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Tunnel Vision

Where's the Plan for the L Train Shutdown?

As of now, there isn't one.

John Surico

John Surico

When it was decided last year that the L train would shut down in early 2019 for a year and a half, the city and state—in the forms of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), respectively—promised a growing mob of angry commuters that a mitigation plan was coming soon.

Succinct transit alternatives would be provided, the agencies have said, to ensure that the 250,000 riders who take the train between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day would not see their commute times skyrocket. “We have time to do this thoroughly and get it right,” Veronique Hakim, president of New York City Transit, said then.

But the deadline of November 2017—or, more vaguely, fall of 2017—for the mitigation plan’s release has largely come and gone, with little to show aside from reported suggestions and leaked agency documents online that may, or may not, indicate final decisions. As of now, there is no official mitigation plan for the L train shutdown, and when there will be is still unclear.

That delay in details was the subject of a protest rally on a rainy Tuesday morning in North Brooklyn, where small business owners, transit advocates, and elected officials said the apparent lack of transparency only worsens the impact of the situation at hand.

"We need to know as soon as possible, so as an organization, we can help [businesses] adapt to this tremendous change on our street,” said Homer Hill, the executive director of the Grand Street Business Improvement District (BID), a major corridor in the area. “We're really worried that this is going to be another situation like the Second Avenue Subway, where businesses leave the community, and don't come back.” (The Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan took years of construction, and scaffolding, to be built.)

The business leaders and politicians present at the rally said the talks with the DOT and MTA started off strong; a round of agency-led community meetings last year invited residents from affected neighborhoods for planning input, and talks were held with several local representatives.

But that was then, they argued: Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin (who VICE profiled earlier this year) said that they hadn’t heard from the agencies in nine months. Meanwhile, business leaders said the community’s suggestions have not been taken into consideration, with any communication close to none. "This is going down a really dark hole right now, just like the Canarsie Tube,” said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.

Sources have told VICE that the mitigation plan’s release has been delayed in order to minimize the potential impact it could have on the array of vested residential and commercial interests in the area, and, also, the criticism that the agencies will inevitably receive from commuters. (Of course, conventional wisdom states that any solution put forth by the government is never loved, or liked, by everyone.)

“We’re working collaboratively with New York City DOT and developing a comprehensive plan to mitigate the issues caused by the badly needed L train tunnel repairs in 2019,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek. “During the entire process we’ve made community engagement an essential priority – with 39 community briefings since May 2016 – and that extensive outreach will absolutely continue as we move forward.”

When reached for comment, DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel replied that the L train shutdown will be just as devastating as the 2005 transit strike, and the weeks after Superstorm Sandy, in 2012, which caused the damage in the Canarsie Tube that led to the impending closure.

“MTA and DOT are working diligently on a daily basis to address the impact and this year-long collaboration is reinforced by the tremendous resources going into mitigation plans,” Gastel told VICE. “We are still in 2017 and with a year and a half before the closure takes effect, commuters want to take comfort that we are putting in the time to have the best plan possible. We continue to hear concerns and are working aggressively toward that goal. Our agencies will be ready and a plan is forthcoming.”

In light of this, attendees at the rally on Tuesday had their own ideas for the plan. Demands included an HOV lane over the already-clogged Williamsburg Bridge; a ‘PeopleWay’ of prioritized pedestrian, bus, and cyclist space for both 14th Street, in Manhattan, and Grand Street, in Brooklyn; expanded north-south bus service; ferries, with more frequent service and bigger boats; and even more esoteric options, like a gondola over the East River.

“We need every mode of transportation promoted,” said Felice Kirby, a local business leader (who VICE also profiled earlier this year). “Not one item on the table is going to solve this problem.”

Thus far, the DOT has openly explored the HOV lane and ferry service. The MTA has repeatedly said commuters should seek out nearby alternate subway lines, which will see an increase of service, and a number of buses will be deployed to get folks there (although the agency’s order of 200 diesel buses has been a cause of concern amongst community members).

But still, small business owners and elected officials say these alternatives, while laudable, are not enough to carry the thousands of riders who will otherwise be stranded without L service to and from Manhattan—especially thinking long-term, as the area undergoes rapid growth.

“We have more cars, more people, and the exact same infrastructure,” said Councilman Reynoso. “And the waterfront isn't even fully developed yet. So when that happens, and we have those hundreds of thousands of people [living here], they're also going to be riding the L train, and the J, M, Z. They need the buses. They need the ferries.”

“And at this point,” Reynoso continued, “there's absolutely no plan of how we're going to address the crisis of transportation in ten years.”

When the plan is released, VICE will have it here.


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