Tunnel Vision

Can Buses Salvage the L Train Shutdown?

Two-hundred additional shuttle buses are scheduled to be deployed during the 2019 subway closure, but more alternatives are needed.
June 14, 2017, 6:30pm
Image via Flickr user faungg's photos

In early 2019 the L train in New York City will shut down for 15 months to repair damage caused during Hurricane Sandy. Leading up to the closure, VICE will be providing relevant updates and proposals, as well as profiles of community members and businesses along the affected route in a series we're calling Tunnel Vision. Read more about the project here.

When the L train shutters between Manhattan and Brooklyn a little over a year from now, figuring out transportation alternatives for hundreds of thousands of riders is going to be a Herculean task. The potential alternate subway lines are already clogged—and immensely delayed—while other, more ambitious transit projects, like everything else in this city, take time to build. Buses are one of the few options that can be set up quickly, with existing resources, but they pose the additional challenge of mapping out routes that fit smartly into the larger, bustling cityscape.


Two-hundred new shuttle buses are already scheduled to be deployed during the L train shutdown. Yet, as it stands now, officials suggest that only 5 to 15 percent of riders will be taking a bus service of some kind during the 15 months that the train will be offline between Manhattan and Brooklyn. If accurate, that means about 95 percent of the 225,000 riders who rely on the train daily will be migrating to other nearby subway lines, or even ferries, likely creating chaos on the already overburdened systems.

So, the organizations that oversee the city's transit systems and streets, the MTA and DOT, respectfully, will need to figure out ways to make buses as appealing as possible. And last week, they tried to do just that at two separate community board meetings—one in Manhattan, and another in Brooklyn—where the agencies presented initial options to residents.

At Community Board 6, in Manhattan's East Side, the agencies made clear that they are actively considering a concept known as a 'PeopleWay' for 14th Street, which would close off the heavily congested thoroughfare, over which the L train runs, only to buses, bikes, and pedestrians. (VICE covered the idea more in-depth on this blog last month). The agencies also told residents that they're weighing more scaled-back alternatives, like enhanced express bus service, and a 'car-free busway' in the middle of the street, which would allow for more efficient travel.


Meanwhile, at Brooklyn's Community Board 1, on the north side, the agencies dived further into bus connections between Manhattan and Brooklyn, which would cross over the Williamsburg Bridge. According to Streetsblog NYC, a site that covers local transit, three routes were proposed, linking two L stops (Bedford Avenue and Grand Street) with destinations across the East River, one of which would head north, to 14th Street. However, whether or not the buses will be free, or even be given their own street space, is still unclear.

Before attending the meeting, Luke Ohlson, who works as a senior organizer for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization for commuters, said without prioritizing that space, the buses' potential would be stymied, as part of a larger effort.

"We're advocating for the Grand Street PeopleWay because if we don't create dedicated right of way for buses, they will be sitting in traffic and further contributing to North Brooklyn's serious air and noise pollution," he told me. "In addition to the buses having dedicated right of way, we'd like to see dedicated space for people walking and biking to further offset the looming impact of the L Train shutdown."

"There are 225,000 people who use the L Train to travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan each day," he continued, "and we can't count on other subway lines, plus shuttle buses, to carry that volume of people."

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Update: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article identified the abbreviation for the Department of Transportation as the DOJ. It is in fact the DOT. The post has been updated and we regret the error.