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Tunnel Vision

The L Train Shutdown Is Really Happening

It all starts on April 27, 2019.

by John Surico
Nov 1 2018, 10:21pm

Bloomberg/Getty Images

On April 27, 2019 the L train in New York City will shut down for 15 months between Manhattan and Brooklyn 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.

The 15-month shutdown of the Canarsie tunnel, which will strand some 275,000 daily riders between Manhattan and Brooklyn, will officially begin on April 27, 2019. After years of preparation and panic—all of which VICE has tried to dutifully cover in this space—New Yorkers now have a date on the calendar when the city will confront one of its greatest transit crises (or challenges, depending on your view) to date. And, as it turns out, it lands on a Saturday.

But that’s not all. On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) made public some key details regarding the shutdown’s mitigation plan, namely what will happen in the days immediately before and after the last L train runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn that Friday night before. And the handful of tweaks that were announced could have major implications for those first few days of hell.

Let’s start with the week before. On April 21, six days before L service is cut between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the central facets of the mitigation plan—the temporary ferry service; a dedicated ‘busway’ on 14th Street, which will be New York’s first stab at true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); and five new shutdown-specific bus routes—will go into effect.

“We’re continuing unprecedented efforts at public outreach, responding to local communities and giving as much notice as possible on key dates in this project,” said Andy Byford, the president of New York City Transit, which oversees the subways.

“With the L running as a Brooklyn-only service for 15 months starting after the weekend of April 27, we’ve been hard at work with our partners at NYCDOT and other City agencies to make sure that the alternate train, bus, ferry and bicycle networks work together to get people around successfully,” Byford continued.

As the press release asserts, that gives riders less than a week to “sample and become acclimated to new travel options.” Previously, the MTA and DOT had said that the new surface-level changes—particularly the ‘busway’ on 14th Street, which is arguably the most ambitious—would come as early as January. Per my colleague Vincent Barone, at amNY, the city gave no explanation as to why the time frame was shortened by three months.

“With DOT crews now putting down new street markings for bus lanes and bike lanes, we are deeply committed to having our streets ready for the L tunnel closure next April,” said Polly Trottenberg, the DOT chief, in a statement. “From a ‘bus bridge’ over the Williamsburg Bridge to the 14th Street Busway, from more Citi Bikes to expanded pedestrian space for displaced L train commuters, we and our MTA partners are up for this enormous challenge.”

The hesitancy to launch service ahead of time may be linked to the outcry from local residents, who have gone as far as suing the city for the shutdown. Or, perhaps, it has something to do with the MTA and DOT’s own transit projections. As VICE has previously reported, officials expect up to 80 percent of affected riders to switch to alternate subway lines— not ferries or buses. And, on that note, the increased subway service, which the MTA recently boosted to over 1,000 additional weekly trips, will take effect the day after the shutdown, on April 28. (Fingers crossed the subways are fixed by then.)

It’s worth noting that if the mitigation plan goes totally awry, the MTA and DOT have repeatedly pledged full allegiance to tweaking its parts as they see fit, in order to ensure that it runs smoothly (relatively speaking). So while commuters may be alarmed by the lack of prep time—as already voiced on Twitter—the plan’s effectiveness may come down to bureaucratic efficiency closer to game time. Which, of course, remains to be seen.

That aside, the recent news hit has a few kernels of good news for impacted straphangers.

The street-level construction to improve access at both terminuses of the tunnel, which has been the ire of proximate small businesses, will start to wrap up next month in Williamsburg, and January in Manhattan. In response to environmental concerns lobbed by elected officials and residents, the MTA and DOT has also sworn to publicize air quality results, and “minimize” disruptiveness during the shutdown. And finally, the reported capacity improvements to subway stations deemed crucial—which include expanded or new stairways, and corridors—have either been completed or are underway, officials said.

In the meantime, the MTA and DOT will send out three “mobile information centers” (seen online here) to inform riders of optional routes available to them. The latest round of open houses and pop-up events are also planned for the final months leading up to the shutdown, which will see the L train close every weekend in February, and the first few weekends of March, to prepare for the Big One. So there’s still plenty to growl about until then.

But the most important takeaway here is the date. New Yorkers, write this down: April 27, 2019. And get ready.

VICE will have more updates as the shutdown nears. Tune in then.

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