Speaker Corey Johnson opened this week’s City Council hearing on the 15-month L-train shutdown with a dramatic flourish. He promised “dogged oversight” and suggested with a firm note in his voice that there better be a “hard stop” at the project’s anticipated completion date. As you’re probably aware, service is expected to be suspended for 15 months between Bedford Avenue and 8th Avenue starting in April 2019. Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DoT) and the MTA are working around the clock with new plans to ease the fretful minds of legislators and affected residents and commuters. Here’s the important stuff you need to know from this week’s hearing.
Alternate Subway Routes
- An estimated 225,000 riders currently use the L train to travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day.
- The DoT estimates 70% of them, or nearly 160,000 people, will shift to using alternate subway routes. Primarily the J/M/Z and G, though a smaller portion will offload to the A/C and 2/3/4/5 lines. The city plans to add an additional three trains per hour on the J/M/Z lines and extend the length of the G service and size of C trains.
- With these expanded subway routes, widened stairways at station entrances, and other alternate services (see below), the city anticipates that the majority of riders will have an added commute time of only 10 minutes or less during the peak morning madness. Not bad.
- Only 4% of displaced riders will opt for a scenic ferry ride, but the DoT promises frequent enough service along the East River between the North Williamsburg and Stuyvesant Cove stops during peak hours. Ferries will accept MetroCards and Select Bus Service tickets.
- Service will run from 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends.
- The DoT estimates that 17% percent of current L train riders will switch to buses. The city plans to add a whopping 80 shuttle buses per hour over the Williamsburg Bridge during rush hour, prompting severe concerns about congestion at the already chaotic intersection of the bridge with Delancey, Grand & Essex Street.
- Four new inter-borough Select Bus services (L1, L2, L3, and L4) will be installed to provide service to affected L train riders in Manhattan and Brooklyn. For example: the L1 will pick up passengers between Grand Street and 1st Ave/15th St.
- DoT promised to ensure that buses will move speedily to forestall congestion and said they would hold spare buses in reserve just in case.
- The city also plans to convert 14th Street into a “busway” that will be in operation seven days a week between 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It gives priority to buses and prevents other motor vehicles from accessing the major thoroughfare, with the exception of pedestrian pickup and drop-off. Still probably better to ask your Lyft driver to drop you off on Avenue B or another side street for the time being.
- 5-7% of L riders will switch to bikes, taxis or cars. To increase safety for bikers, the city has proposed a pair of protected one-way bike lanes on 12th and 13th Street and a bike network connecting to the Williamsburg Bridge.
- To meet the demands of this increased bike ridership, DoT also brought up a newly-formed partnership with Citi Bike’s operator, Motivate, to unroll 1,250 new bikes and 2,500 docking stations in Williamsburg and Manhattan. So we’ll be seeing a lot more of those shiny blue wheels rolling around town.
- Additionally, the city announced a plan earlier this year to legally allow and regulate those nifty new “pedal-assist” or e-bikes that will help riders better travel around the city in a green way.
- On a more positive note: the DoT has committed to fixing a shameful stain on the city’s subway system: the lack of handicap-accessible elevators. They recently announced the addition of these elevators at the 14th St/6th Ave L subway station.
- The department has pledged that five years from now, no rider will be more than two stops from an accessible elevator.
Enforcement and Environment
- Approximately 102 traffic enforcement agents and 46 police officers will patrol key impacted corridors to deal with the increased flow of cars, bikers and pedestrians. Speaker Johnson requested a meeting with the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau to gain additional information on enforcement.
- City council members like Carlina Rivera from Manhattan and Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn posed questions about potential health impacts on their communities from the drastic increase in buses over the Williamsburg Bridge.
Transparency & Community Engagement
- Members of the 14th Street Coalition, which filed a lawsuit against the MTA, DoT, and other transit agencies in April of this year over the L train shutdown plans, expressed frustration over what they perceived as a lack of transparency on the part of the DoT and MTA and a failure to seek adequate community input before putting forth plans.
- Council members briefly discussed Speaker Johnson’s two recently proposed L train bills to deal with the hot mess that is the L train shutdown.
- The first bill would create an ombudsman in the DoT to sift through complaints and concerns arising from the shutdown. The second would require at least one community center in Manhattan or Brooklyn to distribute information regarding the shutdown.
On a brighter note amidst this gloom-and-doom: the Van Alen Institute, a nonprofit which focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to design challenges, hosted a week-long series of events about getting around the changing city of New York. At a flash competition at the New Design High School last week, five teams of urban design aficionados went head-to-head and proposed solutions for safely moving pedestrians and traffic in the wake of the increased cars and shuttle buses that will be flying over the Williamsburg Bridge next spring due to the L train debacle.
Some unorthodox solutions included: nifty retractable chairs that would unfold from the sides of the Williamsburg Bridge; integrating apps with Link NYC to map out estimated commute time; red pedestrian bridges boasting plant-friendly walkways; and rainbow-colored paint to demarcate pedestrian walkways from bike, car and bus lanes. Others focused on elevated bike lines and raised curbs at bus stops to improve safety for pedestrians and bikers. One group even stressed the need for “Infrastructure Vinyasas” or a “new way to stretch and move” the neighborhood. Seems more fitting for a yoga class in Williamsburg than an urban design presentation, but hey, we’ll take it.