Tech by VICE

Williamsburg’s Angry Town Hall Meetings Are the Future of Failing Infrastructure

The L-pocalypse isn’t here yet, but the panic is.

by Jason Koebler
Jan 28 2016, 7:16pm

Image: Evan Rodgers

New York State Senator Daniel Squadron addressed a couple hundred distraught constituents gathered at a hip bowling alley emblematic of Brooklyn's gentrification in recent years.

"Raise your hand if anyone here think it's OK if the L train shuts shuts down for a year, or for six months," Squadron asked. "Does anyone here think it's anything less than a crisis?"

No hands went up.

The L-pocalypse is coming, the early effects of the L-pocalypse is here. The New York City subway train is the most direct route between Brooklyn and Manhattan, servicing some 300,000 people every day. News recently leaked that the city's transit authority, the MTA, is considering shutting the train down as early as 2017 for between one and three years to repair floodwater damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. That prospect understandably has many of those who live, work, or own businesses in north Brooklyn quite upset; Thursday's meeting of the "L Train Coalition" at Brooklyn Bowl made clear that the dialogue between concerned citizens, elected leaders, and the MTA is going to be contentious, at best.

The meeting was the first time an MTA official has shown up to publicly discuss the possibility of shutting down the train. It trotted out assistant director of government and community relations Andrew Inglesby to serve as, more or less, a verbal punching bag for upset citizens.

One of the other men on stage joked about allowing the crowd to beat him up. Members of the crowd screamed that he should be fired. He suffered nothing but verbal abuse, as no one at the meeting minced words, no one at the meeting is looking at this as anything less than a potential catastrophe.

Joseph Lentol addresses the crowd at Brooklyn Bowl. Image: Evan Rodgers

"He's doing an excellent job of not telling us anything they don't want us to know," Felice Kirby, who helps organize the L Train Coalition told the crowd. "We're glad you are here, but we're not satisfied by a long shot."

The upcoming plight of a gentrified neighborhood in New York City is mainly a local story, sure, but as infrastructure crumbles around the United States, pollution worsens, and as climate change brings us ever-increasing and severe natural disasters, cities around the country are going to be faced with very expensive problems for which there are no good solutions.

Surely, similar town hall meetings are playing out around the country, where residents are upset that, through a combination of underfunding, tax cuts, climate change, and simple aging, services that are taken for granted such as functioning roads, subway systems, and lead-free drinking water are no longer a given.

Image: MTA

Inglesby had nothing in the way of answers, or, really, many specifics to provide about why the train must be shut down.

"Basically, the problem is that we have Sandy repairs we have to make in every tube," Inglesby said. "That's what I'm going to say right now."

Inglesby was repeatedly questioned: Doesn't he understand the community will suffer? Doesn't he know kids won't be able to get to school, parents to work, tourists to bars? Can't he tell them anything? Inglesby had a singular answer to every question: "Not at this time."

The MTA is not yet willing to say what, specifically, needs to be done, but Max Diamond, a subway expert who knows more about the New York City subway than just about anyone, told me that he believes both L train tunnels need to be re-waterproofed.

"The L train tube was flooded during sandy with corrosive saltwater for several days," Diamond told me. "To prevent further deterioration of the tube caused by saltwater exposure, the entire tube needs to be stripped bare, re-waterproofed, and then a new concrete lining and all the signal/power equipment needs to be put back in. If the job isn't done, the tube will continue to corrode and deteriorate."

New York state assembly member Joseph Lentol said the closing of the L "is a tragedy in the making." Members of the crowd suggested that the MTA and the politicians on stage could be involved in a Flint, Michigan-style coverup of what's actually going on with the L train.

An urban planner who spoke with Motherboard earlier this month told us "it's just one year" and that "it will suck for a lot of people," but that ultimately the neighborhood would survive, suggested that, maybe, some businesses will do just fine as people decide to work and eat near their Brooklyn homes. But no one I spoke with or who spoke out publicly suggested that north Brooklyn suck it up for a year and deal with the closing.

"The vibrancy and growth of this neighborhood will be changed forever."

Lentol floated a variety of potential mitigating solutions: Dedicated bus lanes, "maybe even private buses," subsidized ferry service from Williamsburg to Manhattan, he even suggested that the MTA might have to subsidize Uber or Lyft fares to shuttle people across boroughs.

As the meeting proceeded, it became clear those in the community are looking at this as a potential doomsday scenario for the neighborhood; perhaps an entire era that will ruin the economic growth the neighborhood has had over the last decade. It was mentioned, but little was made of the fact that areas further out in Brooklyn—which tend to have higher rates of poverty—will be disproportionately affected by the L train's closure.

"Businesses will shut down if something happens to the L train. The people will move out of this vibrant neighborhood," Carlo Scissors, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce said. "They will shut down, they're going to close their doors, they're going to break their leases."

"The vibrancy and growth of this neighborhood will be changed forever. We are all up in arms about it," one resident said.

"Obviously the MTA doesn't come close to grasping how serious an impact this will have," one local business owner who didn't want to give his name to the crowd said. "Until we know there are no other options, we shouldn't even entertain [shutting down the L]."

"You cannot close the L train, there's no way around this," Thomas Dodd, owner of Bushwick's Brooklyn Fire Proof arts space said. "You will devastate the entire community."

This went on and on for more than an hour. There are, thus far, no answers. The L train shutdown isn't here, but panic mode has already set in.

L train
motherboard show
New York City Subway
L Train Closing
Our Crumbling Infrastructure