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Tunnel Vision

Here's the Official Plan for the L Train Shutdown

Your guide to hell.

by John Surico
Dec 14 2017, 4:55pm

Photo via Getty

When we started this blog back in April, most New Yorkers viewed the upcoming L train closure as a scheduled catastrophe looming just around the corner. Everyone knew it was going to be bad, but no one could say just how bad because transit officials hadn’t released any plans for what, exactly, they were going to do to help people get around during the 15 months of darkness without the L train. Then, on a frigid Wednesday afternoon, without much notice, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) jointly released their “mitigation plan” for the 2019 L train shutdown.

Two years, 40 meetings, and a seemingly endless number of riders’ pitchforks later, the five-page plan—which comes in the last days of the agencies’ promised "Fall 2017" deadline—is chock-full of transit trade-offs, community mediations, and, naturally, some lingering questions. At its core is an attempt to somehow move 225,000 stranded passengers, who, for 15 months straight, will no longer be able to ride the L every day between Manhattan and Brooklyn, underneath the East River. And it came attached with a clear warning from the agencies: “New Yorkers will face major disruptions.”

According to the MTA and DOT’s predictions, 70 to 80 percent of disrupted riders will seek alternate subway lines; 15 percent will take “L-Alternative” bus routes; 5 percent will hop on ferries; 1–2 percent will ride bikes; and an unknown number who can afford it will look to for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft. But to best outline its details, the plan can be divided into three major sections: the 14th Street corridor; the Williamsburg Bridge corridor; and the subways.

Let’s start with 14th Street.

In response to the proposed "PeopleWay" on 14th Street—an advocates-backed concept that would have shut off the busy thoroughfare to private car traffic—the MTA and DOT have their own idea of a "Busway," running down 14th Street’s center lane, from Third Avenue to Ninth Avenue, heading east, and Eighth Avenue, heading west. The Busway would be reserved for buses and delivery trucks during rush hour, with temporary "bus bulbs" and pedestrian spaces jutting off the curb, for riders to quickly hop on and off.

A new ferry service will operate from North 6th Street, in Williamsburg, to Stuyvesant Cove, at East 20th Street and Avenue C. There, passengers will be able to use a free transfer between the ferry and a new M14 Select Bus Service line, which will run along 14th Street to the West Side Highway and Horatio Street. To ease the flow of an area that’s already severely overburdened, two sections of Union Square West—between 14th and 15th Streets, and 16th to 17th Streets—will “get new pedestrian space,” according to the plan.

With the agencies expecting daily bicycle traffic to double during the shutdown, Manhattan will see its first-ever two-way crosstown protected bike lane on 13th Street. Cyclists will be able to use a new “bike parking hub” on University Place, between 13th and 14th Streets, which will be totally shut off from car traffic. The agencies said they are also partnering with Motivate, the company behind CitiBike, “to help service inconvenienced subway users, such as increased bike inventories and valet services to help move riders.”

Now onto the Williamsburg Bridge, perhaps the trickiest part of the mitigation plan. As of 2015, the bridge carried around 105,000 vehicles over it per day, making it one of the busiest in the city. A nearly constant choke of traffic coming off the bridge on the Manhattan side often piles up almost to the middle of the river. In short, as it currently stands, the bridge could most generously be described as "fucking packed" on a good day. When the L shuts down, the bridge will receive a significant number of would-be train riders opting for buses or private cars, so strategizing maximal space on the bridge to best move a shit-ton of additional people at rush hour will be a key mission of the mitigation.

The agencies call for an “HOV3+” lane on the bridge “during rush hour at minimum,” reserved for trucks, cars with three or more people, and an outer deck exit lane for buses. With lane restrictions planned for the bridge’s entryways, the bus lane will go from the L train stop at Grand Street in Brooklyn, over the bridge, and then fan out to Manhattan’s Essex-Delancey Street, Spring Street, Prince Street, and Broadway-Lafayette subway stations. (Those designs are still under development.)

Three new Brooklyn-Manhattan bus routes, supplemented with faster ticket-only payment systems, will also be added: one from Bedford Avenue to SoHo, the second from Grand Street to SoHo, and the last from Grand Street to 15th Street and First Avenue. Each peak hour during the shutdown, 3,800 passengers and 70 buses are expected to cross the bridge on these new routes. The agencies are also looking to make “major changes” to Grand Street, a huge transit corridor in Brooklyn; as of now, the only known additions are protected bus and bike lanes, according to a statement by the DOT commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, on Thursday morning.

Photo by Gary Hershorn

Last but not least, the MTA will do its part amplifying local subway service, largely affirming concepts that had been floated in the past. And that’ll be done in a number of ways. First off, more trains will run on the J/M/Z line; G trains will be longer, and more frequent. J and Z trains will run local between Myrtle Avenue and Marcy Avenue. Free transfers will be provided between a number of stations, and, on weekends and overnight, M trains will run all the way from Queens to 96th Street and Second Avenue, in Manhattan.

To basically circulate as many people as humanly possible in and out, improving the stations has also become a major focus of the agencies’ plan. Turnstile capacities will be expanded at the Marcy Avenue and Lorimer Street J/M/Z stops, and the Nassau Avenue G. Stairs will be widened at Broadway Junction and Marcy Avenue, while the major L-to-G transfer at Metropolitan Avenue and Lorimer Street will see a new platform to mezzanine stairs, and improvements to two “control areas.” Shuttered entrances will also be reopened for the stations at Flushing Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, and Hewes Street.

“New Yorkers will face major disruption, with an impact—including increased ridership on alternative routes—that will be felt far beyond the immediate corridors now served by the trains,” the agencies said at the plan’s onset. “It will reach into Central Brooklyn, up and down the East River waterfront and crosstown in Manhattan.”

Unsurprisingly the plan had its defectors. Luke Ohlson, a senior organizer for Transportation Alternatives, described it on Twitter as “a plan ambitious enough to do something but not so ambitious as to upset drivers/people who park/block associations/cranky political clubs." North Brooklyn councilman Antonio Reynoso, who has been vocal on the issue, also added online, “It seems the administration forgot about moving traffic or adding alternatives in Brooklyn. We will not be the stepchild of this plan.”

However, in certain aspects, it goes beyond what many people had expected (myself included), with new options—like an additional ferry line, new bus/bike lanes, dedicated pedestrian space, etc.—garnering some praise from advocates. Yet of course, a number of questions still remain.

For example, how will the HOV 3+ lane on the Williamsburg Bridge, or the Busway on 14th Street, actually work? What will Brooklyn’s Grand Street look like in 2019? What happened to the gondola? And what are the contingency plans for folks who live farther out on the L, in neighborhoods like Canarsie, Brownsville, and East New York?

And, perhaps most importantly: Is this all enough?

In the coming weeks, Tunnel Vision will be stringing out specific details from the plan, to examine the potential impact they could have on transit times, traffic, and surrounding neighborhoods. VICE will be hearing from advocates, planners, small business owners, and local residents at the community meetings in early 2018, about whether or not this is enough to deal with the transit crisis at hand.

So, stay tuned.

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