De Blasio Sounds Prepared to Let the L Train Crisis Go to Waste

The impending L Train shutdown should be a blessing in disguise — the impact of losing service west of Bedford Avenue for 18 months is so great, there’s no good option that doesn’t involve carving out lots of street space for buses, biking, and safer walking. Major redesigns of 14th Street, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the streets connecting to the bridge are called for.

Photo: Kevin Case/Wikipedia

It’s up to City Hall to claim that space from cars. Fortunately, that happens to align with the mayor’s two main transportation priorities: better bus service and safer streets for biking and walking. With hundreds of thousands of people in need of L Train substitutes, Mayor de Blasio would have the wind at his back if he decided to set new precedents for street design that prioritizes transit, biking, and walking.

But this week de Blasio has resorted to finger pointing at the MTA instead of laying the groundwork for a major rearrangement of how streets function.

The mayor was at it again this morning on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. Asked about the city’s role in addressing the shutdown, de Blasio deflected responsibility:

Of course we will very energetically be dealing with the MTA, both privately and publicly, on these issues to get fairness for everyone who takes the L train. Yes, I am concerned. The MTA — I like to remind all New Yorkers — is run by the State of New York, not the City. And therefore, we see the MTA do things sometimes that are not pleasing to us as New Yorkers. So, this decision — although I’m sure it has a practical, underlying rationale — announcing it without a plan to deal with the impact is troubling to me. It’s a long time. And we’re certainly going to push hard to see — does it really have to be so long? Is there any other way to go about this?

The primary responsibility for mitigation, for providing alternatives — falls on the State and the MTA — and obviously buses along the route would be the most obvious. But it’s a tough situation. It’s a very crowded line. It’s an area where it’s hard to get buses around compared to some others. So we’re going to look at different things we can do. One good news piece of the equation — our new Citywide Ferry Service starts next year. And that’s going to actually — because it happened to hit some of those areas to begin with where the L train serves — that’s going to be a helpful piece of the equation. So that was happening anyway. We might adjust schedules — one thing or another — in light of the L train dynamic.

Ferries that connect piers on each side of the East River are no substitute for a train that goes from Bedford Avenue to Eighth Avenue. The projected ridership of de Blasio’s entire expanded East River ferry system is below 15,000 passengers per day, an order of magnitude less than the 230,000 people who travel under the East River on the L train daily.

But when Lehrer raised the prospect of making 14th Street car-free, de Blasio again deflected:

The other point about 14th Street — it’s a big decision. We’ve only just begun to think about what we might do. It’s not one that on first blush sounds to me easy, given how important 14th Street is. But we’ll look at everything and anything we can do. Most important point here is that we have to push the MTA to confirm — do they really need to do it that way? Are there better alternatives? And what are they going to do to maximize the alternatives that they can provide — buses and other things they can provide — for those riders?

It’s been almost eight months since Gothamist broke the story that a lengthy disruption of L Train service would be necessary while the MTA repairs the Sandy-damaged Canarsie tubes. At this point, there’s no doubt that the shutdown has to happen. The people who’ll be affected have moved on from questioning the need for it — now they want to know what the city and the MTA will do to make up for the loss of service.

De Blasio’s transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, has acknowledged that “real creative solutions for 14th Street” are necessary. The mayor himself, though, isn’t seizing this moment to make life better for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. He’s turning it into another installment of his grudge match with the boss at the MTA, Andrew Cuomo.

  • JudenChino

    It pains me to say this, but Bloomberg would not only push this hard, he’d make it happen. And once implemented, it’d be a success (who the fuck purposefully take 14th street in a private car x-town?!?!). It’s slow as fuck. It’s a major bus x-town route as well.

    Without a doubt, that neo-liberal Richie Rich putz. Yes, Mayor “Stop-And-Frisk” would’ve been much better on this issue.

    What the fuck is this coward afraid of? Seriously. What a fucking coward. Does he remember who elected him? Property developers? I hate de Blasio. I’m just so embarrassed. Why does he act this way? Do one of these developers have his balls in a Jar? Like, you’re embroiled in scandals, pay for play and all that. But at least, at the end of the day, create some sort of lasting legacy. Times Square is 1000x better than it was before. Rents and Tourist figures attest to this. But what’s your legacy de Blasio — you let it go to shit but it’s not your fault, it’s Cuomos? Eric Adams for Mayor. And Police Commissioner.

