Mayor de Blasio Needs to Step Up to Keep L Train Passengers Moving

This morning the MTA announced that starting in 2019, it will close the L train between Eighth Avenue and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg for 18 months to repair damage caused by Superstorm Sandy — surprising no one who’s been paying attention.

Bill_de_Blasio_11-2-2013
Photo: Kevin Case/Wikipedia

For several months now, it’s been obvious that the MTA and the de Blasio administration will have to work together on a plan to keep hundreds of thousands of L train passengers moving during these repairs. The MTA will have to adjust subway service and run more buses, and the city will have to allocate space on the streets for high-capacity busways and safe bicycling.

But in a statement to the Times, Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris framed the shutdown as a problem of the MTA’s own making:

We are deeply concerned that it would announce an 18-month shutdown of this critical service without a clear plan or a commitment of resources for mitigating the impact of this closure on hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Well before this shutdown occurs, New Yorkers deserve clarity from the M.T.A. on how it intends to minimize inconvenience and keep people moving throughout the duration of the construction.

And when Mayor de Blasio addressed the L train shutdown this morning, he didn’t stray from that message:

So, we’re looking at that very seriously. First of all, I’ll remind everyone the MTA is run by the State of New York. The amount of time that they have projected — the 18 months — is a very big concern for me and for the City government. We’re going to have some very serious conversations about the MTA, about whether it has to take that long and how it’s going to be handled. I want to make sure there’s a lot of redundancy in place. By the time it happens, one — small but important factors — we’ll have the citywide ferry service in place, so that’ll be helpful, but we’re going to need a lot more than that, obviously. So I want to press the MTA to show us that 300,000 riders really will have good and consistent alternatives. And we’re certainly going to look at what we have to do in terms of the bridge as part of that. We’ll have an answer on that after those discussions with the MTA.

Noticeably absent from de Blasio’s statement is a specific mention of buses and bikes as “redundancy” measures. Ferries can help, but setting aside street space to move large numbers of bus passengers and bike riders will do more to make up for the loss of L train service.

It’s up to the MTA to run additional bus service, but it’s up to de Blasio, Shorris, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to redesign streets. Without their leadership, they’re won’t be a car-free PeopleWay on 14th Street that L train passengers can turn to. They’re won’t be bus lanes and bike lanes linking Williamsburg to the Lower East Side.

Other elected officials are on board. City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez expressed support for the “PeopleWay” in a statement this afternoon, and other Manhattan elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, are open to the concept. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has called for dedicated bus lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge during the shutdown.

L train riders need leadership from de Blasio and Governor Cuomo while service is disrupted. If it becomes just another occasion to point fingers, everyone loses.

  • Mister Sterling

    It’s going to be at least 18 months. It will be fun.

  • SD70MACMAN

    The MTA and NYC are a symbiotic pair; what impacts one will impact the other. For de Blasio to suggest this is all MTA’s problem is childish at best and a disservice to his constituents. Canarsie’s shutting down and that’s an unavoidable fact. Two and a half years is plenty of time for the largest transit agency and largest city in the USA to quit bickering, get a plan in place, and implement it. Sadly, so far there’s no talk of harmony or working together on behalf of people; just two grown men in suits involved in yet another d**k measuring contest.

  • BBnet3000

    He’s only talking about the bridge? Doesn’t he realize that that’s the easy part? Oh… of course he does.

  • JudenChino

    The City Wide Ferry? WTF is this guy on?!?! Annual projected E. River Ferry usage is less than 1 day of L train ridership.

    I get it that Cuomo is the devil and would gladly fuck us over to get at BdB. But he can champion things too. And the shit he champions [ferries, an unnecessary street car] are shit though. He could “roll up” his sleeves and try for a lasting progressive legacy. But the f—– is afraid of Community Boards and NIMBYs. So no, that title goes to the neoliberal Richie Rich who really did make a difference.

  • JudenChino

    re: Peoplesway — if there is just one parking garage that faces onto 14th street, how does this get accomplished? I recognize through zoning and eminent domain, you can affect a “taking” but it’s hard to argue that anything on 14th st is sufficiently blighted to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

  • Emmily_Litella

    This thing is three years away, and the MTA only announced today, give the man some time to breathe!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “First of all, I’ll remind everyone the MTA is run by the State of New York.”

