economy whether hipster-hating New Yorkers want to admit it or not.
On the Brooklyn side of the tunnel, L trains will run from Lorimer St. to Canarsie every 10 minutes until 1:30 a.m. until reverting to the current 20-minute overnight headways. Essentially, the MTA will run every other Lorimer-bound L train past Lorimer St. into Manhattan, and the other half will turn around at Lorimer and head east again.
To provide pick up the load, the agency plans to run five additional G trains on weeknights between 8:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. in both directions. G trains though will not be lengthened as initially promised under the original mitigation plan. Rather, Transit officials believe shorter trains with more frequent headways can better move more people. On weekends, the G will run every eight minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays instead of every ten.
Similarly, M trains will run into Manhattan, terminating at 96th St. and 2nd Ave. (instead of Queens Boulevard) from 10 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., and M trains will operate with eight-minute headways running to the Upper East Side on weekends as well. Transit officials insist that this M train rerouting will not reduce service on the Queens Boulevard line, but it’s not quite clear to me how that’s the case.
Some other perks include five additional 7 trains between 8:30 p.m. and midnight and more frequent 7 train service on the weekends. The MTA will also institute free out-of-system transfers between the 3 and L at Junius/Livonia and between the G and J/M in the Broadway/Hewes/Lorimer area. Additionally, the MTA will institute bus loops on the Brooklyn side, providing weeknight service every three minutes from Bedford to Metropolitan to Broadway and from Hewes to Marcy to Metropolitan. Weekend frequency for these bus loops remain under review.
On the Manhattan side, things get a bit dicier as the MTA plans to run M14 buses every three minutes up and down 14th St. Without a commitment by the city to the busway though, it’s very easy to see how this plan falls apart instantly as significant bus traffic fights for limited street space with the private automobiles that already choke 14th St. in congestion. Without enforced, dedicated lanes, this bus plan will fail, and anyone who is able to will find walking across Manhattan faster.
Finally, the wild card in all of this planning is station metering — or the practice of limiting access to station platforms during periods of extreme crowding. Metering first became part of the public discussion when early drafts of this mitigation plan leaked to Streetsblog and Gothamist in late January. Although the MTA denied that these plans were ripe for public review, what the agency presented last week essentially mirrors those earlier leaks, and crowd control was a big concern.
Could the MTA, then, implement exit-only restrictions at certain Manhattan L train stations or station metering in which platforms are closed and passengers have to queue up in station mezzanines or at street level? In a statement on crowd control and station metering, Maxwell Young, the MTA’s new chief external affairs officer, downplayed this outcome. “We’re still evaluating the best options to deal with crowding, which we anticipate to be especially high only on only a couple of hours during the weekends,” he said. “We will be working with our partners at the NYPD and the DOT to put in place a plan to make sure everyone stays safe. Making stations exit only is not our preferred solution.”
There’s an element of “hold your breath and hope for the best” in this plan, and the pain points are quite clear. The uncertain fate of the 14th St. looms large, and the cancellation of HOV3+ restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge could lead to an Uber-pocalypse during weekends as Brooklyn-bound riders get fed up with roundabout alternate routes, long waits and extremely crowded trains. But as I said, the city and MTA both have the plans for more expansive mitigation plans at the ready should traffic and transit service grind to a halt when the L train work begins in earnest.
The key here is what we’ve lost. Where once we had certainty, the MTA doesn’t yet know how long this new approach to the Canarsie Tunnel work will take or how many weekends the city will be stuck with 20-minute L train headways. Furthermore, we’re losing an opportunity to watch a new approach to work unfold before our eyes. The L train was to be a model for Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan, a way to shut down train lines, provide alternate service options and blitz the line with modernization work. But when push came to shove (or when a mystery many grabbed him by the lapels), Cuomo turned away from this new model. Maintaining service should be the goal of any transit operator, but in this case, maintaining — and, more importantly, improving — service might have required a temporary outage. Instead, we get a Band-Aid and a leaky one, at that.
Editor’s Note: Second Ave. Sagas is starting its second year of being fully reader-supported. To ensure ads do not interfere with the site and to expand my content offerings, I started a Patreon for Second Ave. Sagas. If you like what you read and want more of it (including the return of my podcast), please consider a monthly donation. I’ll be back later this week with an analysis of a key Scott Stringer report on subway delay reporting. Thank you, as always, for your support.