  • He’s doing a great job making himself out to be powerless and ineffectual in responding to this crisis. He could have taken this opportunity to put forward his own bold proposal and come to the rescue of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are going to be affected by this, but instead he’s pointing fingers at the MTA and asking inane questions about whether this shutdown is truly necessary. This crisis presents a tremendous opportunity to implement bold transportation policy innovations. A missed opportunity, it seems- and no, the ferry network is not a serious solution.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, Bloomberg is currently at the top of my personal list of “Republican politicians I respect.” The thing I most respect about him is his data-driven approach to city building. He and JSK keep looking better as we deal with their successors.

    Does anyone seriously believe that people will be lining up to buy a future book by Polly Trottenberg? Not on the basis of her performance so far!

  • Kevin Love

    To quote Sir Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” It is the task of a great leader to use challenges and adversities to advantage.

    Alas, Mr. de Blasio is not a great leader. Yes, I have high standards!

  • cjstephens

    Isn’t the problem that BdB, like Cuomo, is a “car guy”? Every once in a while he pays lip service to public transportation, but if I recall correctly he never relied on public transportation as a grown up (or at all?). He relied on his city-funded car for his whole professional career, and I don’t think he sees the city from the same perspective as the rest of us bus-and-subway riding slobs. I recall some campaign story about how he used to enjoy the time he spent bonding with his son… as he drove his son to high school. How many average New Yorkers drive their kids to school? He’s yet another politician with nothing but a windshield perspective on the city. We really owe it to ourselves to stop electing people who are so far removed from the experience of regular New Yorkers.

  • Emmily_Litella

    The mayor’s messaging could improve, but isn’t it a bit early to say he’s done and will do little on this? He seems to be saying that MTA has not fully developed its plans for the diverted commuters. Is that a surprise, since we are still at least two years out? The L people will mostly be diverted to the north south trunks in Manhattan, there will not be need for a river of buses speeding up and down 14th Street. Enforced lanes, restricted turns and parking, sure. He doesn’t have to bend over backwards prematurely promising things. And I don’t see much in the way of suggestions from critics.

  • rao

    There’s probably not enough time to plan something like this before the L goes out of service. Think of the community board meetings that would have to be held. The multiple rounds of designs. The traffic and parking studies. The lawsuits from building owners. The need for council members and state legislators to grandstand. It all sounds like too much work. Hopefully the MTA will think of something. (puts head in sand)

  • Larry Littlefield

    Bloomberg, like Trump, has been a Republican and a Democrat. Bloomberg has also been an independent. Whatever works for them.

    Looking at what the parties do, I’ve never been able to be either.

    Why was Bernie Sanders, who claims to be a progressive, not a Democrat for all those years? Because he grew up in Brooklyn, and thought that’s what Democrats are.

  • Jason

    The ferries area a stupid idea, and they’re definitely de Blasio’s stupid idea, but I feel like the ultimate blame there lies with Cuomo. If Cuomo wasn’t such a petty jackass de Blasio would have no incentive to grasp at straws to figure out how to avoid dealing with the state-controlled MTA.

  • Jason

    Bloomberg is a Democrat, he only switched to the GOP because it was a less crowded field of candidates.

  • Miles Bader

    … and this seems destined to continue happening as long as the MTA is set up such a bizarre manner. Even with a friendly governor, the view is simply different from a state level, and there will always be political benefits to stiffing the MTA…

  • bolwerk

    If you want to actually be bold and move the absolute maximum number of riders short of a parallel subway route, a pretty obvious thing to do would be to get a BQX segment done, in somewhat altered form, between Lorimer and Broadway, and loop trams over the Williamsburg Bridge to go crosstown from the east side on 14th Street. All in private lanes, of course. Treating it as an emergency stop-gap, it should be possible to finish it by 2019.

    Then we’d get a permanent huge capacity boost on one of the busiest bus routes in the city (in terms of psgr/km). Oh, just kidding, the tracks should be ripped up after two years. Because, cars!

  • bolwerk

    That seems like a very accurate description to me.

    Remember the narrative about Bill de Blasio when he was running for election? How he cared so much about the other half of NYC? How he would fight income inequality? Make rents affordable again? Fer gawd’s sake, he could have at least given us the second crime wave we were promised!

    Nope. We just got Mike Bloomberg again. Crazy idea: time to stop believing what tabloids tell us?

  • bolwerk

    Democrats are corrupt, petty, authoritarian, covetous, and (at least politically) inept. At least to people with triple digit IQs and at least some empathy for other people, they just look comparatively good to Republikans.