    Funny, but the City of New York had no trouble cooperating with the MTA when suburban commuters where threatened by an LIRR strike, and suspended alternate side to make it easier for them to park and take the subway.

    In the 1990s when a subway strike was threatened, the MTA decided suburban trains would bypass city stops so suburban riders would not face overcrowding.

  • kevd

    Cuomo has been screwing over the MTA for years and the public thinks its deBlasio’s fault.
    It isn’t childish to point out where the fault really lies.

  • Kevin Love

    So what? Driving is a privilege, not a right. Many, many people have owned parking garages that faced streets that went car-free. It is called “Business Risk.”

    Or go talk with restaurant and bar owners who spent big dollars on ventilated smoking rooms before they were all banned by law. Business Risk. It is part of a capitalist economy.

  • BrandonWC

    Blight is not a requirement for eminent domain. Just that the taken property is used for a public purpose, which the people way plan would certainly satisfy. (Sometimes blight enters the picture when cities or states try and argue that seizing “blighted” property and turning it over to private developers for “revitalization” serves a public purpose.)

    Also unless you actually take the property, it’s not an eminent domain situation. (Well, there is an idea called a regulatory taking where the government forbids all useful uses of a property, but unless owners couldn’t do anything else with their garages—even if those other things are less profitable—it’s not a regulatory taking either.)

  • Miles Bader

    Cuomo basically doesn’t give a shit about effective transportation, so he chooses stuff that looks flashy/showy and can be made to sound good in a soundbite (“USB ports…dat’s teknology, dat’s da FUTUR!”), but is otherwise cheap to implement (in terms of money and political capital).

  • Troy Torrison

    Why is no one in power talking about the gondola project? I guess the gondola people need to start handing out bribes, excuse me, campaign contributions.

  • stairbob

    The massive bike parade will be fun, at least.

  • new yorker

    The gondola proposal is a very expensive way to build very little transit capacity.

    Short term: dedicated bus lanes, extra subway capacity and ferries replace the L. Longer term: there probably should be another subway running through North Brooklyn.

  • Troy Torrison

    Not all that expensive. Light rail costs approximately $35m per mile, elevated rail costs $132m per mile, and subway is priced at $400m per mile. Urban gondolas in other cities run only $3m (!) per mile. Gondola could be up and running in 18 months and could transport about 5,000 people per hour in either direction. You’d get from the Williamsburg to the East Village in about five minutes. Gondolas are safe. Durable. Can run all winter (unlike bikes) and could be part of expanded system of transit. Sure we could add buses but wouldn’t taking 5,000 bus riders OFF the streets be a good thing.

  • John

    NYC needs to beef up it’s bicycle infrastructure at the East River bridges and surrounding areas asap!! Allow the cyclists to have inside bicycle parking in the buildings. Allow the folding bikes inside the busses. Perhaps install bike racks on front of the busses for the full-size bikes.

    Use double-decker busses like those tourist busses.

    Reduce the automobile lanes on the bridges.

  • new yorker

    I’ve already read the marketing materials for the gondola, thank you. First off let me mention that there is zero chance that this gets built in 18 months, or before the L Train shuts down. If they started today they wouldn’t even be through permits and land acquisition before the L train tunnel shutdown.

    Also the subsidy required to run the thing frequently enough to carry 5,000 people at peak would flush the cost estimate from the marketing materials down the toilet.

    Few other things

    1) On top of the already mentioned higher operating costs the build out cost comparison is not necessarily apples-to-apples. Niche transit like ferries or the gondola carry a fraction of the capacity of a subway or even a well run bus system. Subways as expensive as they are remain the best use of transit dollars.

    2) There already is a niche transit system serving basically the exact same purpose – the East River Ferry. It carries fewer people a year then the L Train carries every day.

    3) Gondolas nor ferries serve the most popular use of transit which is of course commuting from home to work. There is absolutely not enough people living on the Williamsburg waterfront and working in East Village to make this worthwhile. So you are left with tourists and a small pocket of commuters.

    4) You can get from Williamsburg to the East Village today in 5 minutes. Take any of the J/M/Z or L trains.

    So to summarize this Gondola (1) doesn’t serve a major transit need (2) duplicates an already lightly used transit system (3) has incredibly unrealistic built out timelines and cost (4) completely forgets that operating costs are a thing.

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