    I joined the party to vote for Sanders. I will see what happens, but I’m not sure I will be staying.

  • bolwerk

    Bloomberg is as intractable as most other politicians, and his intractability always favors the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. It’s said he isn’t corrupt, and personally I guess he isn’t, but he sure as fuck manages to find ways to let cronies have at the trough of public finances: charter schools, lucrative development deals, the usual consultant cargo-cult. Never you mind that he is every bit as guilty as Giuliani of uniformed occupation of brown neighborhoods and being utterly indifferent to police turning black people into Swiss cheese.

    And the thing is, that stuff is perfectly in line with the Democratic Party establishment. Hillary wanted to bring little brown super-predator urchins to heel. Even supposedly gentle Martin O’Malley spent public money hiring Giuliani-era consultants who supposedly knew something about reducing crime (spoiler alert: they didn’t). DSW goes so far as to be friendly with the payday loan industry of all things.

    Bloomberg did some good stuff with streets and maybe transit, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s remotely palatable.

  • knisa

    Bloomberg actually rode the subway and did things unthinkable under de Blasio like closing Broadway to cars.

  • bolwerk

    (I’m not even sure I care whether the mayor rides the subway.)

    Different factions of neoliberals imagine huge gulfs between each other. I know they aren’t exactly the same, but the practical differences between Bloomberg and de Blasio are pretty small. Narcissism of small differences, I guess.

  • George W. Blomme

    When do we get a chance to elect a Mayor that will work for New York City?

  • “Some good stuff with streets”?!

    Bloomberg was nothing short of transformative. He single-handedly brought in the golden age of bicycling in New York. He gave the streets back to the masses. This is huge, and it makes up for his (many) flaws. On balance, Bloomberg ranks as one of the greatest mayors in the City’s history.

    Furthermore, he was a strong leader. He enacted his programme, his critics be damned. No pandering, no looking over his shoulder trying to please everyone.

    In both of these respects (commitment to livable streets; leadership style), Bloomberg is the exact opposite of the sniveling feckless de Blasio.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, Mr. Bloomberg was transformative and did all those things. His data-driven approach helped ensure that they were done in ways that could not be undone.

    However, to say that “he gave the streets back to the masses” or “brought in a golden age of bicycling in New York” is overselling it. New York’s streets are still ruled by motorists, not the masses. And New York’s cycle mode share is pathetic.

    While a lot better than it used to be, by Dutch standards New York’s infrastructure is crap. It is safe to predict that when we get Dutch standards of infra we will get Dutch cycle mode shares. Or better yet, a car-free Island of Manhattan.

    Geographically, New York is about as good as it gets for a high cycle mode share. High population density, relatively flat terrain, relatively mild winters and Manhattan is relatively compact.

    With proper Dutch infra, cycle mode share would be higher than car mode share. With a car-free Island of Manhattan, cycle mode share would be higher than subway, as cycling would be the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B in Manhattan for most trips.

  • bolwerk

    No he wasn’t, and no he didn’t. This stuff has been obvious for decades and New York would have had to join the modern world eventually. Jane Jacobs talked about a lot of it in the 1960s. I’ll give him the credit it is due: sometimes he didn’t obstruct the inevitable. But it’s not like Bloomberg thought of this stuff himself.

    Also, he might be one of the crappier non-entity mayors we’ve had in most areas: education policy sucked, transit policy was meh, policing was brutish, economically the city became more starkly unequal than ever. I’m rather amazed an avowed communist would sing Bloomberg’s praises. Besides objectively acting against the interests of a vast swath of the city, he sucks according to your stated ideology.

  • bolwerk

    Also, ignoring the needs of the little people doesn’t impress me. He bent over backwards to please his developer buddies, and if he didn’t offend anyone who was very powerful it’s only because his cheeks were already sufficiently spread for the likes of Ray Kelly, the Manhattan Institute, and countless other shady entities.

    De Blasio actually played lip service to reform, even if he delivered absolutely none.

  • Kevin Love

    I don’t care who thinks up of good things. What counts is implementing them. Mr. Bloomberg really moved the city forward. Not as far as it should be, but positive steps were made. Mr. de Blasio, not so much.

  • Kevin Love

    So what? I would prefer someone who achieves some progressive reform to someone who only pays lip service to it.

  • bolwerk

    The point is he pissed people off by paying lip service to it. But he does the same antisocial things Bloomberg and Giuliani did, and doesn’t get rewarded for it because the very threat of dissenting from Manhattan Institute orthodoxy is too much for most NYC area RWAs.

  • Kevin Love

    And Hillary Clinton used to be a Republican. So what.

  • bolwerk

    I can buy he moved street policy forward. He was a step backwards in a bunch of areas I listed, and at least tepidly de Blasio has been a step forward in some.

    Hundreds of thousands of people who got prison/arrest records under Mike Bloomberg’s amazing “leadership” are going to be paying for it for the next generation. You’ll be paying too, at least indirectly. I don’t see how making Times Square walkable and deigning to allow some bike lanes is supposed to erase that, as Ferdinand suggests.

  • bolwerk

    Used to be? :-

  • Kevin Love

    I do not see Mr. de Blasio’s record on police reform as something worth clapping my hands for.

  • bolwerk

    No, it’s quite bad, but he has been at least doing away with some of the harsher treatment in the juvenile justice system. I’d grudgingly credit him for dropping stop ‘n frisk, but the feds pretty much guaranteed that would happen anyway.

  • Joe R.

    I think we can get even higher cycling mode shares in the currently car dependent transit deserts in the outer boroughs if only we had good infrastructure.

    A thousand times yes on implementing a car-free island of Manhattan. That’s something which has been talked about from before I was born.

  • Kevin Love

    Huh? The big suggestion is for a car-free transitway on 14th Avenue. Are you calling that “not much”?

  • Kevin Love

    He lost my respect in that area when he stood behind a police commissioner who was more concerned about nipples in Times Square than about people being killed and injured by traffic violence.

  • Kevin Love

    Mrs. Clinton is utterly incompatible with today’s Republican party.

  • bolwerk

    Heh, fair enough, but I never believed him to begin with. :-p

  • Kevin Love
  • Not at all, by the sounds of the quotes, he’s making great use of this crisis, to score political points, you know, something of value to him, as opposed to the riders of the train. But it is this very politicing, that drive people to the likes of Mr. Trump. Of course, it is still early.

  • wklis

    Just wonder if the L train will return, just in time for the next hurricane to hit New York City and get flooded? Hopefully, there will be better preparations from any salt water the next time.

  • Alicia

    For a very short time, she was. She switched by the time she finished undergrad.

  • neroden

    Albany is a particularly car-dependent cityscape, and CDTA is a particularly weak local bus system in many ways. Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse are actually better. Albany is perhaps the worst place to be looking at transportation issues from (I suppose Binghamton would be worse).

  • neroden

    I’m not sure New York would have ever had to join the modern world.

    Look at the cautionary tale of, oh, let’s see, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. You’d think Haiti would have had to recover and normalize *eventually*. Apparently not.

    It’s quite possible for things to just stagger on from bad to worse endlessly.

  • neroden

    I don’t see Bloomberg as being a step backward in most of those areas, given that Ghouliani was actually worse. He wasn’t a step forward on many issues, but I can’t find anything at all where Giuliani was better than Bloomberg.

    A bit like Obama and G W Bush. I detest all the policies where Obama is identical to G W Bush and I think they make Obama a criminal who belongs in prison, but I can’t actually find any where he was *worse* than Bush.

  • neroden

    Sanity is incompatible with today’s Republican Party.

    Actually, even several completely insane people, like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, wouldn’t fit in today’s Republican Party, it’s that crazy.

    Hillary is somewhat to the right of Nelson Rockefeller, as far as I can tell.

  • bolwerk

    Think that’s the wrong way to look at it. He can be better than Giuliani in every way and still incrementally continue damaging things that Giuliani never got around to damaging. That’s how these people function really. Each one dismantles another little piece of the stuff that gives us a stable society and economy. Bloomberg can’t be said to have done much to heal damage Giuliani did.

    (re Obama: he has, on a number of occasions, pushed past where Bush went, but he generally does so incrementally rather than theatrically.)

  • bolwerk

    For all its third worldy hangups, New York is still a pretty first world city with international trade connections, professional migration, a street configuration tailor-made for trains, bikes, and pedestrians, etc.. There is just no way the citizenry wasn’t going to push bikes from the ground up and win eventually. There is no way we wouldn’t get a large number of people who wanted bikes and would press elected official into implementing bike lanes.

    It’s sort of like claiming crime would not have dropped without Giuliani. In fact, crime *did* drop without Giuliani, and if anything Giuliani’s measures to reduce crime probably weren’t much more than a costly way to work against a trend that was happening anyway.


Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

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